ASAP is not one of those buzzwords that come and go. It’s one of the nastier kind, that just keeps being used way too often. I was first confronted with the abuse of the word when I read the fantastic book Rework by Jason Fried. He even states that “ASAP is poison”. But why is it inefficient to use this word?
1- ASAP is a self destroying prophecy
When you use ASAP in every email you send, it’s impossible for the receivers to know which of them is the most ASAP. It’s kind of the same as the “important” flag that Outlook users tend to misuse. When everything becomes ASAP, nothing can be really ASAP.
2- ASAP tends to procrastinate
When in a chain of actions, the first action has to be done ASAP, it’s likely that there is no real planning involved, and that all subsequent steps will be ASAP too.
3- ASAP is the opposite of Agile
Agile is sometimes misinterpreted as an excuse to go hard core ASAP. Nothing is farther from the truth. For example, when we look at transparancy-inspection-adaptation (the core values of scrum), this heavily conflicts. When you use ASAP, you don’t give the receiver of the message a transparent view of what you expect by what time. Thus it’s also impossible for the sender to know when he or she should come back to you (inspect).
4- ASAP makes prioritisation impossible
Prioritisation is key in all things agile and lean. As ASAP implies that really everything is equally urgent, it makes it impossible to prioritise. It should always be your goal – if possible – to express business value when making requests. This brings a lot more relevant information into the process than a single word.
So what should you do everytime you feel the urge to use the word ASAP?
Try to give every action a crystal clear deadline. Be explicit. Don’t be afraid to state a day and an hour! You’ll notice it instantly boosts the quality of your conversations.
So instead of saying “I need that report ASAP,” ask “I need that report by tomorrow morning.”
The opposite is also true. When someone needs something ASAP, ask them to be explicit about their deadline. You’ll be suprised that they will often answer “next Wednesday” whereas you interpreted it as “within the hour”.
As a bonus you could also reply to their email with a link to this blogpost. Help me spread the word, and improve the quality of our conversations.