Startup Lessons: The Expensiveness of Firefighting

The past few weeks at work we’ve been in crisis mode. Basically we lost visibility of our user’s experience and had some major quality issues that affected the performance of our service. As you can expect, we had a lot of angry users and clients which through us all into crisis management mode.

A year ago, we experienced a very similar situation and I spoke of the benefits of crisis-mode:

  1. Laser-sharp focus.
  2. Increased output.
  3. Increased interaction b/w the team
  4. Increased engagement with clients and users

This time around I want to talk about the expensive part of firefighting:

  1. React Mode.

Something broke, fix it. Got an angry user? Give them a call. Now. This is the rush of react mode. It’s also email after email of updates, mostly unread. Your team is trying so hard to deal with the situation at hand that you lose sight of the bigger picture and everything else going on in your business.

Lesson: “In react mode, you don’t add value. You only contain the loss of it.”

  1. Areas get uncared for.

This cost represents the “opportunity cost of the undone work”. That new client who’s still waiting for you to do X. That new feature that was half-built and put on hold. It’s tough to keep the operation going when everyone is focused 100% on dealing with the crisis at hand. Most of the time, your other clients aren’t aware or don’t care about your crisis. They still have expectations to be met and results to be delivered.

  1. Losing Rhythm. Losing Momentum.

Now that you and your team are in react mode, and you’ve lost touch with some of your other clients and priorities; it’ll feel like you’ve lost your rhythm. You’ve lost that steady track of wins and the confidence built over the past few months. The worst part. You can’t wait until this situation is over to get out and start winning again.

But there’s always a bright side… a way to make sure none of the firefighting was in vain…


  1. Consider it a Win.

Hard times and crunch times are inevitable, especially for early stage companies. The past few weeks you’ve worked hard to put out this fire. Now that the situation is over, it’s time to celebrate. Your team has pulled through and come together to overcome a tough time. Leverage this opportunity to rebuild the operation in a positive light; and continue on to the next big win.

  1. Gain New Perspective.

Tough times are an opportunity to reflect, learn, and think about what should have been done better. Don’t just go back to the status quo, Use your newly gained perspective to focus on the 3 most important opportunities for your business. You’ll realize much of the “priorities” you had previously didn’t add much value. Now you’ll have a clear idea on what does.

  1. Now Add Value.

Now that you have a big win and a “new perspective” on things, focus on proactively addressing the parts of your business that create the most value. This might mean spending more time “in the market” taking care of your biggest client accounts. This could also mean paying more attention the quality control of your product development process. No that you know what’s important, you’ll have more time and focus to invest in the things that matter most to your company’s success.

This is the turnaround opportunity you and your team have when you face a crisis. The quicker your team can get through the crisis part and back to adding value, the better of you’ll be. 

Crisis Resolution Cycle
Make the most of it.


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