“How long will it take?” is a question that gets asked often in many spheres of life. Sometimes, we are able to answer immediately because “it” is something that we’ve done time and again. For example, if you ask me how long it will take me to prepare jollof rice, I can answer that immediately. Sometimes, there is a delay in our answer because we don’t know but know someone who does. For example, if you ask me how long it will take to make biryani, I’ll need to go look up a recipe and figure what the recipe says about how long it (should) takes.
But what happens when we don’t have or can’t get to the information? What happens when the range of answers is so wide that its of little value? What happens when we simply don’t know. For example, as a music writer and composer if you ask me how long it will take me to write and compose a new piece, I won’t have a good answer for you because I really don’t know. It could be just me but in talking to friends who are involved in creative-type activities, I’ve come to observe that its hard to determine how long a creative act will take (except you are copying someone/something else).
So how do creatives get things done? How do I end up finishing a piece? How did you get your term papers done? How do you finish writing a book? Deadlines. Deadlines are what keep this creative in check. Even when I finish early, its probably because there was a deadline of some sort. Without deadlines, I would probably write a single piece for six or seven months. But when a friend says they need a song for their wedding in the summer, I know I need to constrain myself.
I have experienced software development as being highly creative endeavor. I imagine that some feel and have experienced differently. In my professional career, I have tried to avoid situations where there is not a lot of creativity and hence I find that it is often very challenging to answer the “how long will take” question in a valuable way when it arises. So I usually ask for a deadline instead – as a side note, very often there is no deadline, it just happens that someone has a need to know how long just like I want to know when an Arsenal player will come back from injury – and then the team works towards that deadline. Working towards a deadline has some interesting side-effects as well but that is beyond the scope of this post.
But just like with most things in life, please use deadlines responsibly. Understand that a deadline that is too aggressive can kill creativity and your product. And while we’re at it, please don’t turn an estimate into a deadline. Thanks!