All projects have a varying degree of schedule uncertainty. The longer the project, the wider the uncertainty. Most likely, the end date will slip out because of all the project uncertainty. This is totally normal and unavoidable with complex projects. When the project gets close to the end (e.g. within months, weeks or days), this is when the real end date reveals itself. The uncertainty of the end date shrinks as you progress down from months out, to weeks out and then to days out. Those last days, where you scramble to get the last bit done, is where the must have features finally get nailed down and the uncertainty evaporates.
Why Does it Happen That Way?
It turns out that most people procrastinate, which may mean they are working on multiple projects at once. The rare exception is the narrowly focused startup working on revision 1.0. Those guys are focused but have a high degree of uncertainty due to the invention paradox, which is how can I know how long it will take to invent something that has never existed. Mixed in with procrastination and the vagueness of invention is the inevitable optimism that most creative people have. This optimism is what drives their creativity as well as schedule uncertainty.
Are Creative Schedules a Lost Cause?
No. Remember that deadlines are what focus creative people to get stuff done. Having a realistic deadline for creative work will get the project done. The only caveat is that the uncertainty of that schedule will be high. That fact needs to be reconciled with the needs of the business. Schedules can’t just drag on forever. All projects must have an end date. What has to be recognized is the highly variable nature of creative projects. Certainty on the end date is a luxury the more creative the project.
You Know When the End is Near
Even though time certain, creative projects are fantasy, you and your team know when it’s time to finish up. It may be a client deadline, running out of money or just being sick of the project. When those feelings start, you are in the counting days mode when all your team wants is to push through to the end. This is the most stressful part of any project and requires a reserve of energy to sustain your way through it. This is the precise reason burning your team out before this point makes no sense — you need that intensity to finish.
The End is a Good Place to Start
Counting the days till a project ends can be frustrating. Just one more tweak, just one more feature or just crushing one more bug will tempt even the most senior manager to delay a project. Resist the urge. The best thing to do is finish, so you can start the next project. Even if it’s not perfect, the act of completion will energize the team to want do more which makes the final days of a project worth the effort.