Radu Luchian(ov): Pastime: Commentary
On Deadlines

Have you ever played Starcraft? It was voted on numerous occasions as the best game ever. My opinion is consistent with those poll results: Starcraft is one of the most perfect integrations of gaming experience I've ever had... But it was two years late in shipping. That's because its creators, Blizzard Ent. wanted to create a masterpiece worth of their previous blockbuster, Warcraft. And they kept chipping away at all the aspects of the game until they came up with an almost perfect gem. They didn't let their own deadlines to stand in the way of creativity.

I had lots of issues with deadlines ever since I heard Joseph Campbell say "Follow your bliss," and I'm going to record these issues in the essay you're reading now. I think sharp deadlines are the bane of modern society.

  • they push toward mediocrity,
  • they emphasize quantity versus quality and
  • generally they remind me of the philosophy behind the feared short- and long-term plans implemented in the totalitarian regimes which followed the model of USSR - the so-called communist regimes.

    Under closer inspection, sharp deadlines are detrimental to the economy. They:

  • force the people working on their projects to burn themselves excessively,
  • stump creativity and
  • encourage run-of-the-mill projects which have more foreseeable schedules, while
  • discourage innovative projects which due to their unexplored character are unpredictable in development;
  • maim every consistent prototyping strategies and
  • rob users of the extensive (and often timewise unpredictable) testing phase, during which over 80% of the product errors are found.
    The results are visible at every step in the software realm: buggy software which becomes over-bloated with make-do checks, patches and external fail-safes. These errors propagate from developer to developer and the user winds up being overcharged for all downtime caused by low-level software, not to mention the time that's wasted on fixing bugs, reinstalling configurations and general aggravation.

    The academic environment is taking the cue from the 'real-world' and is 'preparing' students for the working environment. Research has to be aborted just as it gets interesting because 'the deadline aproaches and we have to wrap up'.

    Contrary to what Mr. Ford thought, humans are not automata. They can emulate automatons, but inconsistently and inefficiently. Ideas come when the human is ready for them, not when the human wants them to come. Imposing deadlines in a research environment can push into oblivion any ideas not related to the project under way. For example while writing a paper on topic 1, I may stumble over information related to another topic, or a totally unrelated, but interesting insight may occur. Personally, I take time to record and file these ideas, but that happens at the expense of time which I had originally allotted to topic 1.

    All in all, we seem to be building a more and more mediocre society. Where are the days of the monks calmly studied the meaning of life while tending to their gardens? :) I'm not saying that deadline-based practice should be aborted. Far from me. People need incentives and reprimands in order to be motivated to keep at what they're doing. But a more flexible system would be better. Deadline-enforcers of all types should always consider the reason for delays, maybe ahead of time, and openly assess the necessity for the delay, or, if possible, allocate more resources for avoiding the delay.

    Actually, the whole development system should be geared toward preventing, avoiding unpredicted delay and alowing worthwile delay to occur. I'll be happy when business and academic standards will treat the deadline-delay controversy as they recently started to treat issues of usability in their products.

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