how can I get other managers to stop giving my team last-minute work they knew about in advance?

A reader writes:

I’m a new manager who heads up a team of 12 employees, and I’m having an issue with the other groups that we work with.

My problem is that the other groups have developed a nasty habit of not including my team on work to be performed, then dropping it on us demanding it be done “ASAP.”

I don’t mind the occasional unexpected item coming up — it does happen, and that can usually be workable — but I’ve found a couple of recurring themes: Either the reported deadlines are several weeks short of when our part is actually needed, or the work they need from us is known several weeks in advance but we’re not notified until the eleventh hour. Additionally, quite a bit of this work is announced informally (grabbing my employees in the hallway or calling them on their cellphones and telling them to go do things NOW) rather than entered in the ticketing system so that it can be prioritized, scheduled, and documented for billing purposes. This has caused us to miss deadlines on important tasks due to our scrambling to complete work that won’t be needed for a month out. The overtime to pull off some of these tasks on very short notice is killing my group’s morale and the next-day shipping on materials is killing my group’s budget.

I’d love to get everything done, correctly and on time, and to do that I need advance knowledge when possible along with accurate deadlines so that I can make sure to have the staffing and materials available to handle it. However, the more that I explain what I expect and how it helps us to make sure their work gets done, the more the other groups’ managers seem to dig in their heels and try to circumvent going through proper channels.

So the first thing I’d like to ask is if I’m being unreasonable. The other is whether it would be out of line to explain to both my employees and the other managers that my employees report to me, that they are no longer to take on any new tasks without my approval, and if those requests don’t have a realistic deadline, then I can’t promise that it will be done on time because my folks are already scheduled for other jobs.

It seems a bit harsh, and I could definitely work on wording, but I think it may be necessary. What are your thoughts? Is there a better way I might be able to resolve this that I might need to consider?

Nope, you’re not being unreasonable. Or rather, you’re not being unreasonable if you’re working in an environment that allows for more advance notice and you’re not getting it. There are contexts where the type of advance notice you’d like isn’t realistic (for example, political campaigns, where things change on a dime and part of the deal is being able to roll with that), but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here.

The potential solution you’re leaning toward — “we’ll start refusing work that doesn’t follow our submission guidelines” — is the solution that everyone in your position wants to use. And sometimes you can do that! But there are also offices where, as justified as you’d be in feeling that way, really doing that wouldn’t fly, because it would mean refusing to take on work that was more important to the organization than systems compliance is. It sounds great in theory to say “we’ll reject anything that doesn’t go through proper channels and doesn’t come with a reasonable deadline,” but in many workplaces, that would be blown to pieces the first time you tried to turn away a high-priority project.

That doesn’t mean that something like that isn’t the solution — it probably is. But first I’d do these things:

1. Talk to the managers whose groups are regularly causing this problem and find out what’s going on from their perspective. You said that they’ve been digging in their heels when you’ve talked with them in the past. This time, come at it from a different angle. Don’t make the meeting about getting them to comply; just make your goal to better understand what’s going on on their side and why they’re resistant to your requests. You might learn something that helps you adjust the processes on your side or present them differently. You might see that there’s a different solution altogether — for example, maybe it would help to check in with them weekly to find out what’s coming down the pike rather than waiting for them to tell you weeks later. Or maybe you can create template packages for the sorts of things they need regularly so it’s easier to customize quickly when you get a last-minute request. Or who knows — maybe nothing. But talk to them and see.

2. Talk to your own staff. While you can’t control what other departments do, you can make it clear to your own staff that if someone tries to give them work by grabbing them in the hallway or otherwise not going through you, they need to direct that person to you. Tell them they need to say, “You’d need to run that through Jane” and stick to it. Or if they can’t bring themselves to say that (which would be understandable if the person asking for the work is, say, the CEO), then they need to come straight to you afterwards and loop you in.

3. If #1 and #2 don’t make a big dent in it, then it’s time to talk to your own boss about what’s going on and the impact it’s having on your staff’s work, budget, and ability to prioritize. Float the idea you’ve suggested here — having a more rigid system and holding people to it — and ask for her input on that. If she tells you it’s fine, test that to make sure it’s really going to be fine when you end up telling people no. In other words, say something like, “Just to make sure, that would mean that if Lucinda brought us a project like last week’s last-minute rice sculpture that she’d known about for weeks, we’d tell her we couldn’t guarantee we’d meet her deadline — and we might really end up missing it because I wouldn’t ask people to work over the weekend to get it done. Is it really okay to do that?” The reason to test it like this is because sometimes putting in concretes will make your manager realize that it’s not realistic after all — and it’s much better to find that out now than to get undermined later. Or, it might help tease out that it will be generally be okay to do that but not in situations X, Y, and Z, and you want to be on the same page about what those are.

Ultimately, though, to really solve this, the most helpful thing is to have someone high-up on your side. If you have, for example, a COO or other high level manager (someone with authority over the managers who are doing this to you) who is willing to say “this is inefficient, costing extra money, messing up workflow in ways we care about, and shouldn’t be happening,” and she’s willing to tell the culprits to cut it out, you’re likely to be able to stop it altogether.

{ 100 comments… read them below }

  1. FCJ*

    I used to work in the document production department of a small firm. Basically, other departments would write up documents, and we would edit, format, and deliver them. Part of my job at the beginning of every week was to go around and ask the people in other departments what they were working on that week, whether they would have anything for us, when they expected to get it to us, and the deadline. It didn’t always solve the problem of someone dropping a 100-page document on my desk and declaring that it needed to be edited by the next morning, but it helped. And if there was something we knew was supposed to come that didn’t, my boss could go back to the person and work out a more realistic schedule. Lots fewer surprises that way.

    I was in a pretty small office, so that exact solution might not be feasible for the OP, but you or your boss might be able to put together some kind of system, like a weekly email blast or department head meeting, to help you get more information ahead of time about what’s supposed to be headed your way.

    1. Feralcatt (OP)*

      Hi! I’m the OP. That’s a really good idea, and I think it dovetails very nicely with Alison’s suggestion #1. Both approaches are going to take a little time (but I’m certain not nearly as much time as putting out last-minute fires takes), but I really like that they’re both proactive while coming across as helpful rather than confrontational for its own sake.

      I think I’m going to start doing this and pinging the managers of the other groups every week so we know what’s coming up. I’ve already taken steps toward suggestion #2 a few days ago, and it seems to be sinking in. Yesterday I asked one of my folks to do something and he smiled and said, “Sure thing, but I’m going to have to ask you to turn in a ticket, and if you could, let me know when will this really be needed.” So he’s definitely starting to practice it. I actually felt proud about that.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Wow, it sounds like you’ve really empowered your team to push back on unreasonable requests. The fact that they’re starting to practice that language is a testament to your work to fix the system of requests. Bravo!

      2. Anna*

        Ha! That’s awesome!

