What to Do When Your Dev Team Misses a Deadline

It’s so common that it’s a joke in some companies. Your development team does not reliably hit deadlines. What are the most common causes, and what can you do about it? (Hint: The problem is more than likely you, not them)

Most often, missing deadlines comes down to two things:

  1. The definition of the deliverable is too broad
  2. The definition of the deliverable changes frequently

Too Broad

As I talked about in my last post, there is tremendous value in creating clearly-defined goals that are just around the corner.

When you are working on something that’s six months away, it feels like an eternity. What generally happens is that there will be a tendency to do more “science-fair” work, trying different approaches or techniques. Every time you try something different, it’s costing you money.

If there’s not a clear path to the answer to a given problem then you should either identify an R&D work segment where you’re looking for a specific answer to a specific problem in very simple form or you should not schedule the feature yet.

Schedules are for when the desired outcome is known, and if the desired outcome isn’t known why are you even working on it?

Frequent Changes

Every time you walk into the office and change the “most important thing” for a project, you’re creating churn. Churn in all forms costs you money. You’re probably familiar with customer churn, where customers leave you for someone else.

What about technology churn?

Every time you interrupt your team and take a hard right or hard left, or have a new crisis, you’re introducing churn into your project. Here’s how it typically takes shape:

  • The team has to switch contexts. Trust me when I tell you the cost of this is massive
  • The team has to rewrite / change / throw away work being done on the current path
  • The team starts to wonder when the next right or left turn is coming and cringes every time you walk in the room

Calling yourself a Lean Startup doesn’t give you the right to be yanking the team and project all over the place. If you’re doing this frequently, chances are you don’t really have a clear picture yet of the problem you’re solving.

Just Remember

These are two reasons why your team could be missing their deadlines. There are probably 10 others, including that you have the wrong people, but if you’ve got a solid team take a look at how the project is being managed.

Is the timeline and goal tightly defined?

Are you introducing frequent, course-altering changes and giving your team whiplash?

Your Assignment

The next time your team misses a deadline, instead of sitting at your desk and wondering what went wrong, try taking your team through a blameless post-mortem. It could be that the cause is something altogether different from what you think it is.