Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A constant tussle

At work, I like to take time to think, reflect, and then respond to an issue. In urgent situations, my focus just gets sharper but I still manage to carve time for reflection. I have always believed quick hasty responses impact efficiency as they  lead to communication overheads either now or later. However, these days I have been wondering if this strategy is dated. 

I find that while I am trying to articulate different aspects of an impending project issue, another colleague will sometimes race ahead with a quick (often half-baked) response (mostly including a senior to the communication). Sometimes, reporting managers expect one-minute responses. In my current project, I often receive comments, feedback, and suggestions from the Wikipedia volunteers. I find 60 minutes too long a response time for these interactions. By that time, the discussion sometimes gets more complex because of incorrect assumptions and misinformation shared by others on a public forum.  

In social, crowd sourcing models, since people expect quicker responses, it is probably smart to respond fast as well. When you respond quickly, you have better control and influence on the discussion (and hence your project). If certain facts are incorrectly understood by the group, you are able to immediately step in with accurate/up-to-date information.  

This is how I currently cut my response time: 
1. Control the scope of the response. I ask myself if the recipients really care about a detailed response. 
2. Respond with high level project scope/design messages. I find this information suffices most queries.
3. If I know I need more time, I send out a  "I am working on it"/"I will get back to you" message. Yes, I still value reflection. A response ought to be worth everyone's time.
4. Follow up on #3. I need to be trusted so that my projects succeed.

Obviously the above strategy is function of the workplace culture. But now I know how to cut out my response time to 5 minutes for most of my project communications.