        Your team will definitely appreciate that you have their back on this. Just remember: The other department’s poor planning isn’t your department’s emergency. No matter what they want to tell you.

      3. Joseph*

        “I think I’m going to start doing this and pinging the managers of the other groups every week so we know what’s coming up.”
        Yes, yes, yes. This is absolutely the way to handle these sorts of “emergency that shouldn’t be”. People often are so focused on their current task that they sort of push the Somebody Else’s Problem parts of the work to the back of their mind. But if YOU take the initiative to ask them ahead of time, they’ll let you know about it in advance. It doesn’t necessarily eliminate the need for you to juggle priorities and rearrange workloads, but it’s much easier to do so with a bit of notice than scrambling at the last minute.

      4. Trout 'Waver*

        What was the previous manager like? Was she an absentee manager that forced other teams to contact her team directly? Did she procrastinate and only work on things at their deadline?

        The cornering people and demanding things immediately could be learned behaviors by the other teams to get their work done.

        I used to head an internal services type team, and one thing that helped the last-minute thing was informing the other managers that they’d get better results with better accuracy if they gave my team more time. That trained them to give me longer timelines and further out deadlines. For a last minute request, I would say something like: “We can work that in, but will only be able to get X and Y done with 80% accuracy. If we had another week, we could also do Z and have 95% confidence.”

        1. mdv*

          I think this is a great way to put it, OP — helps give people a better idea of realistic expectations, too.

        2. Feralcatt (OP)*

          Absentee in pretty much every meaning of the word. They went without supervision for several years. There was one immediately before me, but he only lasted a couple of years and was gone for a good chunk of time before I was promoted up.

          So I wouldn’t doubt at all that there are learned behaviors going on here; people do tend to go for the strategy they know works, even if it’s not the best one. It’s getting them to unlearn those behaviors that’s going to be the fun part.

      5. Jersey's Mom*

        Good for you. I’m in a similar situation, and I’ve told my staff to say “I’m not allowed to make changes without a ticket”. It’s a little easier on my staff, since they’re not saying “I can’t do that”, they’re saying “I’m not allowed to do that”.

        1. OhNo*

          This kind of language does work great for the staff, but it can paint the OP (or any other manager) as the “bad guy”, so it may not work well in all environments. All of my bosses so far have been totally okay playing good cop/bad cop when I get an unreasonable request from someone, but you never know what kind of reputation a manager might be shooting for. Just something to keep in mind if the OP decides to go this route.

      6. 2 Cents*

        So glad you’ve backed them up on Suggestion #2! I work in an environment similar to what you describe. Some employees from other groups continually try to give assignments directly instead of following procedure. The “You’ll have to clear with [Boss]” response is automatic for me right now. One repeat offender always tries to weasel around it, but standing strong (and knowing that their emergency and failure to plan may truly not be your (or your employees’) problem) has really helped our department’s workflow, resources and expectations.

      7. Rocky*

        Nice work OP!

        I had a situation with getting my staff to use another department’s ticketing system a while back. It turned out that part of the problem was that *the staff who were supposed to get the tickets* were sometimes subverting the system themselves, by saying things like, “Oh, don’t worry about submitting a ticket, I’ll just do it when I get back to my desk.” When I found out, I went to that department manager (whom I had a good relationship with) and asked her to tell her team to stop “helping” my team unless there was a ticket. Ridiculous, but it did eventually solve the problem. Sounds like your team is going to be on board, though.

      8. M-C*

        You’re going to be a -fine- manager OP :-).

        I don’t know how your ticketing system works, but most that I have used don’t require you to be logged in as the requester. So you could also train your staff to enter a ticket themselves when they’re confronted with an off request? The info might not be 100% accurate, but then you can simply point out that it’d have been better if the requester would have done the right thing and entered it themselves. Even entering tickets retroactively is helpful, after the urgency dies down, or if there were actually several tasks rolled into one request (before I sent the materials, I had to upgrade the software and that required installing more memory and…)

        And I promise better record keeping will help you immensely at the end of the year when you have to produce reports, handle reviews of your staff or of yourself, ask for more staff/budget etc. The good news is that considering how disorganized the situation is, you shouldn’t have any trouble looking like a savior here :-).

      9. Katieinthemountains*

        Hooray! I’m so glad things are already improving.
        I had a similar situation: monthly hard deadlines with the City. Developer calls the civil on Monday with last-minute changes, civil finishes Thursday (or FRIDAY!) and emails me a CAD drawing, and if I don’t have the updated drawings downtown Monday at noon, everyone is mad at me. The problem was that the civil assumed that it was just an hour’s worth of CAD work on my end, but my CAD operator was incompetent and I wasn’t the only person in my office with projects on that deadline. After a few months of late Friday nights and near-misses, I finally exclaimed, “Billy! It’s THURSDAY! We talked Monday about another project and you didn’t even mention this one!” Turns out, “You call me when the developer calls you so I can reserve a slot with my CAD guy” was all it took to decrease my stress levels and make clients happy. But I wouldn’t have had standing to do that early on (and once we had a decent CAD operator, we could generally field requests like that).

  2. Christine*

    After the recommended steps are taken; would it be out line to pass along the OT & shipping costs to the other departments if they continue the habit of procrastinating. It could be that the prior manager trained them that this was acceptable. If the other department staff & managers may not have been called on this in the past, it’s become the mode of operation. If you can pass the cost to the other departments bought on by their lack of time management it could slow it down. Most departments have to justify their costs in some form or another.

    “Procrastination on your part does not constitute an emergency for me.”

    1. J.B.*

      Great idea. It might be more politically feasible for you as the manager to discuss with the requesting manager to say “I expect this to cost overtime and/or overnight shipping costs. How do we bill that to you?” and maybe follow up with an email of specifics once you’ve gathered more information. That or some other suggestion that this is their cost to bear puts it in their court and makes them decide whether or how they can push back. I would talk with your manager first but unless your manager is the most conflict averse person ever don’t see that person objecting.

    2. SouthernLadybug*

      I had the same thought. It completely depends on the company and the set-up, but if you are able to charge other accounts/grants etc the costs giving the other managers a heads-up about the pricing change and following through could help. That’s what the printing department in my org does – they can meet deadlines….but you pay extra for the rush. It’s also a very large organization.

    3. JessaB*

      It is also possible that the company doesn’t actually care about those costs, or has built them in. In which case the OP can get in line with not worrying about that part and just trying to minimise OT not as a cost measure but as a “I do not wanna overwork my poor staff” measure.

      1. addlady*

        Well, if there is always going to be overtime, the OP might want to direct those overtime funds into hiring new employees.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          Depends on when this “rush” occurs. If it happens at 4:45pm for 8am next day, that’s not a “more staff will fix this” thing. But enough overtime charges, rush charges, shipping charges directed back to the specific people who are the worst offenders should make someone, somewhere go “what is going on with this 300% rise in expenses on Gareth’s team/orders?”

