Playing with fire: The inexact and unsafe science behind setting deadlines

Jun 03 2013

Reese News Lab staffer Lilly Knoepp considers product ideas generated during brainstorms. Photo: Sara Peach

Reese News Lab staffer Lilly Knoepp considers product ideas generated during brainstorms. Photo: Sara Peach

It just got real this week at Reese News Lab.

While I would say that the first week focused on brainstorming, team building, and guest lectures, this week has opened the Pandora’s Box of deadlines, work flows, and, most exciting of all, progress towards creating workable news products.

We have 10 weeks left here at Reese News Lab to create these products, weeks that will go by faster than any of us probably understand right now. So, as a team, there’s been a consensus that any deadlines we set for ourselves have to be followed with the highest amount of professionalism and tact.

However, we all know how it goes. Deadlines are hard stressful usually terrible and no fun, but are obviously necessary. Deadlines can create pressure and stress, possibly turning what used to be fun collaboration and progress into hard-edged, rigorous scrambling. Deadlines can break the soul and wear-down the moral fiber. Setting a work schedule and sticking to it is a challenge, a triumph in the face of Time and the ultimately natural human tendency to procrastinate. To take arms against a sea of troubles…

Still, I think we here at the lab will be fine. Here’s why:

1. Small, intimate teams

There are only eight of us working on the summer startup project. For me this allows close, personal contact with a variety of perspectives and ideas. It also ensures that our workflow will be simple and free of over-thought. InĀ The Mythical Man-Month, computer science legend and UNC professor Fred Brooks makes a powerful thesis: “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.” We have the structure of manpower already figured out, I think.

2. Cross-functional skill sets

Among the team, we all bring our own unique backgrounds and knowledge to the table: journalism, user testing, business, coding and so on. This is something we’ve been told again and again: Each of us is here for a reason. There is no purpose in us hiding away in our respective fields, working alone and never diversifying the battleground. Here at the lab, we are encouraged to break from our comfort zones, to explore outside of what “roles” we think we’ve made for ourselves. We each bring our own skill sets and use them accordingly, and I think this allows such a small team to meet goals faster.

3. Communication and collaboration

I think the culture at the lab lends itself to this. We have experience with brainstorming solutions and in judging different strategies. The teams we make for ourselves aren’t set in stone; we expect lots of crossing over and working together. There is a constant need to record our thoughts, to bring them up when the time is right, and to critique them in a fair way. Lest we don’t communicate and fail at meeting any goals, these last two weeks at have been full of communicating, interacting and performing together to get things done.

Deadlining is a science of toil and trouble, one that can burn if not handled properly. I don’t feel in too much danger, though. I feel that with the team behind me here at the lab, we can fan the flames and work toward meeting our goals.


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