Product Leadership
3 min read
Leadership: ASAP (As soon as possible) — A deadline that never works
Written by
Vinay Roy
Published on
19th June 2020

I walked out of a meeting with my CFO. She had asked me for a resolution to a critical issue. I immediately called a team meeting, explained the problem and assigned AIs. This is when the head of analytics asked me, “By when do you need this analysis”? Knowing how urgent the task was, I had an urge to respond, “ASAP”. Has your team ever come to you asking how soon you needed something and you have been tempted to say ‘asap’?

If yes, then welcome to one of the biggest fallacies of time management. A word that is most often used to express urgency is rarely treated that way by team members leading to frustration from all parties involved.

Here are the reasons why this deadline never works:

  1. Sets the team for failure: Most often asap means that the deliverable was due yesterday. A deadline such as this means that no matter when the work is delivered the team is already late.
  2. Competing priorities: Your team may be working on many other priorities. Asap means drop everything and pick up the task that you want the team to work on. However, this may not be possible especially if the team already has a deadline that is fast approaching.
  3. No room for negotiation: Many a times, leaders use asap as an extreme means of negotiation. After all if you had started from a point of ‘deliver within X days’, the team would have negotiated for X+5 days. Starting from the extreme makes any negotiation looks one sided.
  4. Unnecessary anxiety: The word as innocuous as it may sound, creates anxiety and pressure on the team members. Use the word frequently and the team culture is turned into a pressure cooker work environment that is ready to burst.
  5. The trade-off: Time and Quality often sit on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Give the team sufficient time and the quality of deliverables will be much higher. Give them a much tighter deadline and chances of error will go up. If you want to keep the quality bar high, give the team an opportunity.
  6. Lacks transparency that builds trust: When your team asks, when do you need this by and you say ‘asap’, the word used to express urgency of the task, in fact reflects an authoritative and top down culture. This destroys the camaraderie and trust that powers a high performing team.

Drop the word ‘asap’ asap from your vocabulary — do not use a self-destroying deadline to express urgency.

So next time when someone on your team asks, “By when do you need this”. Engage in a prioritization discussion, no matter how urgent the task deliverable is. Be empathetic of how many competing priorities they already have in their bucket and transparent in why you believe the task is urgent. At the end give them a chance to succeed by estimating the amount of time needed to accomplish the task. Use a phrase such as, “How about 03:00 PM tomorrow? Does that work if we had to drop the other project you are working on. I will speak to Amy about shifting the deadline on the other project.” This opens a channel of communication and gives the team an opportunity to succeed. Besides being realistic with the deadline builds confidence in the team. In the end you are only as successful as the team is.

Read our other articles on Product Leadership, Product Growth, Pricing & Monetization strategy, and AI/ML here.

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