am I really supposed to bug my coworkers to get my projects handled?

A reader writes:

I have been “working from home” from my parents’ house recently due to landlord issues. It has brought up a debate between my mother and me, and I was curious to hear your thoughts. For reference, my mother is a recently retired IT professional who wrote code and made websites for internal clients, while I am an engineer two years out of school, working in a wholly different department of the gigantic organization she used to work for.

My mother claims that working from home would be terrible because there would be no way to prioritize tasks. She says that everyone marks all their requests as the highest priority, and she’s the one who would have had to determine which order to do them in. I say, that’s easy. Due date and then the order that they came in. She says no, that in the office people would stop by and chat in order to get bumped up the list. Not only would she actually bump them up, she would then go do the same thing to other people she needed stuff from.

That sounds … horribly inefficient to me. Instead of getting work done, you sit and talk about the work? With whoever pops in? And reward them for distracting you? I code too, I know that getting in the flow is hard if people keep wanting your attention.

I can’t help but feel if I were in that situation, I would get the urge to push them down the list instead, though hopefully I wouldn’t act on that urge. It just seems rude to me to go bother someone when you’ve asked them to do something already. Not even just checking in if it seems to be taking a while, but doing it as a course of business to get your own things done before people who asked before you.

I would hate to be happily sitting in my cube, assuming that my coworkers are professionally getting the stuff done that I requested, only to find out that my stuff isn’t getting done because other people are taking up working time and getting pushed ahead. And I would hate if they tried to come talk to me in that manner too.

I guess I’d really just like a reality check on this, since my mother and I are at “agree to disagree” already. Is this everywhere as she seems to believe? And if it is, how can I reasonably get things done without spending half my day asking people to do things I’ve already asked them to do or having them do the same to me?

Some people do operate the way your mom is describing, but it’s not the norm — and it can be really problematic when people do, for all the reasons you’ve described and more. Work shouldn’t be prioritized based on who bugs you the most or who asks in person or otherwise tries to jump the line. Work should be prioritized based on actual work needs. The way your mom did it opens the door for a huge amount of favoritism, inefficiency, incorrect prioritizing, and just … bad decision-making. (Sorry, I know this is your mom!) Plus, what about people who work from other locations — their stuff always gets bumped back because they can’t drop by in person?

Operating that way is actually the kind of thing that can give someone a bad reputation — like, “yeah, to get anything from Jane you’ve got to show up in her doorway and ask for it, or she’ll take her sweet time getting around to it.” That’s not something you want people to say about you!

Of course, it’s possible your mom operated this way because everyone/most people she worked with did the same. But that would speak to a real culture problem in her office — not a best practice she should be urging on you!

That said, your way of “due date and the order that they came in” isn’t always the answer either. Sometimes it is! In some jobs that would work fine. But in some cases you need to take more context into account. Let’s say X and Y are both due on Monday and X came in first — but Y is for an important client and X is a minor internal thing that you know can be pushed back if needed. In that case, you shouldn’t prioritize X just because it came in first. At a minimum, you should check with whoever sent you X, explain something for an important client needs to be completed at the same time, and ask if they have flexibility. If the answer is no and you can’t do both in time, then your next step varies based on how much authority you have — you might be able to make the call yourself or you might need to get someone higher up to referee it.

But yeah, prioritizing work based on who comes by to chat is a terrible system, and it’s absolutely not universal.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 170 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    The mom’s method would drive me nuts, for all the reasons enumerated from both sides! I’d hate the distraction and be annoyed by the time wastage if I were the employee, and I’d be put out that I had to waste even more time schmoozing to get this person to, well, do her job.

    (Side note: I adore my mom and she’s killer at a lot of things but, man, I would not want to be her coworker. We have a couple of fundamental personality differences that would really make life hard in a workplace.)

    1. MistOrMister*

      It would make me bonkers to have to work in a system like this. Just completely nuts! Who has time to go chat people up all day to try to get moved up the list?? And if I’m busy I sure as heck don’t want to deal with someone interrupting me simply to try to get ahead of everyone else! If you already gave me the assignment, go away and leave me the heck alone unless you have more info I need or it became a rush job. Yeesh.

      1. chewingle*

        Yeah, this sort of behavior is exactly why I love working from home. No one shows up at my door asking me to do things. Though when they WERE able to do that, I would gesticulate wildly at all the things I was currently involved in, sometimes yelling, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY CODE???” and that normally kept them from pushing me too hard on what they wanted done.

        1. old curmudgeon*

          Oh, I get SO much more done on a typical day of WFH without all the drop-by not-really-a-meetings! It’s astounding how much more productive I have become over the past few months.

