Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sense of Urgency- A Key skill in the Professional's toolkit

The Story:
Vineet Nayar, the HCL CEO -in his book Employees First Customers Second , narrates one story of his encounter with a race car driver during one of his flights-

As we sipped a glass of wine before dinner, he told me about an incident from his past. It seems he had been in the middle of a race when his brakes failed. he asked if I ever had that experience. "No", I said, "What did you do?"
"What do you think my options were? " he asked.
I thought of a number of possibilities, but i really had no idea.
"Most drivers would do one of two things," he said "First, they try to get the brakes to work. Or ,second, they slow down. The first option distracts the driver and puts him at risk of a crash. The second option makes him a hazard to other drivers and also puts him at risk of a crash."
"So what should you do?" I asked.
"Speed up"," he said. "Accelerate past the other cars and then take whatever action is necessary."

Doesn’t this story sound like reminiscent of what we experience mostly at the workplaces ? After reading the first part of the story, my mind teleports to the days when every task that one handle is of highest priority and at the same time each task is unrelated, of completely different nature. Add to this, if you have some pressing things at home to attend to, then you have a cracker of a day at hand. To me, that for sure sounds like a case of driving a car whose brakes have failed and during such days you often wonder where is this car going to eventually end.
The second part of above story does suggests an rather out of box solution. Speeding up is usually the last thing to think of in that situation. The question that crossed my mind is - What prompts a human being for any action when in crisis or even when attending to Important things ? The more i think about it, the more my thinking gets skewed towards one trait called as "Sense of Urgency" in this situation.

What is Sense of Urgency ? defines Sense of Urgency as - "A sense of urgency is the attitude and process of treating key business or personal matters as if one's life depended on it. It is determination to stay focused on results and deadlines until the task or project is completed."
A Sense of Urgency is something that makes one work harder with the desired focus to work towards achieving your goals. People who imbibe Sense of Urgency gets things done faster and it is often a positive differentiator in life.

Does Inculcating Sense of Urgency help you work better ?
Employees who do not possess Sense of Urgency,
- Are perceived as having Casual Approach towards work.
- Often tend to miss deadlines.
- Miss the vital instructions that could help them do the tasks better.
- Often miss out on competition.
- Have their own ideas of work performance and are happy satisfying that.
- Are often at the receiving end of reminders to complete the tasks.
- Find it hard to understand/meet Work commitments.
- Tend to get easily satisfied with the Status Quo even if it is of average quality.
- Do not generally think beyond the obvious to complete the work.

Keeping the above points in mind, the answer to the question- "Does Inculcating Sense of Urgency help you test better ?" to me is, Why not ? For Example-Take a look at any successful Testing effort, you will find that it follows a well-defined mission. A mission is that end goal that is kept in mind and which is determinant of success for a test engineer. All along when a person is testing, he/she tend to utilize the various thinking patterns- System thinking, Creative thinking to come up with the consistent stream of test ideas. Testing outputs are often always time bound. It is a well-known fact that testing if done without consideration of risk can be an infinite activity. It is the Sense of Urgency that helps a test engineer maintain his focus, help prioritize the tests and do what is best for the moment. Testing is often done in Timeboxes. Unless a test possess required Sense of Urgency in addition to Testing skills, the testing would often tend to lose the foresight and will spill over the Timebox.

How can i inculcate Sense of Urgency ?
In the book The Road Ahead , Bill Gates said that a secret to Microsoft success is that the employees always think of themselves to be in the losing side, and this makes them strive to be number one everyday. This attitude creates a sense of urgency which makes them work hard to survive in the highly competitive environment of IT industry.

All along i have known one way to Inculcate Sense of Urgency and that is to consider the current task at hand as "THE MOST IMPORTANT" task as if your job is dependent on the successful completion of that. Try out, it works if done honestly.
So, go into the next work session as if it is the most important session in your professional career.

Is Sense of Urgency always a positive trait ?
Today i was reading one of the recent blogs from Vineet Nayar- Speed Kills. Slow is Fast. It presents quite a reasonable view on how in today's world, when the expectations are sky high, when decision needs to be made in split seconds, the age old notion of decision making by considering the balanced view (all possibilities) of any situation seems just that- age old. Surface thinkers are vastly gaining prominence. In this competitive world, what seems to be lacking is someone taking comprehensive view of any situation and come up with an appropriate views to handle stuff at hand. The point is that Sense of Urgency does help speed up things but in the mad race sometimes the very reason why something is being done a takes back seat. Do read this blog to gain that precious perspective.

What is your experience regarding the "Sense of Urgency" trait ? Do share your views and comments.

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