Deadlines

Curium | 17 Apr 2014 | News | General

In 1789 Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter:

 

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.

 

I’d like to propose an amendment:

 

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and deadlines”.

 

If you think about it, our daily lives are full of deadlines:

 

“I must get up at 6am”, “I need to submit a paper by 12pm”, “I should ideally catch the 1837 train”, “I had better call my friends later”.

 

Some of these deadlines are time specific or can be perceived as mandatory, others less so and are open to interpretation:

 

“I should ideally catch the 1837 train, but I could stay for another drink and get the 1937 instead” or, “I had better call my friends later, but I can always ring them tomorrow

 

This got me thinking. In some businesses deadlines are imperative, if you miss them there will be consequences. For example back in February Thames Water experienced adverse media publicity after failing to complete repairs at a busy London intersection by an agreed 7am cut off, instead handing the road back almost 6 hours later than intended and in the process of doing so causing massive queues of traffic in all directions during the peak Saturday rush hour.

 

There are also examples of deadlines where the financial penalties are steep if they are missed, for example escalating 5 or 6 figure per unit of time charges on over running maintenance works on the railways, or even for individuals, for example the penalty for paying your HMRC Tax Return 30 days late is 5% of the tax you owe at that date.

 

However in other businesses there is a degree of leniency where deadlines are not necessarily the be all and end all so long as ultimately the work gets completed. But is this right? Should we treat all deadlines as absolutes?

 

For some, deadlines make us work better, or perhaps just faster (but at the expense of quality?). There is certainly a trade-off between getting something done (in line with the deadline), or getting something right (which may be in conflict with the deadline).

 

However there is not necessarily a right approach to take, both ways of approaching deadlines have their merits according to circumstances. For example taking a more perceived casual approach to a deadline, and in doing so giving greater consideration to quality, is not necessarily a bad thing, but in doing so there may be impacts on other measures such as cost. Similarly ensuring that all work is completed by a deadline is great and helps keep planning on track, however in doing so have shortcuts been taken, or has it been done right?

 

Instead of a conclusion, let me throw this one out for debate:

 

Do deadlines make us work better, or just faster? What is more important, getting it done or getting it right?

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