          I honestly dread having to go back to the office where I know I’ll lose hours out of every day to one bovine-brained babbler after another stopping by my desk to bloviate about completely irrelevant nonsense. I was raised to “be nice,” look people in the eye and smile when they talk to me, but boy, howdy, behind that smile the teeth are clenched as I think about all the work that’s not getting done while they babble at me.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Because I’m so rarely in the office, I focus on relationships and team building when I am required to be there. I barely get anything done.

            I figure if my employer wanted me to be productive, they’d leave me at home at my desk where I am productive.

          2. Quiet Liberal*

            Bovine-brained babbler. Now I’ll think “Leave me alone, you cow” whenever someone is bugging me with trivial chatter. ;)

      2. Autumnheart*

        Right? Maybe if they didn’t spend so much time trying to network their coworkers, more projects would get done.

    2. Lady Meyneth*

      My first job out of college was like this, and everyone acted like it was just perfectly standard. It was a NIGHTMARE! It actually made me want to drop the whole industry entirely, because as an introvert it was just so stressful to me.

      My mom (who I definitely would NOT like to work with, lol!) was actually the one who convinced me to just move jobs and try again, and it was a revelation to discover things could actually get done without my having to go ask that coworker for the 20th time.

    3. Quill*

      This sounds like a conflation of managing teenagers and the workplace… things that I’m glad my mom has grown out of now that it’s been a year since either my brother or I have lived with her.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Practices like that probably explain why the IT ticketing system is so complex at my company…cover all the bases to stop the trickle of favoritism.

  2. Bertha*

    The IT Department at my last job actually thought this sort of thing was such a problem that they changed the system and even if people popped by to ask IT for help, they directed them to the online system. This sort of thing would drive me batty!

    1. Ali G*

      same here! everything must go through the ticket system. i can’t even chat our IT person a question (unless it’s super minor). we were actually having problems with stuff not getting handled because IT was getting “called in” to do other stuff by various staff, so now you have to put in a ticket or you get nothing.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I ask my IT contact things like “we’re seeing (whatever), is this a known issue and please no more tickets, or do you want one ticket with multiple usernames attached or do you want everyone’s tickets individually?” because if they’re already working on the server hiccup, then loading them down with another 20 tickets won’t help, but if they’re trying to get documentation for more servers, then the more tickets about related server issues the better. He says he appreciates it, though I suppose he might just be humoring me. I do know he doesn’t hesitate to go “Ticket that please!” and he also tells me what keywords to put on my tickets to make sure the first-tier help desk gets them to the right team to resolve the issues and save us all hassle.

    2. Legal Beagle*

      That’s smart. The mom’s “system” sounds like inefficient chaos and would make me want to Hulk smash everything! People who make you follow up a bunch of times to get any deliverable are generally not seen as good coworkers, because they make it difficult and cumbersome to work with them. Set priorities as appropriate for your job/level, and communicate with the requesters! That’s all it takes. There’s no secret-handshake office-doorway-lurking chat club that is better than simply prioritizing and communicating.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, we have tickets. If I did this to our IT team they’d tell me where to go (and they’re nice people!).

    4. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I will straight up admit that I bribe IT folks with baked goods to get good response time. I do not do this with any other department I work with, but for several jobs now I make a point of keeping the IT folks fed and happy.

      1. KaciHall*

        I generally bribe coworkers with baked goods. Mostly because I’m socially inept, and because I love baking more than y family could eat. (I am incapable of making small batches. My recipes make a ton or don’t turn out right.)

        My current office has mostly people who complain they are on diets when I bring stuff in, so now my husband’s coworkers get my extra abundance. My coworkers now complain I never bring anything in. My husband’s coworkers never complain!

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Hahaha, it’s so true! You’d think that cutting down a batch of cookies would be straight science (2 eggs becomes one, half the flour, etc), but cutting it down can affect the texture. It took my sister YEARS to figure out how to cut down her famous cookie recipe so it made a semi-normal amount of regular sized cookies instead of like 96 as big as your face cookies…

      2. alienor*

        I used to have a coworker who said you should always make friends with the IT person and the facilities person, because they could either make your life very easy or very difficult. :-P

        1. Rachel in NYC*

          This is so true. I work for a university so everything with facilities is a charge- you want that hung it will be $X. Our facilities guy will just pop in and hang things for us. If we need a new filing cabinet, why buy one when it can be mentioned to him and he’ll find one that another department is getting rid of and deliver it to us.

          Even now, during the pandemic, he’s been wiping things down in our office- making sure it’s ready for when we get back.

          There is a reason our location makes sure we get him a holiday present every year.

      3. Quill*

        My tip for getting bumped up the IT queue is document the crud out of your issue so they can solve it faster. :)

        1. My 2 cents*

          YESSSS as an IT person that works in an environment like this is exactly how it should be done. Don’t put in a ticket that says “I am getting an error” and make me chase you down to find out what error, in what application, what are you doing, when is it happening etc.
          The ticket with that information upfront and includes a screenshot is getting worked on first.

