Note to future self: Beware of fake urgency
Remember to avoid creating urgency even though it works
A friend told me this story:
In the organization I was part of, there was a concept of blitzing.
When some project is urgent, the entire team will buckle up and go to work - 24/7 until the project is delivered.
No one is going home, no breaks, no time off, and no sleep.
A blitz was the way to make sure an engineering team was 100% focused on a project.
After this worked well a few times, leadership started using it even when the projects weren't 100% urgent and worse - even when the projects weren't important.
This manufactured urgency did work for a while but caused burnout and broke the trust between engineering and leadership.
If you have been in tech for long enough, you know this is not accidental. A gas pedal can be pushed all the way when needed [blitz]. It becomes tempting for leadership to create urgency even when it isn't real.
When there is an impactful project and time pressure, getting all hands on deck to deliver on time is essential.
In most cases, the impactful project is tangible and comes with a strong incentive - if you complete X in Y days, the company will get Z.
My example comes from Snaptu, a startup I worked in from 2010-2011.
One day our CEO Ran Makavy came into the room and said, we need to build a Facebook-only flavor of our application [a java ME for the non-touch devices of the time].
It wasn't easy; it required long hours and plenty of clever shortcuts, but in two weeks, we had a fully functional Facebook powered by Snaptu application.
It worked well enough that two months later, I was planning my relocation to California to work for Facebook after they acquired Snaptu.
In many cases, urgency stays for a short time; urgent projects are replaced with long-term bets and short-term efforts.
Sometimes a leadership member of the company will feel strongly about a project and would like to have it done faster than is required. The leadership member is not mean or hurtful; they want faster progress.
This person will sometimes make up urgency - complete X in Y days, and the company will get Z.
The fake urgency is likely to work the same way real urgency does, but there is a catch, in most cases - the reward you were working for isn't real. Sometimes the project you worked hard to complete was not urgent at all. In some cases, it was premature and was left unused.
Fake urgency can backfire, and people can feel deceived and lose trust 😢
The harm of fake urgency
Fake urgency effectively delivers results - the team is likely to gather and complete it, as good teams tend to do. The downside is that fake urgency erodes trust, a fundamental trait of a healthy culture.
When the team feels misled, they are less likely to trust the urgency of the following projects, this mistrust is corrosive and toxic.
I saw this happen in some other shapes and forms. In many cases, leadership is losing credibility, sometimes without them knowing it.
I think about the pace of engineering these days. Building a valuable product for customers is challenging. It is a never-ending process of discovery->delivery->analysis that can be tiresome.
I am impatient and want to see results now. It is sometimes tempting to create urgency by making a fake claim.
This article serves as a reminder to me, as much as anyone else in leadership:
Culture and trust are more important than short-term execution.
I would strongly urge organizations follow Eisenhower's matrix:
Is it urgent or important?
If neither, delete it.
If urgent and not important, delegate it.
If not urgent, but important, put it on the backlog.
If both urgent and important, do it now.