Over the last couple of weeks I have been party to several discussions on the effective use of deadlines in a business setting and also heard a fascinating story of a senior executive describing how he fouled up the integration of a newly acquired overseas subsidiary by setting an unrealistic deadline on a key element of the integration of the
Let me start with the senior executive and his subsidiary. It seemed to be a straightforward acquisition of an Asia based engineering company by a European engineering group. As part of the integration of the newly acquired subsidiary into a sub-division of the holding company the management team of the subsidiary led by an Asian national were given the task of implementing a change in working practices to come in line with the holding company. The timescale given, whilst challenging, was
based on the recent experience of implementing a similar change in a European subsidiary.
What wasn’t understood by the senior executive was that several elements of the proposed changes were culturally unacceptable to the Asian subsidiary. The subsequent failure to achieve the deadline resulted in loss of face for the Asian executive and his team and produced a deep rooted lack of trust between the newly acquired subsidiary and the holding company from which neither recovered.
I shared this tale of woe with a client one evening over dinner. His response was to share with me how effective his company was at managing deadlines though when I pushed him a little he did share with me that the majority of his projects over-ran and of more concern – to me at least – the projects were never fully closed out and very often failed to achieve the required quality standard. As our discussion developed around
the cause of these failures in spite of the intense focus on timescales it
became evident that the deadline setting process was at best arbitrary and the
organisational culture was to compromise quality of deliverable for apparent
I subsequently found myself explaining to him, based on my experience of working with other companies that it didn’t need to be like this. As his interest grew I shared with him an example of a project where a team came together, analysed the problem, agreed
the requirement and what constituted success in terms of deliverable and
allocated responsibilities amongst the team for individual work-streams. The
only instance where time was mentioned was to agree when they were next going
to meet to discuss progress. They kicked off the project, met on a regular
basis to review progress and subsequently closed out a first class project that
fully met the business need.
“But how did they know they were on plan?” He asked me.
“You need to understand that their focus was on solving the problem to the best of their ability. Everybody understood how important it was so they naturally treated it as a high priority” I explained. “I have some material on this that might be of help you. Would you
like me to pull something together for you?”
“Yes, that would be terrific” he replied “when can you have it done by?”