In the case of Microsofts Windows Vista, the delays stretched from weeks to months and then to years, and now it looks as if the company will bring out its flagship upgrade right in the middle of a product-cycle trough, potentially putting the companys partners through a period of deep pain.
I pored through some history to see when Microsoft said Longhorn would launch originally.
As some of you may have discovered, finding history in the Internet Age is fairly difficult, since the Web has no memory, and all those "inconvenient" facts can disappear from Web pages unless theyre archived somewhere.
Nonetheless, I found evidence that the company first said that Longhorn would ship in the third quarter of 2004.
Some quick arithmetic shows that Microsoft is likely to be just about two years late to market; much of the delay, I suspect, is based on how long it took the company to come to Jesus about its programming methodology. And the situation wasnt helped by its dysfunctional culture.
Before learning about the wholesale changes the company has finally undertaken to address the out-of-control Vista programming effort, I had a suspicion that a culture had been developing in Redmond in which workers could bring only good news to management or risk being shot as the messenger.
Weve all heard rumors of famous temper tantrums on the part of its top managers. Steve Ballmer himself once barked in my direction. So, Ive had a direct taste.
But a corporate culture can stand only so many dead messengers before live change grinds to a halt.
How far Microsoft has come since its early entrepreneurial days was brought home to me in spades the other day when I was scheduling some meetings in Redmond.
I offered slots at 8, 9 and 10 a.m. since I had a flight out of SeaTac at 1 p.m. But my contact warned me, "Frankly, youll have a hard time getting anyone here at 8 oclock in the morning."
Remember, this is from the company where the halls used to smell funny because everyone was sleeping under their desks so as to put in 23-and-a-half-hour days.
And I know that its hard to stay lean and mean when youre a monopoly. There are only so many pull-ups you can do before flopping down in the chaise lounge for a massage.
After AT&T was broken up, one of its top managers whined to me one day about his changed circumstances.
"Dont let them fool you," he said. "Monopoly was great. Wednesday afternoon golf. The whole bit." Less golf; more mattresses under desks.
OK, I can accept the changes: the need for Microsoft to grow and mature, to settle down. And Im sure that the stock price growth hasnt really justified employees putting in those long hours recently.
So, whats a couple of years among friends, right?