Mutual has purchased assets from The Rye Agency and our new website will launch in 2017.

The charming phrase was then adopted by the Newspapers of the time. Of course, newspapers are well known for their reasonable approach and tasteful use of language. *a-hem*. Their version of the word basically meant, "if you miss this date your story is dead - your career is dead - you're done". Bit harsh.

150 years have passed and the deadline is still that, although in most organisations a bit less scary.

We're not in the same boat anymore though. You don't need to go to the presses in 2 hours, you don't need to break news and you aren't responsible for informing people during a civil war.

I think we're all agreed: we need some date to say, "We should probably have this done by this date" - but is a traditional deadline still the best way to approach it?

Doesn't that seem way too risky? What's the chance that this big project is going to be completed by that date? In fact, what's the chance that this big project is going to be completed by that date and be a good product?

Pretty unlikely. There's a much greater chance that things are going to go wrong than right when you plan like this. So how can we do it better?

Lifelines!

A terrible and cheesy name, I know, but bare with me.

How about instead of having a single deadline at the end of a project we have numerous lifelines throughout?

What if we get small chunks of a project done and out there by that date. We then have the freedom to do what deadlines force out of us, thinking things through properly:-

  • Were we on track for that last release? Do we need more or less time for the next one?
  • Are people getting it? Do they like it or are people dropping out quickly?
  • Does what we've learned here impact any of our future plans?

It would reduce the risk for you, it would reduce the stress for your suppliers/producers/designers/whatever and it would allow you to make properly informed decisions about how people actually use your site.

Agile Methodologies

This concept isn't new. Over the past few years app and web developers have started to favour agile methodologies. They break a large goal into a bunch of smaller bite-sized parts which allow the overall project to twist and turn as needed to ensure the ultimate success of a project. Each of these parts are releasable in it's own right.

Who uses agile techniques? British Airways, NASA, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, IBM, and thousands more.

And on the flip side? Failed projects like the NHS IT project (which cost over £11 million) then scrapped and Birmingham City Council's website (which cost almost £3 million).

So for example... a University website might say throughout 2014 they will relaunch their entire web presence. It might be broken down into...

  • The core brochure website to attract new students
  • A new course finder
  • The student virtual learning environment
  • The intranet
  • The off-site bits like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

And they would have be broken down more, too. Each lifeline would allow the University to figure out if things are going well. They would learn about their users more and more each time and have the freedom to change things quickly when they aren't working.

Where a deadline forces everything to be launched by a certain date, lifelines would allow things to be done properly at a sensible pace and on budget.

Or to put it another way... it forces you not to bite off more than can be chewed.