Question: How do I know if those dates are real?
Answer: If the prototype hardware part has been ordered, it’s real. Otherwise, it’s not.
Sometimes you just have to ask around and get the skinny from everyone on the Rapid Development team. Other indicators of impending reality are pilots scheduled (but these get postponed as often as not), or parts actually being shipped somewhere for a pilot.
I wouldn’t rely on the project planning tools. Actual expenditures seem to be the only reliable indicator. It’s easy as pie to change a date in a Smartsheet, but once you order 100,000 parts you’re stuck with them.
In software, there’s no hardware to ship or scrap, so what’s the indicator? How can you tell when a date is made-up? Well, I’d say that if you miss your deadline and don’t get fired, it means that the date was made-up. If you DO get fired for it, then it was a real date.