          1. BeenThere*

            I love that our ticket system includes a state that means the asker needs to provide more information.

            1. Andy*

              It is also great way for prioritization.

              Manger: “This is super important, the most important, when are you going to be done, when when when.”

              Me: genuinely confused after re-reading issue 10 times “I have these three questions, cant proceed without answers.”

              Manger: silence for another 10 months.

          2. Rachel in NYC*

            The snipping tool (or whatever it’s called) was the best program someone ever coded for Microsoft. I can just send tickets of “this is the problem. Here’s the strange error I’m getting:

    5. Amber Rose*

      Our tiny company actually created a ticket system because this was a huge problem with just like, 20 people around. I can’t imagine what a nightmare this would be in a bigger company.

    6. ian*

      As an IT person, I can also say that doing everything via tickets is waaaaay better because
      1.) every conversation is in the system, so you don’t have to remember that Alice told you about X problem
      2.) every conversation is in the system, so even if I was the one who talked w/ Alice, that context is there if I’m out or busy and my colleague Bob is the one handling the problem now
      3.) frankly, just the act of having to sit down and write an email describing your problem is enough for plenty of people to think through the issue themselves and figure out the solution. I’ve even done it myself when trying to write something up to send a ticket to one of our vendors!

    7. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Not just IT, but all of the service departments at my large org (~1,200 employees) have ticket systems for exactly this same reason: Facilities, Security, IT, Marketing, Web Design… everything has a ticket system. If I need a lightbulb changed, a parking pass for a guest, my email is sending but not receiving email …submit a request!

    8. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

      I can’t imagine not using a ticket system! Ours even asks us how business critical the problem is and auto-sorts it.

    9. Batty Twerp*

      Hubby Twerp has the same thing.
      Unless it’s a member of the C-Suite, or someone who cannot turn their computer on and connect to the network (in which case they are bumped to the front of the queue, but one of their coworkers still needs to raise the ticket on their behalf) they are firmly and more or less politely told to use the ticketing system. There are people who think they are more important than they really are who try to circumvent this process (which is where the ‘less’ politely bit is used by some of Hubby’s colleagues)

      The one other exception is if he’s asked a question he knows off the top of his head and can answer while at someone else’s desk fixing their issue (e.g. “Does the name of server have a 1 at the end of it?”, “Yes, and it’s a capital S”). But if it’s a “while you’re here can you look at this printer error”, they are pointedly asked to raise a ticket. Which may then mean he fixes the printer while he’s there, but the ticket must have been raised first.
      The ticketing system is used to log the IT teams time against for overhead allocations, and if it takes longer to log the ticket than it does to answer, it’s generally swept under the carpet.

      (All this is pre-Covid of course. There are no drop-bys at the moment, even with 88 people in the office, and they are actively discouraged from even thinking about it)

    10. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Worked in IT for over 20 years now and that’s why at one place we had a code locked door into the IT Department. We got so unbelievably sick of people coming in to ask/chase us for things.

      When a call comes into my queue I rely on my knowledge and expertise to decide if the severity rating is accurate and whether everything else needs to be stopped for it.

      The random manager of another department who wants a piece of unauthorised software installed on his machine NOW because reasons doesn’t take priority over malfunctioning DHCP boxes that have knocked out the control room.

      (Also the ones who regularly tried to bother us got a special code in the system which translated roughly into ‘thinks they’re god, acts like amoeba’)

    11. Berkeleyfarm*

      OP – actually your boss should be giving you guidance on what your highest priority project is. FIFO (first in, first out) doesn’t always work because something newer might be more important, more urgent, or both. Your mom is right in that you have to triage requests and learn to politely tell people that they are not your first priority.

      Ticket systems and project management systems (my place uses Jira) are 100% my friend. If the grandboss sends me mail, I do his stuff, but otherwise those systems show anyone who can look what I’m working on. (And if I get something orally from either the grandboss or my boss I will often turn it into a ticket/project.)

      Managing by personal relationships makes everyone feel good until the person doing all the work “off the books” and personally attending to the emotional needs of the asker as it were is out/somehow unavailable. Then someone else has to pick up the slack, either with a pissed-off requestor, no information because the other person didn’t document, or both.

      When my department started working remotely, some people really couldn’t deal – they were so used to coming in our area (with a seperate badged door, thank God) and saying “HELLLLPPPP MEEE” and having us figure it out for them that despite clear signs saying “Call this number” or “Email this address”, some people actually left Post-It notes on our door. (Without their names of course.)

    1. Ashley*

      Yes but even they can be convinced to give into the squeaky wheel theory if for no other reason to get the phone calls to stop.

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        Exactly—especially if it’s one of the stakeholders that is throttling the squeaky toy.

