Estimating a delivery date is hard. Missing it, on the other hand, is quite easy.
A missed delivery date is a missed opportunity to adjust the estimate, before it gets actually missed. Some teams will stick to the original date no matter what: this is most likely the result of the plan continuation bias.
As per Wikipedia:
There are also two predominant factors that characterise the bias. The first is an overly optimistic estimate of probability of success, possibly to reduce cognitive dissonance having made a decision. The second is that of personal responsibility: when you are personally accountable, it is difficult for you to admit that you were wrong.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_cost#Plan_continuation_bias
I’ve observed an additional factor: the desire to not disappoint stakeholders further. You try to do so by committing to a new date that is very close to the original estimate.
This is usually not very thoughtful (we only need one more week!), likely a knee jerk reaction: finger in the air, a new estimate is thrown into the mix. After all, the team feels it can’t waste even more time by thoughtfully stopping and reassessing. It rather defaults to just doing the work that it thinks is left.
Reassessing, instead, is what you need. The team should take the time to understand what happened: unforeseen issues affecting individuals in the teams, more scope needed than originally identified, emergencies the team has had to work on, wider organisational disruption, unforeseen complexity or dependency on other teams?
If any of that applies, could it happen again before the delivery? Does one week only really make sense for the functionality to be in the hands of the customers? Probably not.
Missing a deadline is too easy and frequent not to be prepared for it. Is your team aware as it works through the backlog? A constant question in the back of every one’s mind should be: does the deadline still feel right? Is the scope still reasonable? If not let’s stop and reassess.
A natural reaction might be to inform stakeholders that you’re not feeling confident about hitting the deadline any longer. That’s not enough though: you’re going to get asked “When can we get it then?”. If you’re not prepared for that question you’re going to commit to another date that you are going to miss.
When the team realises the date doesn’t work well any more take the time to reassess. Evaluate what’s been delivered, how much the scope has grown, and all the unforeseen interrupts that have disrupted you. What’s a new date you honestly feel comfortable with? Do not focus on the stakeholders and how they might feel about it.
I don’t know how to put it lightly but you’ve already disappointed them. Do not focus on disappointing them less with a new date. Focus on maximising your chances of hitting the new date. That’s going to be much more beneficial: for the stakeholders and for the team!
Another date slipping does not only impact your organization, it impacts your team first! It affects their morale and their confidence.
How do you handle scope creep and missing deadlines? I hope this post helped you reflect on how you and your team handle commitments. If you have any feedback hit me up on @fosstodon@alediaferia or @alediaferia.