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I was never sold with the idea of soft vs. hard deadlines. There either is a deadline or not. Simple as that — just binary. Depending on the project there can be different kinds of non-negotiables (e.g. deadline, budget, scope, runway etc.). There is tremendous value in accepting them, while introducing negotiable terms like “soft deadlines” often just sabotages the whole thing. Even the words “soft” and “dead” next to each other look awkward.

Why do people introduce such terms though? It’s only because we are in a constant effort to assert control — even when we absolutely cannot. A “soft deadline” is nothing more than “the date we wish we can deliver” of a person. I couldn’t care less. It’s an attribute of the project, driven by an emotion that provides no value. A non-negotiable deadline on the other hand, does not give us control either, but it informs us that we need to take a decision, like chopping the scope of a project, or meet the consequences. I couldn’t care more. I want us to deliver kick-ass results that exceed requirements and non-negotiables provide value in navigating towards that goal.

How can we tell apart the negotiables from the non-negotiable ones though? If there are tangible real-life consequenses when missed, it’s a non-negotiable. Everything else is negotiable. A simple example is the deadline to submit a talk to a conference; if you miss it, you cannot submit your talk. Another non-negotiable is the runway of your startup, which you cannot abuse as every company needs money to run. Last, a non-negotiable is this one feature of a project that makes it a great MVP.

Let’s keep it simple. No more “soft deadlines”. No more “ideally a requirement”. No more noise. Stick to the non-negotiables, in order to take only decisions with intrinsic value, move forward and deliver only kick-ass results.

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