Late Again, Thinking About the Cost of Delays

It’s Wednesday morning, and I’m on the train heading to Stockholm. The train is late, and it’s not the first time.

One reason delays annoy me so much is that they break my expectations. I’ve made my plans to fit with the train company’s timetable, and now they are not upholding their part of the commitment.

Then again, when it comes to riding the train from my hometown Uppsala to Sweden’s capital – Stockholm – delays are such an integral part of the experience that I’m no longer surprised when they happen. Curiously, they still annoy me. Maybe it’s because the company running the trains couldn’t seem to care less about the problems the delays are causing me. Somehow, they still manage to act like every single delay is a big surprise to them. I take comfort in the fact that I get some extra time to read and write, as long as I’ve found a place to sit on the train – but that’s another story.

Anyway, while a train delay may not seem a huge thing to fret about, consider its less obvious effects. When I don’t make it on time to my networking meeting, I miss out on information and networking that would be valuable to me.

Intuitively, we know that being late costs us, but we easily focus on only one narrow part of that cost: the increased cost of working on something for a longer time. We forget that we also push the rewards into the future, and that might be costing us even more.

In general, I find that a concrete cost today is easier to grasp than a probable loss in the future. Maybe it’s because we find it hard to think about loosing something we never really had in the first place. I guess this is one of the reasons we make short-sighted decisions.

If you want to learn more about understanding your cost of delay, Donald Reinertsen’s books are a good investment: Developing Products in Half the Time, Managing the Design Factory and The Principles of Product Development Flow.

Author: Tobias Fors

I'm a software management consultant. I help other people succeed with software development. In my work, I help teams and organizations be more effective and ship software.

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