    2. Andy*

      Yeah, but many of them don’t actually do it in any reasonable sense, so overall system ends with everyone working around them.

      1. Eliza*

        I so agree. My PM’s are not involved with day to day account management. That’s my job. I create a ticket, and then talk to my IT team to discuss how I need it prioritized. It’s incredibly efficient in my shop.

  3. Fabulous*

    Another way I prioritize is by how quickly will it take me to complete the task. If it’ll take less than 5-10 minutes, I’ll do it first, regardless of when it came in or when it’s due – unless I’m in the middle of a larger, higher priority project of course.

    1. the Automator*

      Yes! I do this as well. It overwhelms me when my todo list gets too long, so often at the beginning of the day I’ll set aside an hour or so and just try to knock out all the small tasks as quickly as possible.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’m not a morning person, so I always used to tell my colleagues, sure, I’ll do that tomorrow morning.
        Then the next morning I’d just put my head down and zip right through the list of niggly bits and at least feel like I had accomplished something before lunch if not enjoying anything much, then I’d spend the afternoon in quiet bliss working on my long-term projects. Anyone who interrupted would be told “I’ll deal with that tomorrow morning”. Best work schedule ever. I’d forget to go home sometimes, I’d be that wrapped up in my quiet bliss.

    2. whistle*

      Oh man, I’m the opposite. I’ll end up with a list of 20 items to do that will each take 2 minutes. For each item I think “eh, I can do that anytime” and put if off. (But get it done by deadline of course!)

    3. allathian*

      Yeah, me too. Although sometimes when I’m stuck on a big, high priority task, I’ll take a fake break by doing smaller, routine tasks when the high-priority task gets too mind-numbing. Just seeing my to do list get slightly shorter gives me a small dopamine shot to get through the next few hours of mind-numbing important stuff.

    4. TardyTardis*

      Yes, if you have two problems, do the fast one first, and then you can fix the one that takes longer with only one person glaring at you.

  4. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I know people who work like this. They tend to not be well regarded. It’s probably a good thing that OP’s mother has retired. Otherwise, she’d be making her managers tear their hair out.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      OMG, can you imagine a large company where it is standard procedure to work like this! (Which, according to OP’s mother, it was at her work.) How does anything get done in a place like that? Everyone who has their tickets assigned to you, can barge into your workspace at any moment to tell you to drop everything and work on their issue. Which you do, at least until the next person with a different ticket turns up and tells you to drop everything and work on theirs. What unbelievable chaos. While every place I’ve worked at did, in fact, have a process for escalating a task or issue, it has been a lot more structured and organized then “the first random squeaky wheel gets the grease”.

    2. Andy*

      The whole situation is strictly consequence of non-existent project management. Her managers are not tearing their hair out, because they are not managing this aspect of work at all. They could have set priorities, they could have taken negotiations into their hands, they could have deprioritize tasks that are coming with blow priority.

      Also, the politics of these situations is much more complicate then people in this situation seem to see.

  5. Just J.*

    How to prioritize your projects, tickets, workload, is one that I would quickly discuss with my manager. So that when mom offers her opinion, you can say “Mom, I am handling it how my manager says to manage it.”

  6. MK*

    OP, your mother’s system sounds like a great way to have a stream of complaints directed to your boss about how late you are getting things done.

    As for yourself, well, how has your experience been? Do people handle the projects you assign to them in good time? If yes, I wouldn’t worry about it.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Not to mention that it would seem that Mom’s paper trail would support complaints of work not getting done since there is no paper trail showing the shoulder tap happened.

  7. Kalamet*

    I am a software consultant, and what OP’s mom describes is a fairly common pattern, especially at larger / older / more hierarchical organizations. At my company we refer to it as “shoulder tap” culture, and treat it as a process issue that needs to get fixed, for all the reasons Alison described and because it throws the overall software roadmap into chaos if left unchecked.

    1. Happy Lurker*

      Different industry, but same pattern. My industry is so bad at follow up that I mentally prepare for multiple taps in order to get my deliverable.

      1. Circe*

        Mine is a manager, not an industry. But I definitely work into the process enough time for me to send multiple reminders about approval required for a deliverable.

      2. Lavinia*

        One of the reasons I stepped down from a previous position is that the higher level manager I was supporting required multiple “taps” or reminders that I needed information or approval before I could move something forward. It was even brought up that I needed to be better at ” circling back”. So I would circle back on every outstanding item 3 times per day. It would sometimes still take multiple days to get a response. At that point my ability to circle back was not the problem, and I was becoming increasingly resentful that I was spending a large portion of every day “babysitting” an upper level director. Other, larger, issues finally led to me asking ti be reassigned to a lesser position. I have never been so happy to be demoted in all my life. This can still happen to a lesser degree with the people I support now, but my 2nd “tap” can be much more direct and rarely do I have to ask more than twice for anything.

