Fake Deadlines

Last week, during stand up a manager that I’ve been working with said, out of the blue, that several work items now have a deadline of the next Wednesday. My ears perked up.

After the stand up was over I asked if I could come back to the deadline, and had the following dialog:

“Is this a real deadline?”

“Yeah, its real.”

“Ok, so what happens Wednesday and none of the work is done?”

“Well, we push the deadline back. So it isn’t really a hard deadline, but I need to put a date out there so things get done.”

I didn’t mistype that, that second question of mine prompted a stream of consciousness from the manager to unfurl what the real motivation he had. He wanted to create urgency for the team.

I then cautioned him against using the word deadline with the team because for me, it adds a lot of stress and causes me to overwork myself to get thingsd done, and when the deadline comes and goes with no impact I feel cheated, let down, and I lose respect for my manager. And, that maybe, my feelings aren’t unique.

He paused, and said that he didn’t actually mean a deadline, he meant it was a target. One that we should really try to hit, because of our 6 month release cycles.

During this dialog, I couldnjt help but remember something small that I had learned in Coaching Beyond the Team with Esther Derby (@estherderby) and Don Gray (@donaldegray). The importance of neutral language. While this whole incident was completely unplanned, I had strong attachments to the word, “Deadline,” from my years of development experience, and after bringing it up we talked about something more important: Targets, goals, and priorities.

I have thought about this moment a bit for the past few days, and I keep coming back to how great this manager actually was for considering what I had to offer, and adapting to what was happening. He adjusted his approach quickly and gracefully, and it calmed a situation down that may have been quite stressful for the upcoming week.