The Irony of Urgency
Dom holding a phone to his ear, smiling.
Dom Maurice
June 27, 2023

The ‘get it done now’ attitude

We have all experienced individuals who have a sense of urgency in all tasks and delegation. It is very common to see this as the key to success, move as quickly as possible to the solution. This can be very effective in particular situations, such as deploying an MVP, or certain departments such as customer support. You can tap into the best in teams by:

  • Focusing on the goal; eliminate distractions
  • Delivering on time, if not early
  • Prioritisation of work
    This is why it is common many blogs that say “a sense of urgency is a trait of all successful people”

But urgency, like many things, creates problems as well as benefits. When you rush to the end goal it’s easy to miss important things along the way, one thing I consider to be most important is asking the question “is this right?“. A sense of urgency often ends up replacing the “right way” with the “quick way”. To reduce time we have to make an allowance somewhere else. Here we can look 3 fundamentals of project management to show how this can alter the delivery.

1. Time, People and Money

This triangle is super useful in the world of project management. It’s simply is a case of if you change one of the points then you have to compensate with the other two. In the case of urgency you are lowering time, for that you have to increase the number of people and/or pay more. For example, if you need your team to build a website, but you want it now then you will have to get more people to design and build which in turn will cost more money.

2. Fast, Cheap or Good? Pick Two.

This maxim is a staple in product management and a great way to manage expectations; good, fast or cheap but you can’t have all 3. This can be at the base of your strategy so you can communicate with the team and manage tasks appropriately.

With urgency we can have:

Fast and Cheap

  • Pro: Deploys a solution to get things working, good for validating a problem or prototyping. The use of prebuilt components is common here.
  • Con: If for a full deployment it’s inevitable that any lack of features or quality will be in the to-do list, you are creating time debt.

Fast and Good

  • Pro: Rapid high value, right for public-facing products.
  • Con: You need a lot of capital to get off the ground and be able to have big teams communicating effectively.

Without urgency leaves us with:

Good and Cheap

  • Pro: Accessible high quality, prime for independent endeavours and side projects to get validated value to people.
  • Con: You have to wait.

3. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

Every project manager has the greatest of tools at their disposal, preparation. When working with many interconnecting tasks, assumptions along the way can spell disaster. Assumption = Risk. Taking time to validate and remove assumption only sets your project, tasks and yourself up for success. When failures occur the correction needed often leads to taking longer than preparing and getting things right the first time around.

This can really be seen in the event that not creating tools to make production more efficient (which takes time) means you have to work in a constant singular delivery of tasks. As a great example, a colleague was tasked with delivering CAD drawings, the management had a huge sense of urgency, and with that instructed them to draw every project from scratch. When the CAD team brought up a case for building a library of components they were shot down claiming it would be a “waste of time”. But to create it would have taken 20 hours of work and the result would have been taking every project from an 8 hour completion to just an hour.

Bring it all together

A lot of concepts above can be utilised to break down how urgency influences the end delivery. The best way to show this is in various scenarios:

We have an idea for an app, let’s get it out ASAP!

In this scenario, a quality product will validate all assumptions to make sure that the product will solve the problem of the user. This takes time and therefore urgency leads to validation being cut from the project. Hence, in the future fixes and features will have to correct for this and in most instances will end up taking longer than the validation in the first place.

A client needs a TV installed in a meeting room, just go buy one and mount it!

Here, no work is being done to confirm the location, or if the wall to mount to is suitable for the TV. As well, no questions have been asked about what will be connected ergo what cables need to go where. If any of these problems arise there is a big time cost; RMAs take time, running cables even longer or ordering adapters can take a while. All of which can be omitted from an hour surveying the room and talking to the client about their needs.

We’ve started a business, just get work going and bill quickly!

Collecting payments will eventually need to go to an accountant. By just stacking up invoices for processing come the end of the financial year takes days. Spending a day researching a bookkeeping/accounting platform and putting a process in place will drastically lower the time spent.

Our company needs a blog, hire some people to post tons of content!

This is expensive, getting several people to write blog posts. What will happen is that the return of investment is huge and tends in the direction of spending time to find value, in backlinking and such, of which this will take longer than the writing posts over time.

To be urgent or not

It’s important to note, that urgency is vital in specific areas of a project. But, if urgency is inappropriately used then it can take more time to reach project goals rather than less, hence the irony of urgency.

When to use urgency:

  • At the beginning of a project to build momentum, but find low effort; high value/interest tasks to stoke the fire
  • Anything connected to a deadline, if it’s on the critical path then make sure you and your team really push on those items
  • When customers have problems; never leave them waiting.

When not to use urgency:

  • Repetitive tasks need to be optimised and built to be efficient. If you know for a fact a particular type of work will occur again and again then take the time to automate it, template it or research it.
  • Creative tasks and innovation just need time to grow and explore.
  • When assumptions are high. If the worst-case scenario spells disaster, take time to avoid it.

In Conclusion

What I intend for you to take away is that urgency is not the enemy, in fact it is an important tool in the right situation. But installing a sense of urgency into every piece of work to be done is just bringing a toolbox that is only full of hammers, and you can’t hammer a screw out of the wall.