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A Deadline Is a Beautiful Thing

WomenLEAD beta tested our online platform with our first potential customers last week.

Having this deadline forced the technical team to step up the development cycle and fix the bugs in the platform. What is not working is coming to the foreground. A natural response could be frustration, blame, finger pointing, or panic. But from my perspective as CEO I welcome the opportunity to discover what’s not working: the processes we don’t use; the issues that need to be fixed that we don’t catalog; the “silos” we create when we’re not collaborating; the number of “open items” we haven’t addressed. All of this is an opportunity for learning—and for a team breakthrough. No wonder people talk about the beauty of a deadline.

But if a deadline is good, is an aggressive deadline even better?  Yes, according to Cyril Parkinson’s dictum: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If you make more time available to develop your product, people will use more of it—and not always wisely.

Many business luminaries endorse aggressive deadlines for other reasons.  Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO and former Google VP, loves creative limitations and therefore tight timetables. In a much-quoted BusinessWeek article she says, “Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome.”2 She goes on to point out, “We often can get a sense of just how good a new concept is if we only prototype for a single day or week.”  That also cuts costs. “By limiting how long we work on something…we limit our investment.”

Apple’s Steve Jobs built a career on achieving breakthrough innovation from teams working under unreasonable limitations.  His name may be forever linked to “impossible deadlines”—which he inflicted on everyone he worked with, from his initial partner, Steve Wozniak, to the first Macintosh team in the 1980s, to the many Apple product teams of the 2000s. Sometimes the deadlines were met, sometimes they weren’t, but the challenge drove his teams to achieve what others didn’t think possible.

In the words of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, “One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.”

So what are the advantages of aggressive deadlines?  In my experience they:

  • Focus your energy and attention.
  • Force you to think outside of what you already know.
  • Reduce time and costs.
  • Provide an opportunity to assess individual and team performance.
  • Increase team confidence, if the deadline is met.

But what about the disadvantages of aggressive deadlines?

It is true that tight schedules can result in team members cutting corners to meet deadlines.  But oftentimes you find that those corners should be cut.  In the case of product development, that usually means fewer features—an acceptable tradeoff to get the prototype in the hands of early adopters quickly.

It is also true that tight schedules can increase stress and pressure, which is uncomfortable to experience and manage.  But that time pressure can also be the crucible in which team members discover their strength, resilience, and character—qualities they didn’t know they had!

Yes, a deadline is a beautiful thing. But an aggressive deadline can be a difference maker.


Parkinston’s dictum:  //

BusinessWeek article: //

Ursula Burns: A Woman Who LEADS in Engineering and F500 CEO

Ursula-Burnsv2How do you get from the projects to the top of a Fortune 500 company? Xerox CEO Ursula Burns will tell you: Speak your mind. Be fearless. And when your dreams are big, chase them.You might have seen Burns in the recent Makers documentary, where she talks about her path to success, or heard about her remarks at the 2013 Catalyst Awards Conference, or read her profile in Fast Company magazine.

Her story is an inspiration to women and men who aspire to lead.Burns got her start at Xerox as a summer intern while she was still a student of mechanical engineering at NY Polytechnic. Since then, she has moved all the way up the ranks, helping to turn her company’s financial performance around. Now, she is pushing Xerox to evolve from a printing equipment manufacturer to a leader in the digital age.This forward-leaning approach has earned Burns many kinds of accolades, from a profile in Fast Company to opportunities to lead the White House’s Export Council.

But it’s her approach to the workplace that may be most enlightening for women. Under Burns’ leadership, Xerox employees are encouraged to be more outspoken about the things they know best.Earlier this year, she told the Wall Street Journal that balance should be achieved through the span of a lifetime, not a week, day or month, and sometimes that may mean putting personal needs ahead of career and family. And sometimes it may mean the opposite.

She also urges young women to stay encouraged, even when they feel like they don’t fit in, and to be unafraid to ask for help. As she wrote in her personal story for Lean In,

Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic and the courage to lean in.

For not only demonstrating courage in her own career, but encouraging other women to do the same, WomenLEADInc recognizes Ursula Burns as a Women Who Leads in Engineering and as a F500 CEO . 



To learn more about how the revolutionary WomenLEAD platform supports women’s development as leaders individually and within organizations, please check out our main page at and consider supporting our Indiegogo fundraising campaign. Follow us on Twitter @WomenLEADInc.