The ASAP syndrome

One of the most frustrating phenomena of business is the ASAP syndrome. No matter how high or low in the corporate hierarchy, every task is urgent, and no time can be spent thinking about it with the team. Decisions are made on the fly, with little regard to their side effects or dependencies. All the recipient of the request has to do is comply, putting aside his own plan and adopting blindly that of the manager to get to work NOW NOW NOW. But for someone who questions, this constant urgency starts feeling fake or unnecessary, and the whole ASAP thing sounds like the story of the boy who cried wolf.

Let's consider what it means that every task has to be delivered ASAP. It directly means that every task has been prioritized as urgent. Which in turn can mean one of two things. One, that the manager has not planned the overall project, and thus he's discovering the tasks to be done as work progresses, leading naturally to a stressful and urgent situation. Two, that the manager has a plan, but has not communicated it to the team, who are functioning on a "need-to-know" basis, like convicts or slaves. Both analyses do not speak well of the manager.

I think this phenomenon betrays what goes wrong with corporations, namely the rise of the bloated and unproductive managerial class. It seems that every employee (in the full un-glory of the word) aspires to become a manager, meaning (in his mind) that he'll work less and "manage" more, perhaps in the sense of directing the work of others. This understanding of management belongs of course to fairy tales, exactly like "frictionless capitalism" advocated by the higher minds of corporatism. Because, by disconnecting from productive work and focusing on planning and tracking only, managers become unable to grasp the reality of the work to be done and end up making decisions that are not related to reality. Of course, reality imposes itself (embodied in the manager's supervisor waiting for results, ASAP) at which point the manager has to react hysterically.

Through my work, we're constantly faced with ASAP-ness, from customers, suppliers, sometimes even our own people. Thankfully, we've been able to explain to the latters the uselessness of that term, and we've taught our account managers to take our customers' urgency with a grain of salt. Seems we don't want to play by the rules :-)