Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hard deadlines motivate people

The vast majority of people seem utterly incapable of doing anything until the very last minute.

Procrastination appears to be human nature, and tends to defy the best project management practices.

Whether learned or inherited, it's a very real phenomenon that project managers need to deal with on a daily basis.

Some managers try to jumpstart things by setting a "fake" deadline, a week or two before the "real" deadline, so that people actually start working on things and discovering unknown dependencies and challenges before it's too late.

This tends to work -- about once.

Then everyone clues into the trickery and ignores the next "fake" deadline completely.

Nonetheless, I've found that if you want something done, you need to set a deadline, and make people very aware of it.

In PMRobot, we've added a bunch of cues to remind people about deadlines.

The "Due in X days" text turns red at the 3-day mark. Ticket subjects turn bold and red at the same time. Reminder emails are sent out.

In project management, there's no easy way to fight the tide of procrastination, but I've found that it works best to:
  1. Set a realistic due date. Make sure people know what it is.
  2. Enforce the due date. Ensure that people know the consequences of missing it.
  3. Communicate about the due date. Ask people regularly about their progress.
  4. Don't push back the due date. Deliver on time, create a new milestone, and reschedule the missed work items.
How about you? What tools do you use for motivating people to keep on track?