Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Death by Date

I'm going to take a little break from talking about the market today. I will say one thing, the market spiked down and this is a very bad sign.  The S&P is now hovering around 800, and if it breaks it, I really don't know how far the market will head down.  Hold on to your hat here folks, it could get interesting.

I wanted to write this post to teach people something they will find useful at work.  If you are not responsible for dates, do not give them out to other people.  It will be the death of you.  Let me explain.

I am in charge of dates at my company.  That is, when someone wants to know when something is going to be delivered, they come talk to me.  This is my job.  I've had a few instances at work now where people freely give up dates to senior level executives.  This is a very very bad idea.  Senior executives love it when individual contributors give dates.  Why?  Because they are almost always understated.

Most workers at the ground level do not see the big picture.  Take for instance a software developer.  They may be experts in coding and debugging, but many do not understand what has to happen to get a project out the door.  QA resources need to be lined up.  Other projects may be prioritized ahead of yours.  There may be code freezes in place.  Lots of things can prevent code from being shipped, and most of them are out of sight of these developers.   Now, when most people think about "done" they think about it when they will be "done".  They do not consider what else it may mean to be "done".  I have now had a few intances at work where a developer freely offered up a date for "done" to a senior executive.  This got the senior executive very happy.  They can not wait until Feature X is out and live.

Of course, reality sets in.  They eventually come talk to me for the real story and I of course tell them the truth.  This never comes out good.   Now we get upset executives.  Now we have to hear rants about how we can't execute or why we cannot get it done on the "original" timeline.  I am usually able to mollify the situation, but it comes at a price.  Trust and goodwill is eroded.  Believe me, the person who originally opened their mouth is now looked at unfavorably.  In one particular instance, an entire project might be canceled because expectations were set incorrectly.  It is felt this person, through no real fault of his own, does not "get it".

So please, keep your mouth shut.  Just act dumb and point to whomever is asking you in the direction of the person who actually sets the date for you.  You will save yourself a lot of grief, trust me.


  1. I agree, setting target dates is dangerous. I too have to deal with this on a regular basis at work. My assignments are always deadline driven because I produce reports that get shipped to various clients for loan underwriting. My tendency is to under promise - give them a date a little longer than what I think it will take me - and then when I deliver early, I get praised. If I don't get done early, then I still have a little room to make it on time. I'd just like to suggest that approach if 'dating' is a requirement for you or any of your readers.

  2. Oops, hit the wrong button and posted my comment above too soon. I meant to say that I would give a range first. Then after assessing how much time is really needed, I would look at other projects, reassess the time line, then add a reasonable cushion. Let's face it. There are always unexpected projects popping up. Discounting that possibility is foolish.