What Working Quickly Really Means

“We just want to work quickly.” “We don’t want to get bogged down.” “I don’t think we need to do that, we want to be agile.”

I’ve heard it so many times. Heck, I’ve said it myself.

Honestly, it usually has good intentions or is motivated by something you’re not in control of. But it usually asks to cut things out in an attempt to gain speed. That’s where I want to create a little clarity.

Mistaking the presence of necessary steps as an impediment to working with speed is misguided. In fact, removing them often leads to slower, sloppier work.

Let’s dig in.

Correcting the Misnomers

What people usually want when they ask a team to work fast is to work as efficiently as possible.

Efficiency is minimizing waste.

Just working quick is more like doing something that feels quick and feels like a lot of effort is being expelled, but really isn’t quick and the effort is probably wasted. It’s synonymous with sloppiness, rework and stress.

Efficiency however, that’s where real speed comes from. It’s most often tightly coupled with accuracy and quality.

Many default to the idea that working fast is simply a choice a team makes.

In reality, it’s much closer to something that’s earned.

We build efficiency over time, a combination of developing deeper understanding and gaining experience.

Think about a time you’ve felt your most efficient. Chances are it felt effortless. Chances are it built on the back of putting in the work to really embed yourself in what you were striving for.

Working efficiently is built on the foundation of several things, but none more important that allocating the proper time to learn.

What’s That About Learning?

At a really high level, you could break the process we follow on all our work into three buckets:

  • Learning
  • Creating
  • Performing

We don’t – we can’t skip buckets. But depending on the scope of work, the amount of time, and the tasks themselves, each bucket has a lot of variables.

Each area functions as a loop and the key to working more efficiently overall and making us faster on projects, is taking the learn phase seriously.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone. Think about it. What do we do efficiently or successfully, without learning?

Learning is about setting the course necessary to feel embedded in our clients, in the work. Make no mistake, we work our best and our most efficient when embedded – when we confidently know that a deep understanding exists.

It’s the biggest enabler of being able to navigate dynamic work, exercise decisiveness (we’ll talk about that in a bit), and stand behind the milestones of a project to continue moving things forward.

Trying to work without a proper learning phase in an attempt to work “quickly” actually prevents the team from ever gaining the understanding and confidence necessary to work efficiently.

It’s no coincidence that the longer we work with clients or the more they trust the process, the greater chance we have to work more efficiently – which is always our goal.

The Process Matters

Underneath all efficient work is trusted, sound process. The frameworks that guide us are not implemented for rigid adherence, but rather provide guardrails and working fundamentals.

Process is improved over time, rooted in thoughtfulness and past success.

Just as great creative output is built on top of sound process, so is working efficiently.

The easiest way to create a mess you can’t make sense of – and thus waste time and money while probably hating your work, is to think process is the enemy of efficient work.

Following it, and knowing when to adjust it or ignore it is a core tenet of working efficiently.

Set Up for Decision Making

For some, decisiveness is an innate ability that just gets optimized over time. But for most, decisiveness is developed by feeling confident in your understanding of goals, vision, strategic objectives, ways of working – and the overall feeling of subject matter expertise.

Efficiency’s last requirement is decisiveness.

While a proper learning phase and a sound process underneath create the best possible environment to be decisive, that’s still just giving a chance for it.

Individual leaders and key project participants need to trust the confidence that’s been developed, and trust they fully understand what to do.

We’ve already created the environment where the decisions won’t be arbitrary.

If that is believed in, individuals feel empowered to make decisions and the worst decision that can be made is indecision.

Final Thoughts

I tend to think the two most important takeaways on this topic are these:

  1. It’s not speed you’re after, it’s efficiency
  2. Counter-intuitive on the surface, you need to spend more time in order to work faster (do more early to do less overall)

As I said, working efficiently is something much closer to being earned rather than chosen. If you put in the time to learn properly, follow well thought out process, and are decisive – projects will not only go faster, they’ll produce higher quality too.