Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Are Deadlines Important?

Olga Kouzina posted about deadlines on her blog here. She then posted a related discussion thread on LinkedIn's Agile and Agile Alliance groups. Next thing you know, there are 26 combined comments between the two threads!

She is basically questioning the core concept of deadlines. Do we need them? What value to they add? What negative impact do they carry? Unfortunately, some people mistakenly took this to mean that we should never work with goals, delivery dates, or time based measurements. I had to clarify my stance later in the thread with the following:
I believe in and agree with groups that leverage timeboxes, iterations, and release dates. I see these as good metrics and motivating goals.

I believe that Olga and I were talking about Deadlines with a capital "D". These are the dates put in the ground before the team has committed to scope, effort, etc. We know the requirements will change as we work the project, why won't the date change also?

I've seen too many projects where you realize pretty quickly that the "Deadline" was picked due to a desire but no real business need or planning validation. These dates are a great way to de-motivate a team... after all, why work hard if you already know you can't make it?
When Olga asked why I might think we put up with deadlines, I responded with:
We stick to them because people with higher authority don't trust a better solution and force them on us.

So... it's our job to start educating the decision makers around or above us. This is a topic I recently blogged about.
Ben Linders summarized the agile point of view well with the following:
If there really has to be a deadline, then it's up to the PO, project managers and stakeholders to do whatever they can to ensure that the teams know what to deliver, and have an enviroment and the right conditions in which they can be most effective and efficient. IMHO the deadline should never be passed on to the teams! The teams commits to iterative deliveries of highest priority user stories. That automatically leads to maximum result in the shortest time, which increases the change that deadlines are met.
And finally, I like Vinay Krishna's points:
Can we achieve anything without deadline? It looks funny to know that one starts a project and says that he doesn’t know when it would get finished.

I want to quote here the famous Parkinson Law which states that “Work expands to fill (and often exceed) the time allowed.”

This is important to recognize in software development because when we are not restricted by time and/or money, it’s easy to create an endless amount of features or strive for what we perceive as perfection.
Of course we can all agree there are sometimes market reasons for deadlines. After all some dates can't be moved (Y2K, elections, tax dates, etc).

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