If stress is a weed, urgency is the seed.
Just the other day a project manager I know asked me how she can “instill a sense of urgency” in her team. She wants to get more done, and get it done faster. Increasing developer productivity is a laudable goal. And she is being asked by internal and external customers for more and more stuff.
But I think there’s something wrong with the question. Urgency and “time pressure” are viewed as tools which can increase productivity. And I think this is wrong. But, it does work — in the short term.
In the long term motivation, tools, skills, and processes along with things like good unit test coverage, and good “architecture” determine productivity. Constant urgency, looming deadlines (particularly if they are artificial), and constant pressure actually hurt motivation, remove the slack required for building tools, discourage process improvements, and create all kinds of technical debt. This debt can be measured in terms of decreased test coverage, and “short-cut” coding techneques which undermine good architectural choices.
To put it more bluntly, urgency often produces short term results at the expense of long-term productivity.
If you push the question a little bit, as I did with my friend, you will usually find that the problem is not a lack of urgency, it’s a lack of motivation. Motivating people is hard, and if they have been burned out by too much “urgency” it just gets harder.
I’ve done it too. But now-days when I hear people pushing a “sense of urgency” I take it as an opportunity to start looking for deeper motivation issues.