The Punctual Pigeon: tl;dr / executive summary
Time deadlines (‘We’ll finish it in four weeks’) are a mistake. The Punctual Pigeon effect means you’ll finish close to whatever deadline you set at the start.
Task deadlines (‘we’ll finish it when it’s done’) will help you produce higher-quality work, and make you more productive, more efficient, and more profitable.
Part 2 is about why task-based deadlines are better in several ways that time-based deadlines.
Task deadlines, not time deadlines
Forget time deadlines. Set task deadlines.
Focusing on tasks, not time, is the key to dealing with the Punctual Pigeon.
Here are four reasons why you should always set task deadlines, not time deadlines, whenever you get the choice.
1. Do better projects
Planning is the first thing to run on too long when there’s lots of time, and the first thing to get squeezed when time is short.
It’s treated as though it’s highly variable, sometimes even optional.
But smart and effective planning is the key to optimising the time spent actually ‘doing’. That’s especially true once the project is underway, as when you’re planning with real data to hand you should be able to plan better.
Prioritise the task above the time, and if you have good team members they’ll take as much planning time as they need, but no more.
Then they’ll start, finish and redo planning when they need to, not at a made-up milestone point pre-determined by the time deadline.
That will make your projects better.
2. Be more productive
Setting task deadlines will make effective team members happy.
Giving them more freedom from clumsy, time-based targets means they’ll have more autonomy and more opportunities to develop.
With more autonomy and faster development, your best team members will flourish, and the bad ones will fail or leave – so you’ll improve both team member happiness and the overall quality of the team.
This in turn will increase productivity.
3. Be more efficient
If you’re working for a client and you price according to the task you’re completing, not the time you think it will take, your team members won’t have to waste time on projects that are running ahead of schedule.
If you tell your client that the work will take four weeks, but you’re done after three, the client – who has agreed a fee in the expectation of four weeks’ work – will expand the brief to make the most of his allotted time.
He will waste a week of your team members’ time without paying extra for doing so: you’re being penalised for your team members’ skill and diligence.
So if you base the price on the task, not the time, your client won’t expand the brief unnecessarily, and your team members will be free sooner to work on new projects.
That makes your team more efficient.
4. Be more profitable
Don’t price your product according to the time it’ll take to make it.
Instead, price it according to the complexity of the problems it poses, its scarcity, and its importance to the customer.
That’s a much truer reflection of its value.
If you can create something brilliant in five minutes and your customer can’t get it anywhere else, don’t charge them for five minutes’ work – they will pay much more than that, and it’s fair that they should do so.
Don’t give your customers a discount because of your team members’ speed and skill.
Task-based pricing will increase your profitability.
Catch the Punctual Pigeon
Lock it up. Focus on tasks, not time. Set your deadlines, your quality standards, and your prices according to tasks, not time.
Your team will produce higher quality work, and it will make them more productive, more efficient, and more profitable.