          1. Julia*

            If those kinds of rush happen frequently, though, it might be time to think about hiring a second shift staff.

            1. Dynamic Beige*

              I don’t know if that would solve the problem, though. Wouldn’t it just be encouraging more behaviour of leaving things to the last minute/everything’s URGENT (even when it’s not) — because second shift will pick it up? Without the information about what is really going on with regards to how much work there is, how much of it is a genuine emergency and how much is being faffed off until the 11th hour, I don’t think someone could make a financial case that a second shift was necessary. I have a feeling that most of these emergencies aren’t. That people have just gotten used to the fact that *someone* will get it done, no one is going to let a ball drop. Which is fine, of course, until it happens. Or suddenly you’ve got people leaving left, right and centre because they’re burnt out.

              At $LastJob, we had busy seasons where a second shift would have been amazing… until we went into a slow season. There wasn’t the consistent workflow throughout the year that would have justified hiring more people. So it was just expected that you would work late/overtime/on weekends and they would hire some freelancers as well.

    4. Kelly White*

      That’s a good thought- I worked at a place where almost every job that came through was flagged as a “rush” job- and the customer HAD TO HAVE IT NOW!

      We started charging a $50.00 rush fee, and it was amazing how quickly the customers were willing to wait an extra day or two.

    5. lowercase holly*

      yes, i had this same thought. charge it to the other dept. even if it doesn’t cause them to give you projects in a more timely manner, at least it isn’t messing up your budget any more.

  3. BRR*

    Some other thoughts
    -always redirect to the ticket system. “Can you put in a ticket for that so we can document thee workload.”
    -ask why they don’t use the ticketing system. Example, it might be set up well for your team but terribly for their team. Assessing the system could be a chance to stress how they need to use it and if the people have a say in it they might use it more.
    -Follow up on requests. Maybe it comes in and you call for clarification (or something else, I know I will get blowback for suggesting a phone call). You might be able to figure out if your deadline is later. I support others and I try to get to “what information do you need” and “when do you actually need it by.” Often times they are happy with the result but don’t know how to phrase their request.
    -if it’s a rush request you can remind them you need more leed time next time and even try to figure out why they didn’t tell you sooner
    -do you have guidelines for how long ahead of time requests should come in? i provide varying levels of reports and they have different time lines for how far ahead of time you need to let me know for each.
    -see if you can bill overnight shipping to anther department if someone caused you to need it. Easier said than done. But if bob could have told you a week sooner that he needed a rice sculpture and now you have to overnight it, Bob’s department should transfer funds to your department.

    1. Sualah*

      Yeah, no matter what, direct to the ticketing system. If the system will allow for orders to be put in back dated, then still enter them, just so when higher ups go to pull reports and metrics, they know what your team actually has to produce.

      1. neverjaunty*

        And I wonder if the reason they’re circumventing the ticketing system is doing so makes if harder to get away with procrastination and errors.

    2. KarenD*

      Another second on the ticket system – and I speak as one who tried, for a very long time, to bypass the ticket system and just go straight to my “favorite” IT guys who had made things happen for me in the past.

      Basically, my workplace transitioned from a very informal “see someone who can get you what you need/ask them/get it or don’t depending on many random factors including how much they like you” to a much more corporate “everything must have a ticket” system. Under the old system, I was one of the ones with Most Favored Nation status due to some long-standing relationships, but I started behaving myself once one of my friends explained, pretty bluntly, that if he gave me what I was asking for he’d get in trouble.

      If some of the people causing OP grief fall into that category (where they’re going after team members because of prior friendships) then having your team members say things like “Hey, don’t get your buddy into hot water!” might help.

      Also, demonstrate to the people that the ticket system is NOT a bureaucratic black hole. Explain how to mark things “priority.” Make sure tickets have the capability of registering a truly urgent request, and set the ticketing system to provide frequent updates (ours tells us when the request was approved by IT, to whom it was assigned, when it has been scheduled and when the request has been completed. To someone who wasn’t used to operating with a ticket system, it was reassuring.)

      1. designbot*

        Sometimes there can be a nice halfway point, where you go to your favorite guy because you know that he’ll know what you need, but you follow up with a ticket for documentation purposes. I worked in an environment where out of 6 IT people only 2 of them were able to help me due to working on specialized equipment, and this strategy worked very well. If there’s a reason why people go to certain members of OP’s team, it may be worth finding out why that is.

      2. Bob*

        This only works if you have a mature ticketing system where things are properly routed. We tell users all the time that they need to submit a ticket but we also know that if an issue doesn’t fit into a neat category that our helpdesk knows exactly how to route, it could literally sit in the queue for weeks. We haven’t found a great fix for this issue but I now tell users to submit a ticket and then send that ticket number to who you think will need to address it.

    3. TootsNYC*

      -ask why they don’t use the ticketing system. Example, it might be set up well for your team but terribly for their team. Assessing the system could be a chance to stress how they need to use it and if the people have a say in it they might use it more.

      I agree with this–especially if there is truly an opportunity to change the ticketing system so that it’s easier to use.
      (sort of in line w/ Alison’s recommendation to develop templates, if they’re useful)

      Make it easy, easy for them to give you advance info.

    4. lowercase holly*

      at my old job, IT had a ticketing system, but they were the only ones to use it. the rest of us still either called them on the phone or sent in an email. then whoever got the call would write up the ticket. perhaps they had a terrible time with the ticketing before i started there and decided this would work best. they still handled issues in a triage fashion, not a drop everything fashion.

    5. C Average*

      Also, sticking to a consistent ticketing system helps to lend weight to requests to staff up and/or increase budget, if workflow demands it. Metrics make it way easier to truly quantify–and remedy!–being swamped.

      I was on an overworked team that converted to a ticketing system, and it was LIFE-CHANGING. Suddenly we could be strategic about our time and resources, instead of purely tactical.

      One thing we did was to create a two-tiered ticketing system; those at a certain level in the management hierarchy could put in a priority request that went to the front of the queue. A few people abused it, it’s true, but that was a small price to pay for the order the ticketing system brought to our team. And having access to that priority queue seemed to make our leadership more willing to embrace ticketing, which they’d resisted in the past.

    6. Christine*

      It could be a training issue, that they do not know how to enter the data into the ticket system.

    7. AndersonDarling*

      We did this, and we also instituted a written policy that stated emailed and verbal requests will be ignored. The whole organization had to sign off on it and we log deviations if there are egregious violations of the policy.
      We had the CEO backing us up on this, I don’t know if this system would work if you didn’t have some high authority supporting you.

