Sources of Urgency
Sometimes I wish we were in the hardware business. Why? It’s not the margins, that’s for sure. It’s because hardware businesses usually have externally-imposed deadlines that create urgency in an organization around deliverables.
If you are making a chip that Dell is putting in all of its boxes, and your contract with Dell stipulates that the chip will be ready for testing on X Date and for shipping on Y Date, you darn well better hit the deadline. If you are making software that gets installed or pre-loaded on all Samsung TVs, same thing. Maybe it’s not the hardware business per se, but you certainly don’t see this kind of mentality in SaaS businesses very often, either because of the lack of true OEM and ship dates, or because of the now fluid nature of agile software development.
Without that kind of externally-imposed deadline, instilling true urgency gets a lot harder for a leader. Sure, you can stick an arbitrary deadline out there and rally people to work towards it, but it’s much harder to define the consequences of missing the deadline. Since there are in many cases no tangible and immediate business consequences, it feels a little more hollow for a leader to say “Why? Because I said so.” Yes, you have firing as the ultimate accountability tool in your toolkit, but again, it’s hard to feel good about using that tool when the deadline is arbitrary.
Probably the default method most companies like ours have settled on over the years is around quarterly goals. That kind of cadence removes the arbitrary part of the problem, but it doesn’t remove the tangible business consequences part of the problem – and often, it doesn’t align with actual project deadlines. Public companies probably can use quarterly financial results as something more tangible, but those often don’t align with deliverables quarter for quarter. Customer conferences or marketing events can be other deadlines as well, which are less arbitrary.
I realize my blog is usually more about sharing stories than asking questions, but in this case, I’d love to hear from any reader who has a good answer to this very important management challenge. If I get a great response, I will reblog it!