Project Manager’s Dilemma: Soft Deadlines v Hard Deadlines?

In the fairy tale, The Boy who cried Wolf, the villagers stopped believing the child. There was no wolf, they thought which was true until one day… The same thing occurs when you – or someone above you – creates an artificial deadline. I’m looking at a report that says we have a hard deadline on May 31st. Why hard? Why not just deadline? I suspect it to do with our fondness for military terminology.
  • Deadlines
  • Targets
  • Conquer
We’re fond of military (and sports) terminology in business. Maybe it sounds macho.

Project Plan Template

Gantt Chart in the Project Plan template pack

Soft Deadlines v Hard Deadlines

Ordinary tasks (another military term?) feel more important. But sometimes a deadline is simply a deadline. Why dress it up? It can work but it has drawbacks too. For example, it:
  • Creates a false sense of urgency. This has a negative cascade effect on the team. Suddenly everyone stops what they’re doing to meet this new artificial deadline.
  • Distracts us from our current work, which was almost finished. It’ll lose momentum and we’ll have to kick start it again.
  • Postpones more pressing issues to a later date, which we will also have to start again, losing more time.
  • Relegates important tasks to the back burner.
‘What happens if we miss this deadline?’ is a valid question. ‘Do we ignore the previous hard deadline?’ Clichéd writing and clichéd thinking are everywhere. Fake hard deadlines are a common example of this. See it for what it is. Sometimes it’s ok to miss a deadline. Trust me, the world keeps spinning.