WomenLEAD beta tested our online platform with our first potential customers last week.
Having this deadline forced the technical team to step up the development cycle and fix the bugs in the platform. What is not working is coming to the foreground. A natural response could be frustration, blame, finger pointing or panic. But from my perspective as CEO, I welcome the opportunity to discover what's not working: the processes we don't use; the issues that need to be fixed that we don't catalog; the "silos" we create when we're not collaborating; the number of "open items" we haven't addressed. All of this is an opportunity for learning -- and for a team breakthrough. No wonder people talk about the beauty of a deadline.
But if a deadline is good, is an aggressive deadline even better? Yes, according to Cyril Parkinson's dictum: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." If you make more time available to develop your product, people will use more of it -- and not always wisely.
Many business luminaries endorse aggressive deadlines for other reasons. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO and former Google VP, loves creative limitations and therefore tight timetables. In a much-quoted BusinessWeek article she says, "Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome." She goes on to point out, "We often can get a sense of just how good a new concept is if we only prototype for a single day or week." That also cuts costs. "By limiting how long we work on something... we limit our investment."
Apple's Steve Jobs built a career on achieving breakthrough innovation from teams working under unreasonable limitations. His name may be forever linked to "impossible deadlines" -- which he inflicted on everyone he worked with, from his initial partner, Steve Wozniak, to the first Macintosh team in the 1980s, to the many Apple product teams of the 2000s. Sometimes the deadlines were met, sometimes they weren't, but the challenge drove his teams to achieve what others didn't think possible.
In the words of Amazon's Jeff Bezos, "One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out."
So what are the advantages of aggressive deadlines? In my experience they:
• Focus your energy and attention.
• Force you to think outside of what you already know.
• Reduce time and costs.
• Provide an opportunity to assess individual and team performance.
• Increase team confidence, if the deadline is met.
But what about the disadvantages of aggressive deadlines?
It is true that tight schedules can result in team members cutting corners to meet deadlines. But oftentimes, you find that those corners should be cut. In the case of product development, that usually means fewer features -- an acceptable tradeoff to get the prototype in the hands of early adopters quickly.
It is also true that tight schedules can increase stress and pressure, which is uncomfortable to experience and manage. But that time pressure can also be the crucible in which team members discover their strength, resilience and character -- qualities they didn't know they had!
Yes, a deadline is a beautiful thing. But an aggressive deadline can be a difference maker.