  4. NonProfit Nancy*

    You know, this question really made me think because we have a department (“Communications”) that probably feels this way. On my end, I think it’s frustrating too, because they basically insert themselves into my workflow and demand a “sign off” that takes up time. Ideally I know they’d like at least a week to review and sign off. But unfortunately, they don’t have capacity to help much as the product is developed and designed – they don’t understand our relationships and goals very well, and they are always understaffed so if I ask for help earlier, they’re not able to be responsive. I’m always under terrible deadlines for clients, trying to push things out the door, and I end up sending them things late in the process and begging for their sign off as quickly as possible. The solution would probably be more thoughtful listening and working together more closely, but unfortunately there’s a somewhat “us versus them” feeling going on in the organization, and always a push to get more done faster that really precludes this kind of touchy-feely stuff. Or perhaps we are just more dsyfunctional than I realize. Soo this advice may not help OP but I agree that sitting down and coming to a common perspective is probably the answer.

    1. animaniactoo*

      They may not be able to help earlier, but knowing that it’s coming will make it a lot less of an abrupt emergency for them when you show up with it late in the day. So you can at least send them a list or “Will deliver project Y in 2 weeks, will need a 2 day approval turn at that time.” and negotiate from there.

    2. Temperance*

      I have this problem with our Marketing department, except they work minimal hours and expect things last-minute to be turned around ASAP. I’m not sure if there is a good solution, though.

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        Poor marketing! Every org I’ve worked at, they’re a little bit out in left field trying to stay connected to Programs but always feeling a little out of touch.

        1. Misc*

          One thing I really appreciate with my job is that I cover marketing *and* support, so I’m always in direct touch with the technical people. It makes a huge, huge difference (the downside is I’m basically doing two jobs… but there’s SO much overlap you need to do both really to do them well).

      2. DoDah*

        As a marketing person–I’ll admit I have the same problem within our own team. Our events side is horrendous–we’ve created templates, burn charts–you name it. Nothing works. Just faffing around requesting content to be magicked out of thin air at zero hour.

    3. designbot*

      Try changing your perspective on including them in earlier meetings from “can they help us at this stage?” to “will it benefit the final product for them to start seeing where we’re going with this now?” Being in those meetings might be in order to help THEM understand the product better and thereby produce better results, not to help you make a better product. Either way, it cuts time out of the later stages.

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        Agree, this is the classic issue of everybody thinking about their own piece of the elephant, as my old professor used to say. At its root it comes from being a small org that’s trying to operate at 1100% : they are swamped and overloaded, I feel the same way, and we are both being stubborn about “our” needs when we’d both be more effective if we just worked together.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I started insisting on someone from creative service being in on project meetings from the get-go, and even sat in as the representative when last minute things came up.

          Even when the situation is, “we are going to need you to expedite your process and there is zero flexibility” it’s nice to be part of the initial conversation.

        2. Janelle*

          I struggled with this, too, in a former position. One department wanted to be brought in earlier on projects that were in the works. They hoped it would help them understand our work better. We had a system of weekly touchpoints but they wanted greater involvement. Only, “greater involvement” meant bringing them into meetings for the sake of having them in the meeting.

          Want to know how Other Department ended up in Our Department’s weekly meetings even though they never had anything to say? That’s how.

          Out of respect for everyone’s time, we didn’t bring them into our strategy sessions. They aren’t our interns, hanging around to soak up the knowledge. We brought them in as soon as we had made enough decisions to move a project forward, when their knowledge and skill would have an impact.

  5. Newish Reader*

    I wholeheartedly agree with Alison’s response. There may be reasons why you can’t institute a strict adherence to a system (even though that might be the best solution) and her suggestions are wonderful. My only addition would be that with her first option, consider if there are ways you can “sell” it to the other departments. Try to include examples of where advance notice to your team can benefit that other department. Most people are tuned to WII-FM (what’s in it for me) and when you can highlight how a change benefits them you’re more likely to get buy-in to the change.

  6. animaniactoo*

    Fwiw, it has taken my boss *years* to cut out the worst of this.

    People go around her because they can get things done faster if they go around her. Or not have to deal with inconvenient questions. Like whether we’re authorized to see that item in that region. The main culprit did exactly what you describe here. Listen, agree, and then continue to do it the other way.

    Until we blockaded him.

    When he or anyone from his team contacts us directly, we tell him that he has to go through our boss for that. Even for something as simple as getting a comp of an already designed item.

    But the other key here was getting another department that we work closely with onboard also. This was his other method of going around my boss – he’d go directly to the production department, tell them he had the order, they’d process the order, and then because we now had a customer with an order confirmation and dates against it, we’d be stuck rushing things that shouldn’t be happening at all. That department stopped processing his orders without confirmation from our department that the item was okay to proceed.

    It doesn’t stop him from continuing to try – and sometimes going to the owner of the company to say “But I have this great opportunity!” to get approval on what he’s been denied by my boss and the production department. But he’s started wearing out his welcome even in that office.

    But the more consistent that everybody in our two departments has been about this, the more everyone else has just fallen into line and accepted this is the way things have to be done in order to get them to happen. And we have to give in to the main culprit’s shenanigans a lot less often. From my standpoint as somebody who works under her, when somebody in the company comes directly to me, their level in the company determines which line they get.

    “You need to discuss that with Boss.”
    “Okay, would you mind letting Boss know that you’ve given this to me? She needs to know because she’s in charge of my schedule.” (with a verbal followup with my boss later to make sure she got the news, but usually they head right into her office)
    “You got it.” [email to Boss: “Owner just handed me this project. Should take me about 2 days.”]

    1. animaniactoo*

      As I switch projects – here’s one where the shenanigans ensued. But with a more limited effect on us. He went ahead and sold a product that’s not designed yet. Customer wanted it, he wasn’t going to turn them down. But instead of “I need it next week, because I told them they could have it then”, he has been blockaded enough that he knew better than to guarantee them a timeline. He had to come back and go through my boss for it, which meant it is still a rush job, but got slotted into my schedule as a realistically doable rush, rather than a we’re-going-to-miss-the-shipment-date-again rush.

  7. NP Admin*

    This used to happen very frequently in a previous position when I worked in prospect research – another department or our president’s office would have a “last minute” event that they needed prepped for, with dozens of requests for research attached.

    I agree that it’s really important to talk to the managers of the departments that are doing this most frequently. In one scenario, we were getting slammed with last minute requests for events from one VP who had been holding onto RSVP lists until the responses all came back in. He was under the impression that he was saving us work (so we wouldn’t be working on guests in the chance they would decline the invitation) and didn’t understand that we would prefer to do work on a couple of people who ended up not attending as long as we had a good amount of notice on the general list. Once we clarified that, our relationship improved dramatically.

    And this may not be an option, but perhaps you could consider whether this would be a good basis for strategically growing your staff? Again in my previous department, we were so, so understaffed that last minute requests had a much bigger impact on the rest of our work (that we were barely able to keep up with) than it would have if we had even two additional people. Documenting the amount of work, and the amount of last minute work, you all end up doing would be important in this regard.

