When I got to this point of the story, I thought I would write about the things that were right about AFC when I got there and then about the things that were wrong. I have decided that most of these things were two halves of the same coin.
In this case, I want to talk about Crisis Management. When I arrived at AFC, it was a Crisis Management machine. There was the well known 5 o’clock meeting that was a daily get together to report out the results of the last 24 hours and set the plan for the next 24 hours. Engineering had morning meetings that dealt with the results from overnight and set the plan for the daytime.
This meant that AFC essentially micro-managed the work that was most important to the company. On top of that the employee base knew what was most important and worked their tails off on it. Everybody knew the progress that was happening and we could adjust plans based on progress. I recall examples of us sending people out ahead of time with cards. We would then email out software to the person and they would upgrade the cards in their hotel room. They would then put the cards in the customer hands the next day.
That meant that we could walk tightropes to deliver on the very tight deadlines that we had. This method of working was a huge adreniline rush all the time. It was a kind of drug that could make you feel like a hero when you met one of the deadlines and delivered.
That hero work was the way people were judged. You worked on the important things. You did whatever was necessary to deliver. People would be glad you did and you would go up in their perception.
The challenge with this is that the only things that people cared about were those things that we in Crisis. This meant that the next set of Crises were already heading towards us. This meant that the burn out factor was very high. You can only run at a sprint for a period of time. It also meant that we were eventually going to fail. You can’t be perfect forever.
On top of that there were huge cost to our way of operating. We used to buy prototypes Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) on 24 hour turnaround at $1,000 each. If we had been able to use 7 day turnaround, then the cost might have been $100 each. This on top of everything else that were rushing around on.
I have often wondered if the stress from this was good for any of us. It definitely made for an environment I have never worked in before or since. If your company operates from Crisis to Crisis, then that is something to look at. It can be attractive, but may be stressing your team and your wallet.
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