What do you do when faced with unrealistic deadlines?

By Barnaby Golden, 30 August, 2019

Reflecting the Pain of Unrealistic Deadlines

A team planning their sprint

Unrealistic deadlines can be highly stressful. One approach to dealing with them is to reflect the pain back.

Reflecting the Pain Back

Your management may not be feeling the pain the team is feeling in delivering against artificial and aggressive deadlines. Your challenge is to make sure they see the consequences of their actions.

Produce a sprint report that details what has or has not been tested. Make it clear that by accepting a release under these conditions, your management is also accepting responsibility for any bugs that arise from untested code.

For example:

"We have managed to test the new features delivered in this sprint, but we have not had time to do any regression testing nor have we tested on other browsers or devices. The product may well have bugs that we have not discovered."

Do the same kind of thing with code quality. Every time you rush a delivery, you build up technical debt and you reduce the quality of your code. This can be reflected back in terms of the difficulty of doing future enhancements on the code base:

"In order to achieve the last delivery deadline, we had to hard code a number of values rather than using a more effective coding approach. The code base will be harder to work on now, and as such we are likely to be slower to deliver any future work."

Finally, emphasize the impact of working long hours on the team:

"The team has been working evenings and some weekends for several weeks now. Team morale is low and motivation is much reduced. As the team members are tired all the time, they are making more mistakes, which is resulting in increasing amounts of re-work."

This isn't about complaining. Instead, you are being transparent about the impact of deadlines. It will then be up to the management team to decide if they want to re-evaluate their approach.