  8. Newish Reader*

    Oh, just had another thought. In a previous position, I often received multiple requests from the same departments and we had a tracking system (Excel spreadsheet) for the requests and due dates. When a department came with a last-minute request, I would sometimes push back and ask them which of their other requests could be pushed off to have time to deal with the new last-minute one. That may not work in your situation, but sometimes putting it back on the department to help prioritize the workload based on their needs can remind them of the importance of timely notifications.

  9. Amtelope*

    We’ve been the jerks who did this to our editorial department in the past. Our department’s problem was that we were having trouble predicting when work would be ready for editing or when the editing needed to be complete, because our clients were missing their review deadlines, shifting our deadlines, or changing their requirements so that rather than being nearly done with a batch of teapots, we were suddenly scrambling to make changes.

    What helped was better communication about what we did know. “The teapots are with the client for review. After their review we’ll make their requested changes, which could take from one to three days depending on the scope of the changes they want, then hand the teapots off to you.” Or, “The client is demanding unexpected changes to the teapots this morning, with the expectation that we’ll turn those around to them ‘immediately.’ We need someone on call today to check the changes we’re making before they go back to the client.”

    On the other hand, we have also been that department in situations where what was happening was that we were overloaded with work, and sending teapots to editorial took time away from making teapots, so everyone was making teapots frantically until the last minute, and then dumping thousands of teapots on our poor editors all at once. That required sitting down and revising our internal schedule to make it clear that teapots had to go to editorial at scheduled intervals, and piling them up to the ceiling while making more was not acceptable.

    All of which is to say that I agree that trying to find out what’s going on with the other departments is a helpful next step — something needs to change, but if you can get more understanding of what the problem is, that’s a first step toward figuring out how to solve it.

    1. SouthernLadybug*

      We’ve been the jerks, too. We also tried our best to communicate appropriately. But sometimes a higher-up wanted big changes we didn’t forsee (and to things that were previously approved). So we had a rush internally that then also got passed along. I took cookies with me once when I reviewed a proof b/c I knew I had some big asks coming…….they helped and they didn’t chase me away. I think showing we knew we were asking a lot helped.

    2. NonProfit Nancy*

      We are these jerks! Part of the issue for OP: are you 100% sure you are responding when it’s NOT an emergency, or does the “client” department need to create urgency in order to get things done? In some ways, I feel my department has been *trained* to make things emergencies bc our service departments aren’t very proactive and seem to need a lot of nudging if they don’t feel the heat. Make sure this isn’t part of the problem!

    3. Shortie*

      Good points, Amtelope. We have this issue where I work as well. There is just SO MUCH WORK, which makes it very difficult for people to plan ahead or take time out to communicate.

      Just this week, a colleague from another department finished her part of a project and sent it to me with a 3-day deadline to do my part, which was not enough time. It threw off my plans for the week because her project is very high priority. I didn’t get upset with her, though, because I get it. I really do. She’s working at breakneck speed with no time to plan and probably didn’t even realize until the day she sent me the work that she would be done with it that day.

      It’s no way to do things, and we’re slowly but surely improving as an organization in terms of prioritization and workload, but it will probably take years to completely recover from the understaffing and work mentality caused by the Great Recession.

  10. East of Nowhere south of Lost*

    2nd on the idea to Document, Document, etc ad nauseum. Communicate how long the last minute things are taking and how much money is being wasted in manhours etc. Spreadsheets speak wonderfully sometimes.

  11. Leatherwings*

    Just want to reinforce how important #3 is. There’s a team at my org who would get constant last minute requests and it was a huge burden for their department. They set up really good systems to track workflow and were on top of keeping it up to date, but other people just didn’t care to use those tools (like people aren’t using your ticket system).

    The only thing that eventually worked was getting the President to mandate that people use their system, which gave the team the leverage to tell people they needed to wait and go through the mandated channels. It’s made a huge difference for them to have the power to push back without fearing backlash from the upper management.

  12. Workfromhome*

    Every organization is different but the OP organization sounds like my old one and Allison’s advice while very reasonable did not work there. If you have a dysfunctional/toxic organization where people have kingdoms the discussions are not likely to lead to a chance in behavior. I’d always get “I get where you are coming from, I know its not ideal but when Big Boss Bob decides that project X is his new thing and yells at me to have it done tomorrow I’m going to cover my own ___ and dump it on you as rush.”

    Someone above mentioned passing on costs and that has been my #1 weapon that has been very successful especially with clients.

    I need this in an hour often becomes I need it by Friday when someone realizes that they not only need to pay a hefty “rush premium” but then explain to their boss why they are always paying rush premiums out of THEIR budget rather than panning to do it cheaply or even free.
    I can’t tell you how many times I was asked to do something ASAP and when I said well we have a window in a month where you can bundle this with X Y and Z and it will be free of you can pay 10K to have it done as a stand alone and all of a sudden it wasn’t such a big rush.

    I also find that people often have too much fear of “I can’t say no or I’ll never get away with pushing back it doesn’t work like that around here”.

    We would get walked all over by people sending in improperly filled in requests or last minute requests that we had no capacity to handle. I said this has to stop. I created forms that clearly stated the turnaround times and that stated improperly filled in forms will be returned and not processed.
    The first time forms got sent back the clients were up in arms. You know what we meant. you need to do this . I told them “If you don’t fill in all the information needed for a bank loan will they give you a loan? ” They would ask “Well I know there is a process but this one time cant we just do it quickly?” I said NO. And I kept saying no. Guess what. I didn’t get fired. After a few weeks they knew I wasn’t going to bend and figured out that if they needed it done fast then they needed to follow the process.
    Were there ever exceptions? Of course there are. But the threshold for exceptions went from every day to OMG we are going to lose 1 million dollars if we don’t get this done and you can pull resources from another project to do it.

    Come with a reasonable process and lead times. Stick to your guns. Get support of someone high up to say “This is pour process but if you really need an exception it has to be approved by BIG BIG BOSS” People will think twice about going to the really big person if there is any change he will think its trivial.

    That’s the realistic goal. you wont eliminate this stuff>. But you can make it so costly to people that it becomes the exception rather than the rule.

  13. Dee*

    The more work your team rushes to complete on time, the more people will dump it on them without sufficient notice. Or, the only reward for good work is more work.

    1. BRR*

      It’s really difficult because you want to have a reputation as someone who gets things done and sometimes you can finish a task but it’s a stress. But then the request or doesn’t learn their lesson. I’m off today and stressed just talki about it haha.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      This was the hardest message to get my team to understand. It’s frustrating that the more you are willing to “help out just this once” the more people will take advantage.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      At my old job, we called this “the curse of competence”.

      Only in addition to the reward of more work, my team had the reputation of being the people to see to get stuff done, which made upper management much more interested in keeping them happy at raise/bonus time and more willing to listen when someone spoke up about a problem.

