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Karting1Racing around a kart track last week I was intensely frustrated to be lapped by both my sons. (All right, I was secretly proud of them too, but I wasn’t going to let on). I used to beat them so easily when they were boys. Their youthful enthusiasm, not to mention significant weight advantage, was no match for my middle aged guile and everyday driving experience. Alas, those days have gone. I was duly humiliated and they pooh-poohed my excuse that dad’s kart was carrying a few (ahem) more kilos than theirs.

This all reminded me of the time – umpteen years ago – when I was a project manager on one of the Formula 1 teams. Back then karting – followed by beer & curry – was one of our regular team building cum social events. It was all great fun, albeit with a fierce competitive edge.

The great thing about project managing in F1 is that the objectives are obvious – you must win races – and, the point I want to focus on here, the deadlines are immovable. The race calendar is there for all to see and nobody would dream of asking, “Erm, could we just put the first race back a few weeks, please? Our car isn’t quite ready yet”

If only all projects had immovable deadlines. Some project managers fear them and seem to welcome endless change requests as a means of excusing overruns and explaining away slippage. We should embrace immovable deadlines. They focus the mind, motivate the team and bring an urgency and sense of purpose to the tricky business of haggling over spec changes and feature enhancements.

I used to deliver projects for a marketing director who would say semi-seriously, “I’m not sure what I want but I’m damned sure of when I want it”. What he meant was that he needed something, yet to be determined but nevertheless compelling, to put on the exhibition stand at the next trade show. Now that was challenging; no spec and an immovable deadline.

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