        1. Circe*

          Yeah. The problem itself has not gone away, but moving majority virtual has led to more people being aware that the manager is the roadblock, not me. I hate delays in projects, but looking back, I think I hated the guilt or feeling responsible for it more.

          End result = resentment greatly diminished. I don’t have my hopes up that this will change without leaving for a new job, but at least it doesn’t drive ME crazy anymore.

          (I’m loving the Greco-Roman name trend we’ve got going on here)

    2. OrigCassandra*

      Different industry, same problem, only with development projects instead of helpdesk stuff. It got solved when a tough-as-nails IT lead insisted on Agile sprints, which forced shoulder-tappers to fight with one another for IT’s time instead of leaning on individual IT employees. It worked, too.

    3. Mirve*

      You need to have the actual system in place to get away from the shoulder taps.
      Jira/Ticketing system/Project Managers/whatever that acts as a method of providing that prioritized workflow rather than individual asks.
      I was in a groups of two and the requests came directly to us (all internal customers). Things would fall through the cracks due to not being tracked, priorities shift randomly and everything else. Only after we were merged with another group and a person was hired specifically to be the buffer person (and we started using Jira to track tasks) was the pattern broken. That took months perhaps even a year and we still have to say send that request to the right person, not direct to us.

    4. Sarah*

      I work in state government and my agency operates this way – this comment is spot-on. It’s also REALLY hard to operate this way in a virtual world.

  8. Underemployed Erin*

    The way that you are thinking that the relationships at work do not matter is a problem.

    A lot of engineers are working on big complicated systems now. There seems to be a shift from people looking for “rock stars” to people looking for people who can work with others in the field.

    Though your mom may have been overboard in the direction of favoritism, your approach of staying in your own space and doing your own work means that you are not necessarily building the relationships at work that are important to build. Building and maintaining those relationships in the remote environment can be hard, but it is also part of your job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s nothing to indicate the OP doesn’t build relationships with her coworkers. She just doesn’t interrupt people’s work to bug them about her projects; that’s two different things.

      1. apples or oranges*

        To be fair, that’s the way the tech world operates. She may not like it, but she’s going to have a hard time working in the tech industry if she expects to code all day without anyone interrupting or to code all day and not interact with other team members about her projects.

        As Underemployed Erin said, tech isn’t in the “engineers code all day and don’t interact” mode that it was in the early 2000s. Engineers are very much expected to spend a good chunk of their time interacting with people about projects. It’s not bugging. It’s normal methodology.

        1. theletter*

          yeah, we interact during scrums, pair programming, stakeholder presentations, retrospectives and happy hour.

          If random people from the accounts or production side of the business are popping in and telling us to work on their projects instead, that’s not a networking opportunity, that’s a stuff-storm.

          1. Andy*

            You really do pair programming? From what I see around it is quite rare to the point of being non existent (thanks god, imo).

            I think that your process is much different from process of many many companies.

    2. Jostling*

      I agree that the response and comments do not reflect the fact that mom’s system, apparently, worked. I definitely think that shoulder touches are an appropriate way to both establish relationships and capitalize upon them, and WFH has compromised that social convention. If we assumes that mom’s system DID factor in deadlines, client priority, level of effort, and request date, and that she relied on shoulder-touches to break the rest of the “ties” for herself and others, that actually sounds pretty normal. If it was full on, “you won’t get anything done until and unless you come see me,” then obviously that’s dysfunctional, but some level of contact and leveraging relationships is normal and necessary and has been absolutely impacted by the shift out of shared office space. I am struggling with that transition myself (even still, 5 months in), and I think it’s more indicative of work and social styles than a flawed vs. correct approach to managing priorities and relationships.

      1. rosaz*

        I agree – this doesn’t sound like a good system if it’s the only way to get your issue addressed, but I have coworkers who (during normal times) will sometimes email me with a question, and sometimes come over. And I know that (for a given coworker) when they come over that it’s more urgent (relative to their other stuff). And yes, you could put ‘urgent’ in the email – but that puts more explicit pressure on me, whereas as the ‘come over’ is more subtle; I feel more free to still delay their issue if needed. And they can see how stressed I look and re-gauge the prioritization accordingly; if they still ask, then it really is ‘urgent urgent’, not just regular ‘urgent’.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, I think it’s unrealistic to expect social interactions to be meaningless at work. In my case my coworker and I have quite a bit of leeway to set priorities for our work. Sometimes we do need to ask our manager for guidance or help in prioritizing, particularly if a client has a hard time accepting that their job doesn’t get to the front of the queue or that it’s not within our remit at all, although this happens once a year if that.

