This is one of the ideas I love to express because I can apply a lesson from hockey as a kid to software engineering as an adult.


Three times in my life I’ve seen the leader of a team, either hockey or software, tell the team to “have a sense of urgency”. None of those times have I seen it have any effect.

The first was one of my hockey coaches when I was in grade school. He told us in his pre-game “pep talk” that we needed to play with a sense of urgency. I remember thinking “Okay, I don’t really know what that means but I’ll try.” It didn’t go well. We didn’t play any more or less ‘urgently’ as we typically did.

The second time was the same setting, except it was my Dad coaching my brother Paul. Similarly, that had little to no effect on how the team played.

About 9 months ago, my team lead at Quicken Loans said the same thing to us - that we need to work with a sense of urgency early on in an iteration instead of waiting until the 11th hour before we shipped. Similarly, that didn’t seem to have any effect with how urgently our team worked.

In contrast, the hockey teams I’ve been on that did play with urgency, I don’t think there was ever a conversation about it. We just practiced hard and played hard. These were the teams that had a really intense coach that drilled down to the fundamentals of our game - passing, skating, shooting, positioning. Think Coach Brooks from Miracle.

The urgency on our software team has increased over the last few months, though I don’t think we’ve had any conversation around being more ‘urgent’ since that one almost a year ago. We have just focused on more tangible issues and iterated on them constantly.

My hypothesis from this admittedly limited amount of data is that if you’re leading a team, you can’t just tell them to “have a sense of urgency”. You have to build that urgency out by focusing on more concrete details.

It reminds me of this cliché image that floats around LinkedIn. A cliché image on the difference between a 'leader' and a 'boss'