Tactic Spotlight: Code Red
2 min read

Tactic Spotlight: Code Red

What is it? A prescribed process for making a meaningful strategic shift right now

When to invoke it? When shit's hitting the fan for one reason or another and you want to acknowledge that on the company stage (and help people understand that other stuff they are likely working on will need to be immediately deprioritized to make room for this).

For example:

  • Stripe invoked a code red in 2015 when the core API was revealing some serious instability. It was all hands on deck to fix it (everyone from engineers to account managers)!
  • The Financial Services AdWords Sales Team at Google invoked a Code Red when we discovered some bad actor accounts that we wanted to immediately offboard (mostly for ethical reasons). We were all asked to work extra hours and put some account-facing work on hold to do the work to get things into a better place.
  • Other examples of external triggers for a Code Red: massive regulatory change like Brexit, global pandemic like COVID-19, or a market decline like the one we're facing.
  • Other examples of internal triggers for a Code Red: CSAT scores at sustained lows, sustained low offer to accept rate for candidates, large sales deals keep getting lost to the same competitor


  • Different from incidents: in that it will require a meaningful strategic shift and ongoing, albeit timebound, dedicated work to resolve.
  • Disruptive to the organization and roadmap by design. The whole point is that everyone at the organization knows that if they are asked to work on something related to Code Red, they drop their current work to help.
  • Staff strategically: such that this Code Red does not cause a Code Red elsewhere. For example, you wouldn’t want to take all of your reliability or security engineers off their work at the same time.
  • Give it a descriptive and distinct name: that everyone can refer to the Code Red by. Having shared language/terminology will not only make communicating more efficient, it will also make the team feel more connected spiritually.
  • Communicate progress often: not only to direct stakeholders but also the broader organization. Everyone should know how to help.
  • You can do a lighter version of this for a “Code Yellow”
  • If you’re experiencing a lot of these, there has likely been a failure in planning.

Proposed entrance criteria

  • called by a leader
  • job to be done is urgent and requires cross-functional support
  • Willing to staff this with 100% of 3-5 people (and some yet-to-be-determined amount of crossfunctional time)
  • Willing to put top talent on it
  • Clearly-defined exit criteria
  • Requires at least 30 days to resolve

Proposed operating criteria

  • Leadership sponsor is available in real-time to quickly steer, unblock, evaluate crossfunctional staffing requests, and make decisions with the working group
  • Target timeline for resolution
  • Dedicated directly responsible individual who owns the outcomes and ongoing communication
  • A broadcast channel and agreed-upon update cadence
  • 100% staffing from core working group and authority to request staffing from other teams as needed (subject to approval of leadership sponsor)

Proposed Exit Criteria

  • Must be defined at outset
    Ongoing ownership established (closed out permanently, gets owned by other team, spins off into its own ongoing function, ends before it’s completed)


snapshot below, put it to use