        But it’s definitely true that while all the jobs we’ve accepted get done, I’m much more likely to go the extra mile for a client who is pleasant to work with than the grump who sets unrealistic expectations and is unpleasant to communicate with. I’m from a very direct culture so I definitely don’t expect customers to be excessively flowery when they ask me to do my job, but I do appreciate a please and thank you, especially if I’ve gone the extra mile to get something done. I especially like it if someone’s contacted my boss to tell her I’ve done a good job. She’s happy to forward any feedback in the moment, but she also keeps a record for our performance evaluations. My job is the kind where it’s very difficult to set quantitative metrics for a job well done, so customer satisfaction is one of our key metrics.

  9. HelloHello*

    The only way I can see in person check-ins on progress helping rather than hurting is if the person is stoppign by to give more context on how highly their ticket should be prioritized – like what Alison said about it being important to know if a project if for an important client, and if the deadline is hard or soft, etc. But that stuff can also be done just as easily be emailing or messaging the person with that context. Otherwise it’s just an inefficient use of time for everyone.

    1. Wintergreen*

      I agree only IF there is a legitimate reason to prioritize work. I had a job where I worked with 5 PM’s (not IT). 1 out of the 5 PM’s would always bring me her request and hand me her project file instead of putting it in my inbox like the other 4 PM’s and tell me all about her conversation with customer about what changes were needed. Expecting me to make it a priority (it wasn’t) and wasting 5-10 minutes of my day for each request. I would take the project file, put it at the bottom of the pile, and continue on with my work. (I very much have a first in-first out organizational style, it works for me.) I learned later that she went to my supervisor to complain because “I was rude” and “I didn’t want to do my work”. No, I just wouldn’t prioritize her projects over other’s just because she wanted me to. She was the typical smile to your face, stab you in the back kind of co-worker and I celebrated when she moved away!

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Haha, good for you! Demanding your work always be prioritized just because it’s yours should have the exact opposite effect. Bad behavior shouldn’t be rewarded.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        A trick from a former co-worker. Take the papers, cheerfully say “I’ll put it on the top of the stack”…and just not mention that you work from the bottom of the stack.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      Yep, this is how things generally work at my office and most of the time it’s good. We have set priority levels and then from there you generally do go with order received. If there is a special circumstance, however, the project manager or whoever may flag it up and ask for special consideration. It doesn’t happen often, and usually there is a very good reason (unusual deadline, a bug that is not allowing the client to use the system, etc.) so it works out.

      That said, this usually isn’t done by swinging by their desk. I mean, maybe sometimes, but usually it’s via email or slack to the whole team. Rarely do these prioritization things happen in a vacuum. While it may not be a big deal to speed one thing up by a day sometimes that does make things more difficult. It can’t just be Fergus asking Sansa to put teapot painting at the top of the list, since Wakeen has already said that all the chocolate teapots are melting due to a coding error, so teapot paint really just needs to wait a bit. Which Fergus should know about since that escalation was discussed with the whole team yesterday.

  10. Robin*

    So I work for a large international tech company as an engineer, and our organization isn’t too dissimilar from what your mom is describing, but (at least for my org), it’s also not as bad as it sounds. I would often wander over to someone’s desk to discuss something, not so they’ll do mine first, but to make sure we’re on the same page about what’s being asked for, especially for details that would take pages of email to go over, and also just to say hi and have like 30 seconds of chat.

    Note: My company is very “relationship/networking” oriented in many ways. At my level, and being a social person, that’s not bad, but I’m sure at higher levels there are issues of “who you know” being a way of advancing. So there’s that definite concern, but as far as actually getting work done, I find that the “chat about it” method can have good results for both parties. But also there are people that I don’t just go up and bug in person, because I know that’s not their style, and we still communicate fine through scheduled meetings and email.

    1. Sam.*

      I think there’s a difference between talking over the project for the sake of efficiently adding context/collaboratively problem solving a particular issue, and going to talk to someone with the express intention of getting them to bump your project up their priority list. The former I think can be quite helpful and it’s definitely been a mainstay of my professional experiences, but most of my jobs and offices have been quite collaborative in nature.

      OP’s mom seems to think the latter is standard practice when, imo, it should be a last resort. There was a moment last month where I absolutely would’ve gone and knocked on someone’s door with the goal of forcing action, had we been in the office. But that was because that team had gone completely no-contact for weeks regarding a project with a looming deadline. [I mean that literally – they were still communicating with me about other things but straight-up ignoring emails and voicemails on this one particular issue. Apparently, they’d messed something up and didn’t want to admit that until they’d found a solution. My boss was NOT happy.] I definitely wouldn’t recommend it as a strategy in normal circumstances.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “there’s a difference between talking over the project for the sake of efficiently adding context/collaboratively problem solving a particular issue, and going to talk to someone with the express intention of getting them to bump your project up their priority list. ”


    2. BeenThere*

      This. I work in a place like you describe and am an engineer also. It was strange at first then I really grew into it and had so much development time saved with a few casual chats. It’s now my preferred way instead of lots of back and forth emails and loads of documentation. I definitely have my favorite PM’s who save some of the more mundane follow up work while still looping me in at the right times for networking and real problems.

