October 01, 2006

Customer-Oriented Deadlines

What I mean by the phrase “customer-oriented deadline” is the following…
It’s when customer says:
- We absolutely need this until 1st of November 2006.

And some upper management genius, after 3 seconds of thinking and detailed planning, answers:
- Ok!

On any project, I think almost everything has to be customer-oriented. But if something has to be non-customer-oriented it’s definitely a deadline: deadline for project ending, deadline for any task on the project.
If you make a good estimation based on facts, with help of people who actually do the tasks, even then you are going to make mistake weather you want it or not. If you don’t make estimation at all, and in fact don’t even know what the concrete tasks are, how smart do you have to be to realize that you are not going to make it anywhere near to the deadline you promised to the customer?

I am not talking here about that situation when project manager deliberately shortens the development cycle so that people would “work faster”. I will leave that phenomenon for some other time. I am talking about the case when one doesn’t have what it takes to say “No” to the customer.

I’m currently witnessing this: it was agreed to finish entire system for 3 months, with 5-6 men working on the project. The number of people is fine and system is not to be developed from scratch. A lot of functionality could be reused from other projects, but:

- The new system is for another country; meaning different laws, regulations etc. (“How different could it be - we are neighbors!”).
- Some modules will be completely different, and these are the most complex in the entire system.
- Requirements specification missing, except what modules are needed (“Let’s hope for the best!”).

Now they are working as if everything will be finished. It’s ridiculous. Some team members, who are either inexperienced or just blindly following orders, don’t even realize that it is impossible.

I said to one of them:
- You, of course, know that you, as a team, are not going to make it until that date?

My other (very funny) colleague said to me:
- You know, you were not supposed to say that aloud. :)

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