In most organisations, the urgent will always be dealt with before the important. Urgent means pleasing someone important right now, while the important is usually only important in the long run – when we will all be found out, but it isn’t today.
If you allow the urgent to overwhelm the important, everything will soon become so urgent that the most important thing left in your professional life will be keeping your head above the rising tide of bad information, bad decisions and bad products.
The only means I know of of making sure that the important has as loud a voice as the urgent is by creating an independent function staffed by respected experts who report directly to whatever level of management is accountable for both the urgency (typically project delivery) and the importance (typically product quality).
This is what a quality function should be. But usually it isn’t, because:
- They’re seldom staffed by the best. The credit, the kudos and the money all go to the people who do the delivering. The people who made it possible for anyone to deliver – the people who build the processes, create the methodologies, create the training, the environment? Not a peep. Yet in an organisation with, say, thirty project managers, a 3% improvement in efficiency in the system as a whole would be the equivalent of adding another manager absolutely free of charge. Yet the people who do this (and a 3% change is about as small as a change can be and still be detectable) get no credit at all. No wonder quality management and its various adjuncts attract such undistinguished individuals, or that quality departments tend to decline into a plodding bureaucracy whose raison d’être is not professional principle but bureaucratic rule. Certainly of all the many quality management specialists I have met, few seemed to came to work in the morning relishing the prospect of raising everyone’s game, not just doing a day’s work.
- The individual they report to is usually a lot more committed to the urgent than to the important. The reason for this is simple – the vast majority of managers grew up in an environment in which the urgent is actually more important than the important. And while someone was almost always standing over them with a whip to make sure things were done on time, few people, especially in business, have really considered the principles of their procession. As a result, in most organisations it is relatively easy to circumvent the rules in the name of some short-term goal such as appearing to deliver as promised.