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At one stage of  my career, I was leading a CoE (Centre of Excellence) for Project Management. I was good at Project Management, I had used it for delivering my projects successfully and experienced its importance. Now I was entrusted with helping others acquire that knowledge and skill!  While teaching “Project Management”,  I discovered a fundamental law about projects which applies to all projects irrespective of their nature and size; irrespective of the way the they are  managed – Agile Project Management or PMP Project Management!  And the law states – “Project without a deadline does not complete”.

Let me illustrate this with an example. In a fast growing startup company, engaged in the development of a software product, the product manager discovered a new feature that could add significant value to their product. He presented it to the CEO and the engineering manager. Engineering manager explained that he had other features in work and along with them engineering team was also busy in supporting customers with customer specific enhancements. So, the CEO and product manager agreed to assign lower priority to this new feature but emphasized that the new feature is very important. In his next review, CEO wanted to check the progress on the new feature and he discovered that it was not even touched by the engineering team. “We did not have time for it” was the simple explanation. The company had limited resources and engineering manager could not think of taking up a lower priority development and in the process, the new feature that could deliver significant competitive advantage to the company was lying neglected. Around this time, they also learnt that a competitor was thinking on a similar feature. Now everybody felt the urgency to deliver the new feature and they set a target that first usable version of the new feature should be delivered in three months’ time. The engineering team made the adjustments to their resource utilization and started working on it and managed to deliver the first version as required!

What made the difference? Simple act of setting a target date – the deadline! If that were not set, the company would have lost many more months and would have lost the early mover advantage! That is the difference a deadline can make!

Deadlines have psychological impact. They motivate the individuals to act! Deadlines drive us to define scope, resources, time and cost required, based on which a plan can be prepared, tracked and delivered!

Goal setting is an important exercise in  an organization at all levels. HR demands that the Goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound)! Here it is well recognized that unless the goals are time-bound i.e. unless there is a deadline, the goal has no meaning! Without a date, it just becomes a wish or desire and not a goal!

When we accept a deadline, we make a commitment. That commitment galvanizes us and imparts us the energy and enthusiasm, necessary for achievement of the goal! There could be unexpected hurdles on the path but if we are charged with the energy and enthusiasm, we will find the ways to overcome them.  

In our life – professional as well as personal, there are some activities which are important and urgent which grab our attention and we have no option but to spend our time on them. However, in the process, at times, we neglect the activities that are important but not urgent. Training, acquiring new skills, spending time with the family,  meditation  are some examples of important but non urgent activities. It is very important to set a date and time for them, otherwise we would lose something significant in the long run. Their neglect could mean missing out on some high value life experiences.

I would like to narrate a personal experience to further emphasize this. As it happens with most people, some of my classmates decided to arrange a reunion of our schoolmates. They met a few times and discussed the topic. I was invited to take part in one such discussion. We revived good old memories of our school days and agreed that we must rediscover that friendship and bonding. We also realized that finding our schoolmates after 30 years of no contact will be a difficult task. But we decided to go about it anyway. Then I said, “If you are serious about it, let’s set a date for this reunion and get started”. My friends were unwilling to set a date as things looked very uncertain then. But I insisted on the date and we set a date that was six weeks later. We set a target to get at least 60% of the 130 batchmates to attend the reunion. A weekly review meeting also was fixed. When we met after a week, there was significant progress.  All of us had contacted 2-3 more classmates and got them invited to our review meeting. I and one more friend visited the school and got the addresses of our batchmates from the school register. We distributed the list among ourselves and decided to either visit those addresses or send letters there. As we could see the progress, we got better idea of how we could go about contacting people and arranging the reunion. We also realized that it would be better to budget more time. I agreed to postpone the date but insisted that the revised date be final and we must go all out to meet it. We revised our date to two weeks later. We even went ahead and booked the venue for that date. Now there was no looking back. We went all out in our efforts and as more people got contacted the initiative got further momentum and it all culminated in a memorable reunion with 92 (70.8%) of our schoolmates and 12 teachers attending the event! Looking back, I told my friends that this would not have happened if I had not insisted on the date in my first meeting with them! They had spent few months just discussing the idea but by setting the deadline, we could make the reunion happen in just two months!  

Dear readers, at this stage, I would like to ask you to look back at your life and list out the things that you wanted to do but have not done. Ask yourself a question, “why did those things not happen?”. You will realize the truth – Project without a deadline does not complete!