I hate when tech companies use combat analogies, but I’ll write about that disdain another day. I want to talk about wartime - the most famous of them all.

Wartime is when companies go into must-win mode. Wartime is a mode of highly focused output, often driven by a market condition like direct competition. I’ve been in a company in wartime mode, and recently had a conversation about that experience. This post is a collection of some notes on this topic.

In my experience, wartime was 3 weeks of focused effort towards a fairly ambitious task - launch a fully featured iOS, Android and Web app for a new product from scratch. It took working 7 days a week, and often 10-11 hour days. It wasn’t normal, and I really don’t recommend it for everyone - but we got the job done.

Here’s how things felt during that time, and some guidelines for anyone considering it:

  • Wartime feels unmistakebly different. It’s a hard shift that can’t be created through regular means. An aggressive goal in an OKR doesn’t create wartime. Companies can sometimes feel like they are in wartime mode until they see what that actually means. Wartime is essential when it happens, but it should never be overapplied.
  • Know thy enemy - Understanding the scope of work is critical. You can’t go into this mode with too much ambiguity - people who’ve signed up need to know exactly what they’ll be working on from day 1.
  • Wartime changes decision making. Things happen faster, and execution is more targeted. This means things will sometimes happen haphazardly, and we need to plan for that in the future.
  • Wartime is a choice. The people working on a team during this mode have to be allowed to opt-out without retribution. It’s not for everyone, and that shouldn’t be a negative thing.
  • Wartime gets the entire company together. In my experience it was a relatively small team, but the energy of the team spread across the company and beyond.

If you or someone you know is in a company that’s planning to go into “wartime mode”, I’d love to speak to them about their experience.