Software developers always miss their deadlines

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


Confession time: In 40+ years of doing software, I’ve met my schedule once. Actually, that’s a lie. I missed by a week on a 150-day long project, my very first project at my very first real company, and that’s the closest I ever got with my own estimates. And on that project, marketing wanted it pulled into 30 days (and to hit that 150 days I was doing all-nighters and basically killing myself, so it wasn’t a very good schedule to begin with). [For the curious, it was a game cartridge].

The real losers of “schedule chicken” are the customers, who receive buggy and bad products. The company will suffer long product update cycles because of the effort needed to stay ahead of the quality debt. Explaining this to a manager who’s never even read even one of his copies of The Mythical Man-Month can be tough.

Things aren’t necessarily better when you let a project freewheel. “You’ll ship someday, just do a good job and get it right” doesn’t necessarily translate into the urgency to ship a product, and I’ve seen efforts on the scale of tens of millions of dollars fail.

Other arbitrary dates include things like shows (well, what is the real cost of missing that show versus shipping something buggy to bad reviews?) or holidays (hitting Christmas used to be a good excuse for schedule pressure in the game industry, much less of an excuse now).

[Anecdata: Years ago there was a manager at Microsoft who told his team to ship by some arbitrary date, which turned out to be when he was planning to go on a long vacation. I’m happy to say that Microsoft fired him.]