At some time in their lives, most software workers I know have been confronted with an impossible deadline. A looming deadline is all-too-common in the computer business, and it’s a significant source of burnout and poor software.

There are ways to prevent projects with ill-considered timelines, but in an enterprise setting, it’s sometimes too late, and commitments have already been made. Without consulting the software development team, a deadline has been set, marketing has commenced early, and contracts with third parties have been inked.

Technical engagement sooner in the planning phase is desirable, but even if that isn’t possible, there are things you can do to assist make the best of a poor situation.

When faced with an unattainable deadline, a decision must be made. There has to be a compromise. Perform you complete all of the tasks assigned to you, but do a poor job because you’re under pressure and don’t have enough time to complete them properly? No. Prioritization and creating a mental image of what “good enough” looks like are the answers.

Here are three basic prioritization approaches that will help you meet that deadline and deliver valuable features on time.

1. Find the must-haves and forget the rest

When you have a limited amount of time, you must realize that you will not be able to complete all of your tasks. The key is to identify the most crucial features and supply them first. That way, if you don’t get to everything, the less vital features will be the ones that suffer.

To separate the important from the rest, I like to employ the MoSCoW prioritization strategy. Sort tickets into four categories with your stakeholders: must have (absolutely necessary for success), should have (we can get by without it in a pinch), could have (would extend the core functionality), and want (nice to have).

Most people interpret the “W” in “MoSCoW” to mean “won’t have,” but I prefer the notion that functionality can still be desirable and will be added much later.

When conducting a MoSCoW exercise, the most important thing is to actively participate in questioning your stakeholders’ perspectives on what’s important. I don’t think I’ve ever completed the exercise without most characteristics falling into the must-have category.

The key is to keep asking questions and providing alternatives until the list of must-dos has been reduced to the bare minimum. Because let’s face it, that’s really all there is time for.

2. Split those user stories 

Most teams these days are accustomed to breaking down work into user stories. Many people overlook the fact that narrative splitting—breaking down a user story into its smallest parts—allows work to be prioritized more precisely. This allows you to tap into the real potential of prioritization.

Consider the following user story: “As a tax professional, I want to fill out my clients’ financial information so that I may calculate their expected tax.” Client-side validation is frequently used in forms since it gives consumers faster feedback and assures a better user experience. But, in order to acquire the computation, does the tax practitioner actually need client-side validation?

You can prioritize it on its own if you break “As a tax practitioner, I require client-side validation on the financial information form so that I can notice and remedy my mistakes promptly” into its own user narrative.

It’s probably not as crucial as your must-haves, so separating the story helps you to prioritize the basics over the minor details. Concentrate on what you truly require and save the rest for later.

This strategy not only avoids gold plating (the addition of unneeded or frivolous features or needs), but it also allows for more learning. For example, after a few months of running the system and getting user input, you may have a better idea of what kind of validation is most beneficial than you had when it was being developed.

Furthermore, working in smaller batches is a basic notion of agile for a reason: it actually speeds up the process!

3. Keep it lean

With a little effort (and a little pressure), you might be able to envisage making do with a lot less than you first anticipated. Finding the most efficient ways to construct a product is important to keep it lean. Is it really necessary to have distinct edit and view pages (the R and U in CRUD), or can users simply read the data from an edit form?

It’s worthwhile to consider what functionality doesn’t need to be added right away. Is there anything you can do manually after the launch for a few weeks?

You may, for example, manually send notification emails when your user base is still small. Provide database access and a simple query to your product owners so they may see what new events have occurred in the system.

You might be amazed at what you learn with this method. Your product owners may learn more about how the system is used by attentively examining the data, and by writing emails themselves, they may be able to develop some personal ties with consumers.

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention, so get inventive.

Work smarter

With a tight schedule, something has to give—but it doesn’t have to be your evenings or the quality of what you’re doing if you employ the correct prioritization tactics. Concentrate on the vital things, be critical of what is done, and think of new ways to address problems.

This approach, in my experience, results in happier development teams, happier users, and a more profitable company overall.

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