      It’s very much who you know for advancement into leadership and senior engineering roles. This has some downsides and means the culture in each group reflects the leadership. I’ve had vastly different experiences working different groups as a result. I always tell friends that are interviewing to have their personality on display as a mismatch is group will make everyone miserable because you won’t be able to get things done. If they can, get some FaceTime with the director before they start if they care about growing.

    3. hbc*

      Yes, I agree strongly that there are places where this works, and for good reasons (i.e.: not rewarding butt-kissing.) Sometimes you can’t easily write down the nuance, sometimes there are explanations you shouldn’t write down*, sometimes a person has 75 week-long to-do items on their plate and saying, “FYI, #28 is still impacting me enough that I thought I’d mention it (and by implication I don’t care as much about #16, 34, and 71 that I also submitted.)”

      This would be pretty terrible in the context of highly-scheduled work on the small scale (like ticketed and prioritized support issues) or large scale (planned projects with interdependencies), but it’s almost necessary in more loose, flexible environments.

      *”Hey, we really screwed something up with this customer and we would lose our shirts if he sued, so we should be as quick and generous as possible in dealing with any of his stuff for now.”

  11. Julia*

    In principle I agree with Alison, but I want to point something out:

    “I say, that’s easy. Due date and then the order that they came in. She says no, that in the office people would stop by and chat in order to get bumped up the list. Not only would she actually bump them up, she would then go do the same thing to other people she needed stuff from.”

    This may be your mom’s way of describing, not super clearly, that prioritization depends on context. And that in the office, when people who need things can stop by and talk about them, it’s easier to figure out that something is for an important client or that something is actually coming from a request your grand boss made in passing. In other words, she may work in the sort of office where context isn’t immediately apparent from people’s digital requests, but is something people tend to suss out in person. If that’s the case, your mom may actually agree with Alison more than you realize.

    I don’t know whether that’s speculation or if it’s likely to be true, but that’s what jumped out to me.

    1. Persephone Underground*

      Yeah, this may just be the informal version of “bump up based on business priorities”, hard to really know from the letter.

      1. Forrest*

        Yes, there are plenty of times when sending someone an email saying, “Can you do this by Monday?” will come off really demanding and rude, and you need to l phone or drop by in person to say, “I’m really sorry about this, Sarah and me had a misunderstanding and I thought she didn’t need it til next month but it turns out it’s actually next week-is it going to be a nightmare to get it done that quickly or is that ok? Oh god, you’re a lifesaver, thank you so much!”

        I wouldn’t see it as the main way thing get prioritised, but if you KNOW you’re asking a favour, asking in person is a good way to preserve the relationship (and sometimes, add some context you perhaps don’t want in writing!)

    2. Ray Gillette*

      “Prioritization depends on context and the exact specifics are often most easily sussed out by having a conversation” is how my work operates, so I get someone who works that way. If this is what LW’s mom is getting at, then the breakdown – which we see pretty frequently in discussions about remote work – is that she doesn’t believe it’s possible to have these conversations unless you can physically walk up to the person.

  12. Persephone Underground*

    This is why I love Jira boards where the people assigning the work (product managers who talk to the clients) have to put the tickets in priority order for the team (most important is higher on the board). We know at any given moment what the business priorities are, and don’t have to guess. When we look for our next tasks, we just find the highest ranked ticket we have the skills to handle and do that one. Now, my manager put in a lot of work to get this system running smoothly, but it really minimizes this whole problem and it’s awesome. They physically can’t rank two tickets the same, so there’s no b.s. “everything is important” either.

    1. queues then booze*

      The downside to Jira is that you really need an admin that owns the business process, not just some detached outsider (hello) creating your fields/statuses/boards for you. Otherwise it becomes a mess with statuses that don’t mean anything over time and PMs asking for (and getting) changes to someone else’s board “for visibility”.

      I had a PM frustrated with how slow a development team was taking to work on her tickets. There was a very long email chain about her wanting “In Backlog” to be split into THREE NEW statuses/columns that she expected the dev team to use as decisions were being made. Before work even started! She had a LOT of pull so she got her way.

      Then she got frustrated at the amount of emails all those new status changes were generating (methinks the devs were being maliciously compliant, to my amusement) and had us whip up custom notifications for certain statuses just for her in lieu of an offer to be taught how to use mail filters. That poor Jira project is a whole missing staircase of WTFery.

      1. apples or oranges*

        Sounds like there was no backlog grooming in place? Or product managers who act as the product owner, leader of backlog grooming to keep JIRA tickets moving and prioritized, buffer for engineers so they can tell project managers when to chill out.

