Saturday, March 14, 2009

Creating and Maintaining a Sense of Urgency

A consistent sense of urgency is one of the separators of great teams from all of the others. Urgency promotes teamwork, focus, efficiency, collaboration, pragmatism, vision, and all the other important characteristics of a highly productive team and project.

I’ve been on projects where the management team wanted desperately for our team to have a sense of urgency but was unable to create it – never mind maintain it. Assuming a project team is made up of talented people who enjoy what they do for a living then the reason for the lack of urgency falls on management’s inability to provide a conducive atmosphere to instill it.

Knowing the ingredients that creates a sense of urgency is the hard part. Actually creating urgency is simple. All it takes is a disciplined approach to process by management.

The key ingredient are:

  • Short and tightly focused goals that roll into medium term goals which roll into longer term goals.
  • Individual accountability.
  • Visibility into the goals of the team and it’s individual members.
  • Knowing the dependencies each member of the team has on one another.
  • Everyone’s involvement with process improvement.

Every project already knows the long-term goal – deliver the product that is mutually agreed upon between the developers and customer.

Agile does a great job of providing the short and mid-term goals via the daily stand-up and sprints, respectively. At the beginning of the sprint, the development team provides a scope for the sprint, which is usually between 2 and 4 weeks at the end of which is a demo to show what was accomplished. What rolls into the sprints are the daily stand-ups. Each member of the team provides an update on what was accomplished yesterday, what’s planned for today, and any obstacles they have.

For as far back as I can remember, my father has always emphasized that “if you take care of the little things then the big things will take care of themselves.” The daily stand-up epitomizes this philosophy. If we strive to consistently accomplish our goals on a daily basis, then it’s reasonable to assume that we should accomplish the goals for the sprint. The same holds true for the relationship between the sprints and the project as a whole.

The tightly focused goals that revolved around the daily stand-ups and the sprints creates an environment where creating and maintaining a sense of urgency is built-in. The best part is that it is self-maintaining. It doesn’t require constant reminders and direction from management. The best processes are those that work on auto-pilot where a manager’s job is to nurture it, make sure the team stays disciplined to it, and looks for ways to improve it.

That begs the question – as a manager, how should my sense of urgency be created and maintained? That’s a blog for another day.

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