Respectfully, Your Emergency Is Not My Emergency

not-my-emergencyHow we define an Emergencies

Clients of mine all have the same experience during on-boarding. It's a set of conversations where we talk about key understandings and expectations. One of these is really important. It's the definition of an emergency. Here's the one I use and define with them:

An emergency (in our world) is when a system (like a web application) has stopped functioning and/or delivering value (often suddenly) and needs immediate attention.

That's the definition we both agree with when things start. And it's the one I use throughout our engagements. It actually works quite well at defining what is and what isn't an emergency.

Not Many Emergencies

By definition that means we don't see a lot of emergencies because what most people call an emergency doesn't fit this definition. In fact, that often causes me to say that it's not my emergency.

You see, you can't call everything that surprises you, everything that bothers you, everything that embarrases you, or everything that spawns new ideas as emergencies.

Are these Emergencies?

  • If a web site is unavailable online, is that one? Yes.
  • If a web site has been hacked, is that one? Yes.
  • If a web site has dramatically lost traffic in short order? Yes.

So I'm not being a jerk by saying “that's not my emergency”—because real emergencies really are emergencies. But I was having a conversation with a friend tonight and he asked me how I managed all the emergencies that pop up.

My reply was that if you're seeing tons of emergencies, you're probably defining them differently than I do.

So what doesn't count?

So by way of education, in case you work with a different developer than me, let me just lay out for you what doesn't constitute an emergency for your web developer.

  • If you forgot how to log into your site, and now want to quickly change some text, I'd suggest you wait until Monday morning.
  • If you uploaded an image and it doesn't look right on your site, I'd suggest you wait until Monday morning.
  • If you waited until the last minute to put all your content into your site and you've promised an immediate launch – delay your launch.
  • If you promised your boss the new site could get done over the weekend (without verifying our availability), go have an honest conversation with your boss.
  • If you don't like a color, font, image, or text in a post—trust me, you can wait until Monday.

Saying it's Not My Emergency

So at this point, maybe you're wondering if this post is for someone specific. It's not. I didn't write it for one particular client. Instead, I'm just trying to make it clear why I say it's not my emergency.

The truth is that you often need someone to tell you the truth. Someone willing to share with you a bit of reality and politely explain that sometimes you make mountains out of molehills. And yes, I know you're paying. But a payment doesn't give anyone (you or I, or anyone else) the right to change the definition of the term “emergency.”

I know you're stressed. And I want to match your stress and then help you calm down so we're both at a higher-performing level. But that starts with the truth. Not all emergencies are real emergencies. And even if it is one, it doesn't mean it is one for me necessarily.

So other than taking a deep breath, what can you do to determine if it's a real emergency?

  • Ask yourself how things would change if you waited a day or two?
  • Ask yourself if it's worth paying extra for “rush” services?
  • Ask yourself what the financial loss is if you delay?

These questions alone will help you determine if it's a serious emergency. Because if even a day or two delay has big consequences, if you have no trouble paying for “rush” services because of how important it is, and if you can quantify the financial consequences of delay, then we should talk.

Otherwise, let's agree to talk on Monday.