  14. Newby*

    My sister had a similar problem except she was one of the team members rather than the manager. She was in a situation where the requests actually had to go through proper channels before she could do anything. When people refused to go through those channels it actually took longer because she would have to enter everything into the system to generate a ticket. When one of the other managers got angry that several projects were late, he brought his complaint to one of the VPs who was angry at my sister’s department for causing delays. After a meeting where the VP found out what was actually going on, the other manager got in trouble for not entering tickets properly and making impractical promises to clients. After that everyone started entering tickets properly.

  15. OldAdmin*

    We use the kanban system (look it up!) for tracking and prioritizing our tasks.
    Basically we work out with our manager how many tasks we can take on for two weeks, and post these on a board. When friendly fire, as it were, walks in in the guise of “urgent, do real quick on the side, it’s simple!!”, we take the person to the board and say:
    “OK, which task do you want us to drop off our current tracking here? Also, you will have to get this confirmed with Boss before we will accept the change, and it will be documented!”

    We had to institute this kind of radical and formalized pushback, as all of us were rapidly burning out and becoming sick from overload and constant task switching that came from every level, including the CEO.
    Things have gotten better now. :-)

    1. Lindrine*

      We have a similar system, a board with swim lanes for sub groups in our department and a ticketing system. It’s not perfect but it is an improvement.

      +100 to executive buy in. It helps to have people higher up the chain.

      I’ve been at other companies too where people grumbled about entering tickets for a “simple change” but we were required to track things on our end. It was painful, but we all adjusted and tweaked that mammoth ticketing system as well.

    2. NonProfit Nancy*

      As someone more on the “client” side, aka the jerky department dropping these requests on folks, I’d make sure you have the conversation with them FIRST about how these things are happening, rather than putting all your energies in the “must document workflow, must push back on requests, no work done without a complete ticket” mindset. I understand people want certainty in their workload, but the nature of our work involves unpredictable requests, and it is difficult for everybody’s morale when I feel the heat from my superiors but then hit the wall of “nope/can’t”-ville from our service departments. Totally agree with the points above that part of the trick is distinguishing between the flooding-toilet and the installing-drywall type tasks. But if I have a flooding toilet and the response is, “look how busy I am, which of my tasks do you want me to drop,” it makes me feel very stabby.

    3. Oh No They Took My Firstborn*

      “OK, which task do you want us to drop off our current tracking here? Also, you will have to get this confirmed with Boss before we will accept the change, and it will be documented!”

      +100! We have a computer screen like this too, where if you need us to do last-minute tasks, you have to ‘drop’ your project icon in a line. Visually confronting people and forcing them to say, “Well my thing is more important than Florentine’s thing.” has really lowered the number of times we get bombed in a week. Plus, we don’t end up getting yelled at if something doesn’t get done in time, because Florentine will be able to see that Benoit and Hilbert ‘budded’ the line at 2:57pm when their tasks were less important.

    4. Bob*

      We use this as well and it’s pretty good. Our CIO announced (much to our surprise) that we are only expected to work 40 hours a week which means nobody can be scheduled for more than 40. If I have 40 hours of work scheduled and a manager brings me a new 5-hour task, she needs to pick which 5 hours will get cut out of the schedule that week. If it’s another manager’s project that needs to be cut, she needs to get them on board and only that manager can tell me to cut the hours. We very rarely work only 40 hours a week because things take longer than expected or a production issue needs to be addressed but it’s nice to see the company at least try to keep our hours at a reasonable amount.

  16. Mel*

    Id do #3 first. The first time you or your employees put up resistance guess where those folks are going to go? Their boss or yours. Better to run your plan by your boss before you change anything that affects folks outside of your control.

  17. LQ*

    Consistency, openness, and helpfulness have made a great difference for us. We still fight little pockets here and there, and some spots leak occasionally.

    We have another department who insist on a ticket system (which would be fine) except they don’t do the work. They aren’t responsive, they don’t work with us, and they don’t do what they need to. (And they need to be fixing things right now, their role is sort of a the toilet is over flowing, someone needs to fix it NOW, you can’t say “Oh but I don’t have it on the schedule”.) For them? I absolutely end run around the “formal” process to the people I know who will get the work done.

    I think it is worth considering if you handle some toilet over flowing type problems AND putting in new bathrooms that you need to divide up, make sure people know that these are different kinds of problems. Make sure that they handle them differently and that you handle them differently. This was a big thing for my group. People treated everything like an overflowing toilet, which made it hard to handle those actual issues because people were equally insistent about the others. Dividing and making sure we were super responsive to the now problems but pushing back harder (or up to the boss, and his boss) on the not now problems helped separate them in people’s minds and now it is much easier to handle.

    I hope this makes sense. It sounds like at least some of your work isn’t overflowing toilets style things, but some might be that kind of urgent drop everything. The problem really comes up when people treat them all the same.

    1. Daisy Steiner*

      At my old work (major online international company) we had a global ticketing system for IT problems. As well as categorising your issue, you also had to triage it from 1 to 5. It was VERY STRICTLY enforced that you DID NOT give your ticket a higher priority than it really needed. The top two triage categories, in fact, could only be selected by people at a certain management level and higher, so if you needed one of those you had to go up your own management line first and gain approval.

      It worked really well for 2 reasons: 1. it was strictly enforced; and 2. even the lower-priority tickets were addressed in a timely manner because IT had the resource to do so. So there was no incentive to try to duck around the system.

  18. TootsNYC*

    You may also need to be very proactive (which is a higher expenditure of energy on your part). I don’t know if you already do this, but you probably can’t just wait for people to come and tell you the info you need to know.

    You may need to coach them by going and *getting* that info.

    A suggestion:
    Make meeting with these other departments a major part of your job. At the beginning of every week, sit down with those other department heads, one on one, or whatever works, and say: “What projects are you working on that my department will need to assist with? What’s your deadline? When will things come to me?”

    Once you start doing this, you might find they’re better about bringing stuff to you without being asked.

    1. TootsNYC*

      and…never mind. Bcs i’m just repeating everyone else

      Except perhaps: A little sympathy from me on the tediousness of having to go drag this info out of people.

      And maybe to mention the idea that this sort of proactivity might help TRAIN the other dept folks; it might take a while, but your efforts might start to get them thinking about you more, and they might first start coming to the meeting more prepared, and then maybe even give you a heads-up on their own initiative.

      Don’t expect it to happen right away, but it might help shift their mindset.

  19. Eugenie*

    I feel like this could have been written by one of the managers at my organization, with my department as the problem. But our issue is that we use the ticket system (they insist on things 3 months in advance, with anything later than that being labelled “last minute.” These projects never take that long in any other similar organization I’ve worked for), then they ignore our requests until the week before a project is due, they rush to finish on time, then my team gets slapped with additional shipping fees because they didn’t get things done on time. Because they manage the ticket system, it somehow never manages to show where they dropped the ball and only ever implicates my team (who have their own documentation via email showing different results).

