The “Uber” Principle of Deadline Management


The 'Uber principle', or how to put more emphasis on showcasing development progress rather than solely focusing on project completion dates.

"Software projects are always late", said almost every CEO or product manager.

In the constantly evolving realm of software development, one stark reality remains: software projects are invariably late. This challenging phenomenon has sparked countless debates and instigated various innovative approaches to address the daunting issue of deadline management. Across the technology landscape, big and small organisations have grappled with accurately estimating software deadlines, often met with a mix of overruns and underestimations. It's a dance that often leads to project hiccups, team burnout, and disappointed stakeholders. In a world obsessed with efficiency and agility, some progressive entities, like Basecamp, eliminate estimates altogether. But what if the problem was not estimating the arrival time but how stakeholders perceive progression?

Just over a decade ago, an enthusiastic Silicon Valley start-up, Uber, revolutionised how we perceive wait times. Before Uber, hailing a cab involved a frustrating process of calling a taxi service and enduring an uncertain wait, often punctuated by delays and repeated phone calls to the operator. User Experience: terrible. With the launch of its app, Uber not only automated the ride-booking process but also introduced the game-changing feature of tracking your ride in real time. No more blind waiting or wondering about your cab's estimated time of arrival (ETA); you could now see your ride making its way to you, creating a significantly enhanced and stress-free user experience.

Imagine watching the tiny icon representing your Uber on your phone screen, making its way across the cityscape, closer to you with each passing minute. This 'Uber principle' offered a novel way of interpreting waiting time. Instead of a vague, abstract ETA, you now had real-time, visual progression - a tangible, concrete representation of the process. It wasn't just about the destination anymore; the journey mattered too. Interestingly, this principle finds an echo in Einstein's theory of relativity. The perception of time can be subjective, depending on the observer's frame of reference. In the context of Uber, the wait feels less excruciatingly long when you can see the progression in real time. When a tangible, real-time visual experience replaces the uncertainty of waiting, your perception of time shifts. The waiting duration remains unchanged, but the experience undergoes a radical transformation.

We can view deadline management from a fresh perspective by taking this insight into software development. Project teams should focus less on estimating the finish line and more on exhibiting the project's progression. At its core, software development is about creating value for the user. The actual worth of a project is not in its completion, but in the value it brings with each completed feature.

A simple Kanban board could provide a basic visualisation of this principle. Tasks can be seen moving from the backlog to the 'in-progress' column and finally to the 'completed' column. But building software is, first and foremost, about creating user value. A better visualisation system should give stakeholders a more transparent view of the program's progress. To truly leverage the 'Uber principle', we must offer stakeholders a transparent view of the project's progress. Regular 'demo days' could serve this purpose, with project teams showcasing their latest features and outlining progress towards the final product. Stakeholders could receive regular progress reports detailing the number of features completed, current issues being addressed, and any potential delays. This would allow stakeholders to track the development progress, allowing them to provide timely feedback and ensure alignment with their expectations.

Increased visibility and transparency undeniably make the project's journey towards completion more tangible and less abstract to all involved. However, such a method comes with its challenges. The increased transparency means project setbacks, delays, or complications become immediately apparent to all stakeholders. This could translate into increased pressure on project teams, who may feel the weight of constant scrutiny. But this is okay. Immediate insights into setbacks could empower teams to respond more quickly and efficiently. It shortens the distance between problem identification and solution implementation. It promotes a culture of transparency and trust, where issues are openly discussed and swiftly addressed. It allows teams to showcase their problem-solving abilities, demonstrating their competency in overcoming challenges. In essence, it brings to light the reality of software development - it's not a smooth, linear process but a journey filled with obstacles and opportunities for learning and growth.

With all its potential benefits, it's essential to remember that the 'Uber principle' does not magically solve the estimation issue. While stakeholders can visualise the project's journey, the question of 'when will it be done' still lingers. It's a question that demands an answer, a deadline that stakeholders can mark on their calendars. Therefore, while visualising the project's progress can enhance stakeholder engagement and satisfaction, it cannot replace the need for thoughtful, realistic estimations.

This 'Uber-inspired' model of deadline management in software organisations offers a revolutionary way of perceiving and managing software development timelines. It fosters an environment where progress is valued over mere completion, and the journey is as significant as the destination. It encourages teams to openly communicate their progress, fostering a culture of transparency and trust. It invites stakeholders to participate in the development journey, ensuring their engagement and satisfaction. Above all, it transforms software development from a stress-inducing race against time into an engaging, collaborative process that values progress and people over deadlines.