Fear Not the Deadline

Fear Not the Deadline

“Deadlines are great for customers because having one means they get a product, not just a promise that someday they’ll get a product.”— Jason Fried

There is a certain level of anxiety that bubbles up for people when they set deadlines for a project. For a number of clients, I see their anxiety turn into fear, not only when setting said deadlines, but actually while working towards them as well.

Fear not.

Deadlines are tools that clarify the mind and simplify the work. Deadlines focus the attention of the team around what must be done. Where deadlines exist, so too can procrastination. Procrastination can take many forms including ideas for new features or the desire to add a new methodology or tool. The exceptional deadline helps focus the mind away from procrastinatory endeavors and toward the goal.

For deadlines to be a powerful tool they must at least meet the following three criteria.

The deadline is associated with a significant meaningful goal.  
If the deadline is arbitrary with no reason behind it, the deadline will have no power. It will be paper thin and make very little sound when it goes floating into the past on your calendar.  Missed deadlines that cost revenue, prestige, or are in any way personally painful will have the power and impact you need.

Fit within the laws of physics.
Giving an impossible deadline, even if meaningful, should be an obvious exercise in futility. I am fine with aggressive deadlines, even deadlines that are frighteningly hard. In fact, I like those. But remember to make commitments you can confidently keep.

There is a plan to achieve.
I love creating scary deadlines, as I just mentioned. However, I am not satisfied until the team has a plan that I believe in – and more importantly, one they believe in.

Powerful, meaningful deadlines are great tools to help people achieve amazing things.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett
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I was running in a city I had not been in before. There was a complex maze of neighborhood streets. However, I found that no matter how many turns I took, I wasn’t disoriented. I could quickly get my bearings, thanks to a singular tree.

The tree stood behind the house I stayed at. It towered well above all the others, and it served as a useful guide throughout my stay.

I have one question for you to consider this week.

Does the key improvement your team is working on stand out above the day-to-day noise?

When goals stand above the forest of everyday tasks, it is very unlikely that anyone will get lost.  In fact, it is much more likely they will get where they are going.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

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I have seen senior leaders wishing that teams had more commitment to the senior leaders’ objectives.

I have seen team members wishing that senior leaders were more committed to helping the project they are working on to be more successful.

Commitment requires collaboration.

Here are recommendations for each party of a commitment.

For those making requests, I suggest the following three actions.

  1. Be clear and concise about what you expect.  I have seen senior leaders present a 100-slide powerpoint deck about a project and believe that they were communicating their objectives. The team on the receiving end of this data dump had no idea what was desired.
  2. Prioritize.  Be clear about the order of your priorities.
  3. Ask the team to bring you options for achieving your desired outcomes.

For the teams receiving these requests, I suggest the following actions.

  1. Develop a high confidence plan that achieves the top priorities that you can commit to.
  2. Provide options.  Don’t shrink from providing options that go outside your circle of control.  If you believe buying widget x will help you achieve the objectives, provide that as an option.
  3. Ask for specific support, such as tools or additional expert coaching, that will help you achieve the objectives faster and better.
After taking these actions, you can confidently make a mutual commitment to achieving the best results.

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Despite this obvious truth, many organizations do not put the proper preparation into being ready for the starting line of their projects.

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They must consider the priority of the project in contrast to all the other projects that are running.  What is the expected Return on Investment of this Project?  How important is it to the business? How risky is it?

If they decide this is the highest priority project, then all other actions should follow to ensure that the project is ready to run a world-class race.

If this project is low-priority in comparison to others, it can be given preparation akin to that of a leisurely Sunday fun-run.

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PS:  My 100+ Questions book is now available for Kindle.  There are good questions in this book to help guide insights early in the development process.

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Changing the Game Attracts Attention

“Beginnings are always messy.”— John Galsworthy

Changing the game for organizations attracts attention. 

I am working with three different clients on three different initiatives.  They are all unique and yet they have one big thing in common. They are all challenging the status quo of how things are done in a fundamental way. They are reaching for a higher bar of excellence.

Changing the game in these ways is garnering lots of attention.  The leaders that I am working with in each situation have the same big three challenges.

The skeptics are being vocal.  There are people who can see the flaws of the new ideas. They see big risks ahead and they want to talk about them.

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We are bringing in the skeptics as much as possible. They wouldn’t be so vocal if they didn’t care. They care. We are taking in their ideas and making our approach better. 

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