    Departmental VPs are warring about bigger issues so this isn’t something they’ll step in on. It’s just hellish trying to work through these things.

    1. Janelle*

      Former job did have a ticketing system that was A) the worst and B) regardless of when we put in deadlines for the job to be done, we would be contacted by someone for follow-up on the job two days before the due date so OF COURSE nothing would be done by the deadline.

  20. Susan*

    Can other managers see what the ticket queue looks like? Do they understand how many requests your team has, and how quickly the work is triaged?

    I work with a team that uses a ticketing system nominally, but in reality it’s been called ‘the place where work goes to die’. Their manager is working on it, but I’d wonder if the team has a history of treating their ticketing system the same way.

  21. AyBeeCee*

    This happened with my group for a while. My manager did 1 & 2 multiple times and we also had the occasional instance of “we’ll do our best to get to your request but we already have several other items on our to do list that we’re currently working so we may not be able to start working on your request right away”. Finally I think the higher ups did have to intervene but it’s much better now. Plus if it ever happens again my manager goes to #1 which means the other managers have their valuable time taken up with a conversation they’ve already had before.

  22. lowercase holly*

    also, for #2, i’d ask the staff to avoid making any hallway promises (if possible) and just say that they will let you know instead of saying it will get done.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I have a rule that says I never make any decisions without a pen in my hand, and without sitting down at my desk. That helps me not make quick, ill-thought out decisions that I later regret. The *physical* component to it (feeling a pen in my hand) really, really helps me be disciplined about this.

      I think if I were your staffer, it would help me a lot if I could say, “Oh, we have a department rule–we can’t talk about our department’s jobs in the hallway; we have to be at our desks.” Or “I have to have this software open in front of me before I can talk about work.”
      or some similar “this is the PHYSICAL framework to be in before you can be “official.”

  23. kapers*

    One thing I’ve seen work in conjunction with #3 is having Rush or Urgent be an “official” status that requires approval of one key person (preferably senior to everybody asking for such status.) That way people know they can’t beg or bully you into getting things done, it’s either a Rush or it isn’t; and people might think twice about having to basically tattle on their own lack of preparedness to a senior person.

    1. Feralcatt (OP)*

      Ooh. This is good. I really, really like this idea. I’d say the best bet’s probably requiring COO approval, since he likes to be kept in the loop when things are in a crunch anyway. I’ll float the idea with him and see what his thoughts are on it.

  24. NW Mossy*

    I manage a teapot-making team that takes tickets from other teams to request that a teapot be made or fixed, and I’ve used all three of Alison’s suggestions to good effect. #2 was especially important in the early days with my team, because it helped me establish credibility and trust with them. By hearing me say “It’s both appropriate and expected for you to reroute rush and exception requests to me for approval,” they got the message that I have their back and I’m not going to allow teapot sales and service to take advantage of their good natures. I also tell them that my expectation is that they can communicate our standard turnaround times to make/fix a teapot and what we require to do that work; if someone wants to argue about our process or turnarounds, it’s part of my job as their manager to have those discussions. It gives me an opportunity to tell the requester the why behind our approach, and I can often talk a rush/exception back onto the normal track by doing so. Teapot sales and service is often under external pressure, but when they hear “the teapot will spill boiling water on your client if we do it like you suggest,” they often respond with “ooooh, that sounds bad, let’s do it the non-burning way instead and I’ll explain to the client.”

    One element I’ll also add is that bringing specific examples to the table can be helpful in the conversations for #1. When you can say “Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry teapots were all a rush this week, and I’m seeing a pattern. Can we work together to understand where this is coming from so we can resolve it?” When you’re concretely describing real incidents rather than a vague sense, people pay more attention and are more likely to take it seriously. Picking apart specific examples can also be a helpful way to uncover process deficiencies that go unnoticed until you really take the time to study them.

  25. Formica Dinette*

    When a team I worked on had this problem, 1 and 2 worked really well. I don’t know if this is applicable to your situation, but we also realized that some of the projects occurred annually, so we collaborated with each group to make a calendar. That way, instead of scrambling when Group A to come to us in March with a list of things we needed to do for their April conference, we set up a meeting with them in November to create a project plan. Both my team and our clients were happy with the results.

  26. Jeanne*

    I’ve been through this. We had some success with #2 of Alison’s reccommendations. The rest of it will not work unless you have the support of upper management.

    You need to do a little inquiry. Why are the other depts going directly to your employees? In my case they came to me because I knew what needed to be done; I listened and got work done. My boss was not responsive. When you know why and make things work right, you’ll be able to improve the processes.

  27. ArtK*

    Keep track of the work coming from each source. When someone comes up with something new, ask them to prioritize it against any other work you’re doing for them. Sometimes they don’t understand/recall what they’ve asked before and don’t realize that something new is a problem. “Does this come before Project X or after it?” Push back on the “it’s all urgent.” “Sorry, we have limited resources. Which of these do you want first.”

    When talking to your boss (and others) point out that sudden changes slow everything down. People have to context switch and that always takes time — true multitasking is a myth. Lack of planning can be very expensive.

  28. knitcrazybooknut*

    When I took over my team, we had been run into the ground by last minute requests. Every single payroll, we’d get five or six phone calls asking if we could just “squeeze this last one in”. My predecessor was a Helper, and would allow the team to be run over and rushed so that Calpurnia submitting a late form wouldn’t impact the employee’s pay. (Which is fine in theory, but not when it’s causing us to hold up payroll for all zillion employees.)

    We implemented an Emergency Form. This form was required if they missed the deadline and wanted to “squeeze something in”. I gave my team a flowchart with the scripts for every answer to every question, and asked them to refer anyone who had a problem directly to me.

    We cut the number of “squeezes” by about 80%. More importantly, my staff feel supported and have the tools they need to deal with the late callers, and payroll is not held up any longer. It’s made an already hectic time much more calm and manageable.

  29. NotAnotherManager!*

    Oh, wow, story of my professional life (except I work in legal, and no one cares if you have to work 12 hours on no notice to get it done, you’re just supposed to do it). Like Alison’s political campaign example, there are a lot of times where you get no notice because there is no notice — your afternoon’s humming along fine until one of your clients is served with a complaint and it’s game on.

    But that mentality bleeds over into projects that are simmering but not mentioned until they become a full boil and are urgent. It drives me crazy to get lengthy documents that that have to be proofed and citation-checked the same day they are due to be filed — you’ve been writing this for days, if not a week, and you’re just now coming to ask for help? Or, my personal favorite, the URGENT ASAP project that had to be done right that second that then sits on the partner’s desk untouched for a week. Ugh. We have enough real emergencies and don’t need the manufactured ones.

    So, we essentially take an aggressive check-in stance. Everyone has a set of people that they are responsible for staying on top of and knowing what’s up with them. Are they in a high activity period where a lot of help is needed? Is there any follow-up to that call we had last week? Did the project you got yesterday end up to your liking? Part of their job becomes knowing who’s prepping for a trial and who’s on vacation. We get a lot of information this way, and it helps us mitigate the unpleasant surprises.

