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Beware the "it'll get done in 2 weeks"!

Well, the "I should blog more often" thing didn't get that great a start, but I had a good excuse.

Stuff like
I also literally, still can't bear to watch myself on video. I find that after "Hi, my name is ",  I do exactly what I do when something embarrassing is going happen to a character on a TV show that I like, i.e. I instinctively just turn it off.

Anyway, on to the topic of the day.

So I've had variations of this happen to me before, but this time it hit me harder than usual and I dealt with it worse than I usually.

Imagine the following conversation between me and an engineer not on my team:
- Me: "Hey, We need you to do blah blah blah"  
- Him: "Sure. We need to do blah blah anyway. It should be done in 2 weeks."
- Me: "Cool! 2 weeks works."
- Him: "Great."

1.5 weeks later
- Me: "Hey, are you close to getting blah blah done?" 
- Him: "Oh...not yet. We haven't started yet because of this other blah blah." 
- Me: "Oh..."
- Him: "But it'll be done in two weeks as soon we finish ther other blah blah."

Another week later
- Me: "Hey, so..."
-  Him: "Blah blah is now really 2 weeks away. We're going to start on it."

Another 2 days later
- Me: "About blah blah..." 
- Him: "Oh yeah...we're almost there. Just another two weeks."

The next day
- Me: "You're at least a day less than two weeks away now right?"
- Him: "Well... yeah. two weeks."

Now there were a number of reasons this happened, and they're amongst the typical ones:

  • Two weeks (especially if you think of it as including two weekends just-in-case :-)) seems like a ridiculously long amount of time. 
  • People (always!) over-estimate what they can do in a given time.
  • People work on a bunch of things and something that's not due immediately doesn't seem as urgent and can slip.
So what do you do?

Many awesome PMs at Google have told me: "You need to have a date to aim for. Always. For everything" 

The "Always. For everything" part is important. There are many reasons to tell yourself this does not apply to a particular situation, e.g "But this is research" or "But, we're not going to do anything for a while." etc. etc.

The trick to doing this well is
  • always setting a date
  • always setting a date that makes sense (i.e. is determined by the person who is actually doing the work)
  • knowing at what granularity you need to set dates, and what the deliverables for those dates need to be. 
My rule of thumb for this team is that if I don't have a deadline for any project in a week, I'm deliberately choosing to make a mistake.

The details of the methods varies with teams, companies and projects, but I think the rules always hold. 


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