Two Minute Warning

August 14, 2008

Throughout my career I have been fascinated with process.  At a certain level of abstraction my job is nothing but implementing processes, big and small, to achieve some goal.  After spending twenty-five years examining existing processes to understand them, and designing new automated processes to replace or augment them, I tend to see processes everywhere.  

The best processes are the ones that you don't see, that fade into the background.  The worst are ones that constantly jar and batter you as they run counter to your goal.  Most fall in the middle ground somewhere; they work well enough to not require updating or change, but they are at times cumbersome or annoying.

One pitfall a number of processes seem to fall into is what I call the "two minute warning syndrome."  American-style football is played for 60 minutes, and with just two minutes remaining on the game clock a warning is sounded.  Many teams shift gears into a hurry-up offense, or "two minute drill" at this point in the game, trying to catch up or win the game.

To my way of thinking this is wrong.  Why wait until the last two minutes to catch up and win?  Why not come out and play the first two minutes to win, and then the next two, and then the next, and so on? 

The most recent example of this "two minute warning" thinking I have seen is a placement program I'm in at work.  My position has been eliminated and the organization is searching for a new assignment for me that matches my experience and compensation level.  The program is six weeks in duration, with a possible extension should there be a placement pending when it expires.  The announcements sent out to over two dozen managers made no mention of the deadline involved.  Few, if any, response trickled in during the first four weeks.  Now, in the middle of the fifth week, HR has started calling managers to inform them that the opportunity to interview me ends next week.  Suddenly there have been several inquiries about me, and I have three interviews lined up, with one or two more potential interviews pending.

When HR sounded the "two minute warning" on the placement program everybody shifted gears and the placement process actually started to move.  Had that kind of motivation been brought to bear in the first week, I would have been placed weeks ago, and all this stress and confusion these last minute efforts would have been eliminated.

The two minute warning may make for good football games, but it is a lousy paradigm to model (consciously or unconsciously) your process after.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.