    We also do higher-level re-prioritizing. If you have projects for Attorney A and Attorney B wants something that competes for that time, work with them to figure out who goes first or who will accept another resource if we can’t move the deadline. For people who want the impossible done, we talk about what CAN be done in the allotted time and let them decide if they want to reduce scope, increase deadline, or add resources. The admin departments do the same thing — if you have two high priority projects, a manager or higher needs to be looped in to figure out what goes first and to assist with communications to the person who just got B-listed.

    I also really dislike the whole, “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” thing. While it can be absolutely true, it doesn’t solve the problem, it doesn’t foster any better working relationships, and it doesn’t help the end customers/clients that pay for everyone to be there. It is right up there with, “That’s not my job.” on the list of things that my team had better never say to someone.

  30. eliza d*

    This is my day-to-day life at my unorganized company, unfortunately. We have several teapot teams that all develop their own teapots, but we have to edit/format/produce ALL the teapots that leave the company so when two teams are slammed, we’re double-slammed, etc. We’re actually in the middle of some serious crisis management because every single team had their own ASAP teapots that had to get out.

    Even though we’ve instituted daily “agile” (not really) team meetings, an interim project manager to help us get over the hump, and have people assigning “real” priorities to the ASAP teapots, the thing that has always helped the most was our previous manager, who was an excellent buffer, and would push back for us when teams came to drop their hot potatoes on us. (Our current manager, with his hands-off style, is absolutely no help at all.) The interim people that have been brought in are finally starting to see that we need that buffer and have offered to do any push-back that is needed.

    Still, this workflow doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. It’s been a real learning experience, for what it’s worth (this is my first long-term career-type job). Unfortunately, it directly reflects the way that our CEO/President completes his projects (pants on fire, at midnight before the deadline), so I don’t think it will be changing any time soon unless he steps away from that role. For my company to change it would take an extreme reorganization of both resources and people.

  31. nonegiven*

    My husband had a guy at work that would spring things at the last possible minute. When did you know you would need this? Really? If you had told me then I could have ordered your materials and rescheduled, but right now you’re looking at the middle of next week, my schedule is full and I can’t have your materials until sometime Thursday. No you can’t have those, those are for the jobs I have scheduled this week.

  32. LizM*

    I feel like this could have written about my office.

    Having weekly staff meetings among the managers where they discuss their priorities for the week helps. If my manager hears about a project his staff will likely need to work on, and knows that no one on his staff is working on it, he can ask enough questions that it’s not a surprise when it shows up.

    Having everything go through him also helps. However, I work with other offices where this creates a significant bottle neck, and I try to avoid going through that manager as much as possible. Sometimes it will take 2 or 3 days for a task to filter through them to their staff, and then something that originally had a one week deadline is not a 2 day deadline. So if you do adopt this approach, make sure that you have a system in place where things don’t sit on your desk for too long.

    On the other hand, I’ve also also been on the “springing work on people” side. It sucks to do, but I have more work than time, and sometimes literally don’t have the 15 minutes it would take to explain what I need until that project gets to the top of my ever growing pile. I think it’s the nature of some workplaces, and at that point, your job as a manager is to help your staff figure out how to prioritize within your organization’s needs. Is a deadline really urgent because another department says it is, or can it slip by a couple days with no real consequences (this takes some level of savvy and may not be acceptable in every workplace). Make sure your staff is comfortable coming to you and saying “I have 40 hours this week, and 60 hours of work. Fergus just gave me another 2 hour project. My plan is to do X and Y, but I really think Z can wait until next week. Do you agree?” There may be some weeks you tell them that some of their work won’t get done and that’s okay. There may be other weeks you tell them they need to work overtime. But if you keep track of it, your staff will feel heard, and you’re the one saying “no,” not them. Keeping track also allows you to see trends, such as who is asking for things last minute or giving unrealistic timelines, what types of projects are coming in, and when they tend to come in. That gives you the opportunity to really think about the best approach to fixing this issue.

  33. Kate*

    I agree that the way other departments are handling this is not good, but it may be worth considering as Alison said whether your lead times are in line with your business. We sometimes have to request tasks at short notice, especially financial tasks. Unfortunately, I am at a very, very large institution with unrealistic lead times for the type of work that we do (minimum 1 week to get a PO – that’s the expedited timing – and 4-6 WEEKS to get a new vendor set up in the system). These lead times are completely out of whack with the deadlines and time frames our funders require, which sets up constant tension with finance. The university in its wisdom has centralized everything, making lead times and responsiveness even worse.

  34. Matt*

    This could be my place … I’m a software developer at the government’s IT department. Basically it works the way that other departments drop in software projects they like to have done, or change requests on their existing systems; then our staff estimates hours needed and negotiates deadlines, then they create a technical concept, then it gets to us developers for actually do it. So far so good, but more often than not we get our projects assigned with a looming deadline very near, sometimes “this has to be done today”, “this has to be done tomorrow”, sometimes the deadline has already passed (if this happens, of course it’s the developer’s fault, even if we didn’t know anything) … and of course there’s also a ticketing system for incidents / bugs, everything coming via this is even more urgent. And, on top of all this, people bypassing all the standard procedures, and refusing e-mail, and *calling* us. And expecting us to always be reachable on the phone. Sigh.

  35. Meg*

    Software engineer here. We work in small teams on a product and we use the Agile (Scrum) methodology. Scrum basically says that you have a backlog of work, and your team grooms the backlog (which should be ordered by priority by the product/project manager) and estimate the amount of “points” each “story” is worth. Then you calculate your team’s velocity and capacity for the “sprint cycle” or “iteration”, usually two weeks, to determine how many point your team can deliver by the end of the sprint.

    What that means for us is that we don’t pick up any work until it’s been groomed and estimated, and we’ve committed to it for that sprint cycle. We’ll push back on it if we don’t have enough information or requirements for this story. In reality, we still get a lot of things sprung up on us at the last minute… like getting together all the open-source licenses for our legal team to make sure we’re not going to be sued when we ship our product, or a security flaw that has to be addressed ASAP. Because of our “capacity” and “velocity” we can say, “Okay this new work is worth 8 points, which means something worth 8 points has to come off.” We’ll pick it back up later (as it’s in the ‘parking lot’, things we’re doing if we have time to by the end of the sprint).

    Management knows that if they ask us to do something, something else probably won’t get delivered on time, and that’s their call to make at that point.

  36. bopper*

    Have your people be super positive and act like it is in the requestor’s best interest to create a ticket.

    “Fantastic, Joe! Can you enter that into the ticketing system? I wouldn’t want it to slip through the cracks and that way you can track the status. Our boss is really stressing this and I don’t get credit for work done that isn’t in the system.”

Comments are closed.