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What do you do about that very talented and creative designer/engineer who never hits a deadline?

Everyone knows it's hard to find great Silicon Valley talent. I've been lucky enough to find some really sharp people to work with. But now, and several times in my career I've worked with inspired designers and engineers who have great ideas, amazing talent, and no ability to hit a deadline. Time is money, especially in the earliest stages of a startup. Is it ever worth it to work with them?

13 Replies

John Anderson
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John Anderson Entrepreneur
Senior Mobile Developer at Propelics
Simple answer. Would you rather have crap on time or something great a little later. If they are at least consistent, and you can pad their estimates and come up with a reasonable actual date you feel it would be ready, then that's one thing. If they are all over the board, being late sometimes and really late other times, it might be worth looking for someone else.

A way to mitigate this is to have frequent checkpoints and detect when they first start going off course. It's easier to steer clear of the iceberg knowing about it as early as possible.

Depending on what you're building (are you selling style or functionality) then that could help your decision also. It's hard to find someone who can build functional things with style and elegance. But if you're selling something more commoditized, like DB stored proc's or just coding run of the mill logic, might be worth moving on with someone else.
John Petrone
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John Petrone Entrepreneur
CTO at LaunchPad Central
In my experience few of us are fabulous at hitting deadlines for fundamentally creative activities. Too many uncertainties to begin with, and a deadline approach focuses on external driving factors and not on the actual effort and elapsed time required.

Perhaps a different approach would serve - ask instead how long a certain set of functionality would take to design and build - and then measure how long it really does, while keeping on the pressure as the commit date approaches.

I've had great engineers that are terrible at estimating - knowing that ahead of time I can double the estimate they give me and set expectations for delivery dates accordingly.


Emily Lonigro Boylan
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President LimeRed Studio | social impact consultant | for nonprofit, higher education, corporate social responsibility
The first thing to look at is whether the deadlines are reasonable. If they aren't, no one will hit them. Then, break down deadlines into smaller ones that are realistic and shoot for incremental progress. If you're familiar with Agile at all, this is the idea. Since we've switched to that method, everything is higher quality and clearer for us and clients.

It's up to the agency and client to set expectations, processes, and stick to them. The agency should guide it, but everyone is responsible.

I've been running a design and dev agency for 10 years and there are always things that come up in development that no one can account for in the upfront planning. We review how we're working with our clients every two weeks to make sure everyone is on the same trajectory. More frequent checkins might be a good solution.

There's a lot of talent everywhere. Look elsewhere, find a company that fits your culture. We're in Chicago and work nationally. Lots of agencies do.
Daniel Esbensen
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Daniel Esbensen Advisor
CTO at SheerPower Auction Services, Inc. and Information Services Consultant
Hello, We have had great success working with super creative types hitting deadlines by: o breaking down all projects into weekly deliverables (daily ones for some super-creative types) o request and pay for them to report via email or other simple system DAILY two things: 1. What in general did you get done today (highlights) 2. What do you plan on getting done tomorrow In this way, possible deadline issues can be discovered very early and addressed. Dan E. ===
Lenny Rayzman
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Lenny Rayzman Entrepreneur
Network Hardware Engineer

Never go byengineer's estimate. The better they are, the farther they'll miss it. Keep tabs on progress but don't try to microanalyze.Thingswon't happenfaster if you do!

Ajay Sikka
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Ajay Sikka Entrepreneur
CEO at OmniM2M & Ci2i Services, Inc.

I agree with the comments above - quality trumps delays. I prefer to have the team work on smaller (bite size) chunks. Once you factor in suitable padding on these smaller projects, and build a process around it, the "shock" value of delays is minimized.


Joanan Hernandez
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Joanan Hernandez Entrepreneur
CEO & Founder at Mollejuo
Hello Richard,

What you have is a management problem. Which BTW, is one of the frequent challenges of being a manager. This human behaviour doesn't apply only to engineers/designers, apply to any subordinate you might have. So, the trick -I think- is to learn to live and deal with it (not an easy task). Personally, I would factor in if the person does the job within reasonable delays.

Quality varies according to the eye of the beholder.

I suggest this great read about Software engineering schedule.

Best of lucks!

Cheers!
Diego Fiorentin
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Diego Fiorentin Advisor
VP Business Development at Squadability
First of all,

Dont think as a plan as an static thing, DDLs are dynamic because the problems evolve.

I like @Daniel Esbensen answer, but I would add my previous comment.

We try to simplify a project by thinking it as a waterfall, however a project is constantly evolving, you are getting feedback from everyone.

Also, think that a creative project never ends.
it can always be improved, so the stop is a equation between Quality, Time, Money, you have to decide which is the most relevant and trade it for the other two.

cheers
Richard Bullwinkle
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VP of Products & Marketing at Dictionary.com
Some great answers here. I like the overall sentiment of managing to tight chunks of work. That has worked in most cases.

In this particular case, I really meant the true "dreamer" designer or engineer. The one where you give them a specific task, and they disappear for a while. Sometimes they come back with amazing work. Sometimes they say, "oh, I decided I wanted to work on this other aspect of the project." And sometimes they say, "oh, my buddy and I decided to drive to Death Valley last week. I haven't looked at this at all." The person who can't be tamed by a paycheck, a schedule, or a goal. :)
Stevan Vigneaux
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Stevan Vigneaux Advisor
Director of Product Management and Marketing at Mimio
There are five primary reasons for engineers missing a deadline.

First, they were forced into a deadline they never believed in. I have seen it time and time again - upper management pushes and pushes for "sooner, faster, better" until the poor engineer just says "OK" because that will at least make the meeting end so the work can begin.

Second, one"this will only take a little time"interruption after another was dropped into the work week, and thus into the schedule. But the schedule was not revisited, almost as if work could be added and completed magically.

Third, the estimate was made without enough facts, usually meaning not enough research.

Fourth, the infamous "feature creep" where new work was added along the same path but without honestly revisiting the schedule.

Lastly, and least of all, the engineer just isn't very good at scheduling.

Note that the top four of the five above have nothing whatsoever to do with the engineer.

Full confession here - as a Product Manager, Product Marketing Manager, VP or Product Management and even as a CEO - I have been guilty of all four of them. Though I'm getting better all the time.


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