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  • Writer's pictureCraig Risi

Is It Really An Emergency?


It’s easy to get caught up in the frantic excitement of trying to wrap up all your work tasks. However, there is no need to let some frantic desire for completion put any unnecessary future pressure on you.


One of my biggest frustrations I have had working in the software development world is that people do not understand what an emergency is. As a result, people treat things that perhaps aren’t emergencies as such and it leads to unnecessary stress, rushed development, shortcuts, poor quality practices, other important things being side-lined and a lack of any root cause analysis to truly understand the reasons for issues in the first place. This only leads to more issues down the line and an overworked, unhappy team/company.


The honest truth is that most things are not really emergencies. Sure, if someone’s life is at stake, your production environment is down, there is a security threat, something has big financial implications on either yourself or a customer, then treat it with the importance it demands. But if not, is there really a need to rush around it and rather focus on getting a proper understanding of the problem?


This principle applies to almost every item of work. Below is an example of some other scenarios where I have seen poor prioritization in the work environment that were treated as unnecessary emergencies:

  • Working on tasks because a manager has asked for it urgently and not because it really is the most urgent thing you can be doing right now

  • Working on a customer escalated issue because the customer is making a lot of noise, but he problem is actually quite minor in the bigger scheme of things

  • Rushing an item to get fixed/completed on-time just for the sake of making your metrics look good, rather than doing the due diligence and waiting a day or two to get it done properly

The truth is, a lot of the way teams react to scenarios is due to unnecessary noise or pressure from either customers, managers or their own targets and deadlines. This constant pressure is not healthy for individuals, but especially not healthy for teams who end up jumping around and focusing on the wrong things.


I’ve seen this too often where people are in a constant state of emergency, fixing and finding what they believe is an emergency because someone has told them it is critical or because they have goals and processes which declare it as such.


The Bigger Picture

Why do we do this? Because we are not focused on or aware of the end goal, both for themselves and the company. When you lose sight of that, you tend to make decisions hastily and respond to matters at hand rather than focus on the bigger picture. As an example, I’ve seen many a manager drop critical meetings with their teams for the sake of getting a report out for their direct manager that was needed for some meeting, but had no bearing on any actual deliverable work. This manager needs up risking the engagement of an entire team responsible for actual production work for the same of their own need to look good to their manager. This is taking the eye off the bigger picture, which is the health of the team is more critical to the success of the business than simply what their senior manager deems as urgent. Yes, there might be some small backlash, but in the end it’s about making the right decision.


This sounds like it could cause a lot of friction in the workplace, but isn’t that a healthy thing when we are asking ourselves what really is important and preventing the need to do things urgently just for the sake of it. I don’t think we should needlessly just push back all the time but simply need to just question what we are focusing on and why and whether something truly is an issue or not.


I’ve personally frustrated many a manager or team member when I choose not to react to something as urgently as they would like and while it may have caused some personal tension, the focus on the bigger picture has always led to the right decision being made.


It’s not an excuse to not perform

Now I want to make it clear though that I am not making an argument for less work, rather only for more focused work. It is my belief that if we prioritise appropriately that we actually get more done rather than jumping around from one pretend emergency to the next.

Additionally, when people are focused on what they should be doing, you end up building better software, better team engagement and ultimately that makes for a more productive workforce, so the benefits of not running around like a headless chicken truly do speak for themselves.


There is also the person who may be struggling with their work and feel pressure because they are behind on their tasks. This is a performance problem and not a prioritization problem. Not what I want to be discussing here.


I also want to add another caveat to this where sometimes small issues that are quick wins should still be prioritised above bigger more pressing issues at times where it makes sense. The ultimate point here though is that nothing outside of the items I have emboldened at the top, should ever be done or treated as an emergency.


Hopefully you can take this advice and no longer allow yourself or your workplace to get stressed out unnecessarily by the immediate demands of your work. Your time is valuable, if you’re going to attend to work emergencies, make sure they are worth it first. Keep your bigger picture in mind and rather leave the firefighting for when it matters.

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