Moving Fast and Doing Good: Reflections on working with the COVID-19 reality

This week, I had the pleasure of co-hosting a dialogue alongside Gordon Ross of OXD on Balancing Fast and Good in Service Design. (It was the second dialogue in a series of three, so make sure to check out the final installment June 4th on Equality and Accessibility.)

Our guest speakers and participants shared great stories underscoring the importance of such things as  simplicity, trust and focusing on the value you can bring in situations where the deadlines are tight and the stakes are high.  

What follows are three lessons I’ve learned from working swiftly in our COVID-19 reality.

Decision-makers in the room, or primed to weigh in

Make the need for quick decision-making clear upfront.  

You’ve probably been in this meeting before. Someone is asked a question, only to respond with: “I’ll have to consult with [insert person with higher decision-making authority] and get back to you on that later.” The forward motion is on pause for another day, lest an important contribution be left out.

I’m all for factoring in diverse viewpoints and understand that organizational decision-makers cannot attend every meeting. But when the timeliness of delivery is crucial, there isn’t enough wiggle room for a game of telephone. That’s why, when selecting multi-disciplinary participants of a recent compressed sprint, we made it clear that they would need to be empowered to make decisions at the turn of a dime on behalf of the group they belong to.

And it worked out well for the most part. Life and work is messy, and there is some degree of consultation that is unavoidable (and desired), but the clear expectations of decisiveness were certainly key to moving forward at the necessary pace.

Naturally, there were some decisions that still needed to be made by people outside the virtual room. In these cases, we were as upfront as possible about what they could expect to receive, when, and by when we would need their decisions in order to stick to the plan. More in that vein below…

Full transparency

Unless detrimental to your ultimate purpose, share all that you know. Lay your cards on the table to build empathy, trust and esprit de corps.

When convening collaborators on a short timeline, I’ve been tempted to keep communications clear and concise. “Why risk confusion by providing additional context, or background on what I need from them? Why add to the uncertainty by admitting there’s still so much we don’t know. Time is of the essence!”

In a recent project I found that by repeatedly reminding collaborators of the broader context in which we were operating –such as the behind-the-scenes work my peers and I would need to do between the deadlines we gave them—they became more invested in hitting the mark on time. By spelling out the consequences of delayed delivery of even a single piece of the puzzle, we enabled our collaborators to become as committed to the ultimate outcome as we were. Full kudos to my manager for insisting I take the time to do this.

Remaining grounded in the “why”

Under intense pressure, the purpose of your work is the best compass.

Keep your eyes on the “why”: When working with short timelines and high stakes, one might feel any number of reactions: from exhilaration, to frustration, passing by exhaustion and confusion along the way.

Perhaps you’re dealing with constantly changing parameters or feel anxious that you aren’t delivering with the same degree of complexity or polish you know you’re capable of.

Staying focused on why you’re doing what you’re doing, rather than what you’re doing or how, can help you make wiser decisions in a climate of uncertainty (like foregoing that added flourish, or letting go of that perfectly crafted web content you agonized over for hours). In my case, it’s helped to inspire me and my teammates to push ourselves that little bit further (when I much rather be binging something on Netflix).  

Thanks for reading! Comment below: What have you found helps when you need to move quickly and do a good job?

One Reply to “Moving Fast and Doing Good: Reflections on working with the COVID-19 reality”

  1. Thank you for the insightful tips on the importance of staying grounded in the why (Simon would be proud!) and fostering a bias for action. As Eckhart Tolle said in The Power of Now, “any action is often better than no action. If it is a mistake, at least you learn something, in which case it’s no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing.”

    ― Eckhart Tolle,

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