The power of “Drop-Deadlines”

My business partner David Nichols coined a great phrase we use on our projects: drop-deadlines. Not just "a date we're aiming for", which is often the type of deadline that seems to be set, and missed, in most companies. A fall-off-cliff, make-or-break, line in the sand that we absolutely have to hit. The power of a drop-deadline is that it can energize and align a team to do amazing things, as long as its led from the top.

One of the key ways you turn a deadline into a drop-deadline is by going public with the date. David N. writes and produces plays in his spare time, and has had his fair share of scary but thrilling opening nights for musicals he has put on. He'd booked the theatre, sold the tickets and couldn't go on stage and say, "Sorry, the production team missed some timings, so we only have 1/2 a play to put on".

Same thing with weddings. Everything has to be ready for the big day. Daily or weekly newspapers, ditto.

The grandmasters of this in the business world are Apple, with their now famous MacWorld keynote speaches, hosted by CEO Steve Jobs until he had to step back because of illness. At this event Apple reveals the new product line-up for the coming season, often spiced up with guest appearances from show biz stars, such as Madonna and John Legend. Within Apple this event is the drop-deadline par excellence. If you don't have your new gizzmo ready for the big day, your next slot is 6-9 months later. Also, the event creates a huge amount of buzz, both before it happens, with Apple fans guess and gossip online about what will be launched, and after all has been revealed.
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Drop-deadlines also work on a smaller scale. On the way home from the tube last night I saw an example in action: a poster outside an under-contruction Sainsbury's Local store announcing the opening on 2 September.
I thought this was a great idea. It energizes and focuses the team working on the store. It creates awareness of local shoppers that the store is coming (OK, I know, its not quite MacWorld). It also builds pride when the deadline is hit.

However, as I worked a few yards further I was less impressed to see a second poster with an opening that was 2 days later. Its bad enough to change a drop-deadline. Its even worse to leave the old poster up next to it!