Deadlines are bullshit

In software development deadlines are a necessary evil. It is important to understand when they are necessary, and it is important to understand why they are evil.

  1. ​External vs. internal deadlines​
  2. ​Why are internal deadlines evil?​
  3. ​Engineers who love their work​
  1. ​Hofstadter's Law​
  2. ​The Thing-deadline calculus​
  3. ​Never enough time​
  4. ​Driving engineers to an arbitrary date is a value destroying mistake ​
  1. External vs. internal deadlines

    When are deadlines necessary?

    • Contractual obligations
    • Technical liabilities (e.g., dependency EOL)
    • Compliance, government, investors, and other external stakeholders

    What do all of these deadlines have in common? They are all important. They are all deadlines that cannot be missed. They are all external.

    When are deadlines evil?

    • Your manager says you have a deadline
    • Your software development methodology says you have deadlines

    What do all of these deadlines have in common? None of them are important. They are arbitrary. They are all internal. They are all bullshit.

  2. Why are internal deadlines evil?

    • Estimation: When estimating engineering work a substantial time investment is required by an engineer in order to get an accurate estimate.
    • Misaligned Incentives: There is an incentive to lie and give estimates much longer than the feature is truly expected to take.
    • Low Morale: Deadlines are likely to be missed often. Repeated failure has a cost to the morale of the team.
    • Micromanagement: Deadlines are wielded by middle managers as a whip to harass and annoy engineers working on features.
    • High Stress: When engineers feel the pressure of other stakeholders holding deadlines over their heads it creates an environment of high stress.
    • High Turnover: On teams with high turnover rates the best engineers have an easy time finding new work and leave quickly, the worst engineers have a difficult time finding work and remain. This selects for a lower quality team over time.
  3. Engineers who love their work

    The resolution is simple. Never have internal deadlines. Operate on a prioritized and ordered list of features. Estimate only when necessary to prioritize and do so in a t-shirt sizing way. Trust your engineers and they will begin to love their work. Engineers who love their work are happy and productive.

    1. ​Building is never a straight line​