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The two secrets I’ve learned after 8 years of manufacturing DEADLINES (or how to do it like a pro)

Last November I had the opportunity to go to Toronto to certify myself as Design Thinking Master by Experience Point.

As soon as I get back I talked to my boss about developing a training session for the extended team to share the knowledge I have acquired. Such training was actually very critical for the team. So, we agreed (verbally) that I will have it ready by December before Christmas holiday.

The brief: It was mid-February and I was not even halfway.  By then, that verbal agreement was two months late and to be honest, I did not see it happening soon. Then, something happened and everything changed.

 One day we met and did something different regarding the training session: we set a deadline (a real one): 7th April – my boss said.

 There’s more. We did not only set a deadline, we also made it public:

 Send the invitation to the team, make sure everyone can attend and confirm the date.

 We did so, and suddenly everything seemed different. I worked much more structured and focused in one month than in the previous 60 days.

The outcome: The training session was delivered on time and the quality of the job was very good.

You may be thinking:

Wait, just because we put a deadline and said to others? Is that the secret to efficiency and productivity?

Well, yes. It is one secret and let me tell you, it is certainly a very effective one.  Ask Jake Knapp – design partner at Google Ventures – and I am sure he will agree.

About a fixed & unnegotiable deadline

Knapp is the creator of Google Ventures’ design sprint process. A process that is highly based on setting fixed and tight deadlines.

In his book Sprint, Knapp introduces the concept of getting ideas really tested in a very short period of time, and one of the critical steps for this to work is  “manufacturing a date”.

He uses the real case of a tech team wanting to try a robot called Savioke for room service delivery. Do you know what is the first thing they did? Commit with a local hotel for a trial day, contract and down payment in between and all. They fixed a deadline.

They fixed a deadline as a way to force them to deliver. Moreover, they used it as a tool to structure their activities to get things done.

I could say that in my case, everyday commitments and projects didn’t allow me to have the training ready earlier. However, that’s more an excuse than a reason.

The truth is that the initial verbal agreement was not so much of a deadline. It seemed much more as an intention, and since there was not a due date it felt like a “there-is-no-rush” situation.

The problem was that there was a certain rush. As I said before, the training was critical for the team. But having no deadline let a negative flexibility to do the task.

There is something about deadlines that change our way to see activities, especially when the deadline is kind of fixed.

About making it public

Once I have the team’s confirmation, I sent the invitation to the training session.  That was it, everybody knew and there was no way back. It was all said: 7th April. Nonnegotiable and public.

We could say that a sort of declaration had been made and we must honor it (in a way), and this is key as well. Danielle Brown, Intel Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, mentions that this kind of declarations will put you in the spot for accountability beyond your typical stakeholders.

How to address a deadline like this

It was not that easy to honor the due date. I had to put aside time (full days actually) to work on it. Having a fixed deadline changes not only your way to see a task. It also affects your entire agenda. It forces you to be organized and prioritize.

  • I applied all the techniques related to prioritization (read this article about the Eisenhower Box, the image below).
  • I said No (read this) to things that could certainly wait for another time (non-important things).

  • I organized my agenda. Curiously, I set many more deadlines in order to get efficient.
  • I structured my tasks based on the Pomodoro Technique (Pomodoro rules!)

All this because we did two simple things: we set a deadline and made it public.

From my experience: it works!

I can tell you that 9 out of 10 times I have done this, we have gotten great results. We deliver on time and we deliver quality services or products. And this is what I got from 8 years of experience manufacturing deadlines, hundreds of them!

 Why?

  1. A fix due date provides a timeframe to plan ahead so you can organize your tasks better.
  2. Public deadlines make the whole team more efficient and feel the pressure.
  3. Missing to deliver in these high stakes work scenarios will feel like a great failure with great “shame involved”.
  4. Probably some costs will be involved and therefore it will be very hard to cancel.

So, there you have. You want to really blast deadlines? Fix them, consider them nonnegotiable and make them public. Then, you will start to manufacture killer deadlines. Moreover, you’re going to start getting things done.

Bonus: It applies to your personal or family activities. I’ll show you how soon.

Try it and let me know any idea. Share this article or send it to someone who will find it helpful or interesting. There is always someone. 


FIRMA

Diego is an experienced learning advisor, a certified trainer and a design thinking consultant.

He is available for advisory where the focus is on driving transcendental learning and lasting change. Moreover, he is always eager to chat.