  13. Name Required*

    OP, you and your mom both seem rigidly on opposite ends of a spectrum. If you have the freedom to assign your own priority list, and are not working blindly from a queue managed by someone else, the answer may lay somewhere in the middle.

    I’m a project manager and I input requests that are marked by due date. I also follow up when the work is assigned to make sure that person is going to meet the due date, understands the requirements of the ask, and has everything they need to get the job done. The unintended result of that is that sometimes engineers will redirect their attention and go ahead and knock my request out; that’s great for me, but not what I’m reaching out to them for. I reach out because there are plenty of times that the engineer didn’t think too deeply about what I was requesting, and the ask prompted them to actually pay attention to my ticket instead of auto-piloting through it, OR they hadn’t seen the ticket and wouldn’t have met the deadline, OR they didn’t have all the info they needed and wouldn’t have even looked at it until the day it was due, putting me behind schedule. If I followed your suggestion, I’d have late, incomplete, and incorrect requests at a much higher rate.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        As a software developer, I’ve dealt with a lot of these. Often, the tickets are as complete and correct as the project manager can make them, but…

        …sometimes there are underlying technical requirements that aren’t obvious until you’re deep in the system.
        …sometimes there are multiple ways to implement a requirement that will satisfy the ticket, but each have different follow-on effects. (You want your engineer to pick the one with follow-on effects that are good for the business.)
        …sometimes the engineer makes assumptions about the ticket instead of reading it carefully.
        …sometimes the engineer doesn’t realize the ticket has been assigned to them.
        …sometimes the engineer doesn’t bother, and that’s a people management problem, not a technical or project management problem.

        1. Name Required*

          Yup, exactly. I put correct information to the best of my ability as a project manager and a human. Some other scenarios:

          – Underlying code has changed that requires a different set of inputs to be needed, and no one has updated the project management team on the change in requirements
          – The system the PM inputs tickets into exports into another system, and the data wasn’t transferred in it’s entirety
          – The PM makes assumptions based off their working relationship with another engineer about what is needed in a request

          We’re people, not cogs. Human error abounds.

      2. Andy*

        I am programmer, but usually because it takes a lot more time to put things in writing and many people are not actually meaningfully capable to do so. Also, project manager can not anticipate all questions and misunderstandings I will have. Not even talking about existence of programmers who jump to conclusions after reading half sentence, ignoring the rest. Or miss that deadline is there. Or simple, engineer intend to do it, but then forget while being focused on other tasks.

        Also, the problem is that if prioritization is done by project managers putting in deadlines and filling in “low, medium, high” on ticket, only tickets marked “high” are ever done. Then managers reacts by making everything they ever want to be done as “high”.

        The last paragraphs means that project managers who fill stuff accurately including accurate priority and dont personally visit people will achieve less. They will either adapt or be replaced by different project managers.

        It is not effective, I am not defending the system. Imo it is result of these processes being organized by non-technical people who dont know how software development functions in practice, but have more power in organization due to being able to bring in clients etc.

    1. Camel*

      Your engineering team sounds like it’s either seriously understaffed, or staffed with college students.

      1. Name Required*

        It’s understaffed. The work we do is considered a cost center, so that’s unlikely to change, though new folks did come on right before the pandemic and we’re implementing new measures to help streamline our ticketing for both sides. Believe me, I really don’t want to follow up with anyone. I want to get my tickets back completed correctly and on time without any intervention after the ticket is submitted — I like chit chatting, but I can do that with the other gregarious PMs I work with. Not needing to follow up would free up my time to better document changing requirements, update our project plans, take on more projects or more-interesting projects, or work with product folks on new products. ;-) Or write comments on Ask a Manager.

        OP, the other thing is, sometimes it makes more sense for engineers to spend outside of coding. My work doesn’t generate revenue, but clients expect us to offer this service in addition to our other, revenue-generating services. It doesn’t make business sense for my company to pay for me, the PM, to make pages and pages of documentation with what-if scenarios (so that they have enough information to make decisions independent of me) to attach to a ticket to avoid a 15 minute conversation with someone.

  14. Akcipitrokulo*

    IT here… no. And service folks I’ve worked with would actively push back against this.

    It makes things worse.

    If everything is high priority, there are a few things that occur:

    – People raising tickets may not have confidence their issue will be looked at otherwise. This should be addressed… and letting people who chat jump the queue will exacerbate it

    – publish guidelines as to priority

    – it may be worth assigning someone to triage the tickets and reassign their priority if necessary. Have this so that comment explaining change and reason is saved on ticket and emailed to person who raised it. This means that they will see that putting as high when it isn’t won’t work, that they may learn to guage it more accurately in future and that they have option to challenge if it is actually urgent

    – allow support to challenge priorities (nicely)… let them email “hi – can I just check if changing the new year party theme needs to be done in next two hours?”

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      However… if chat is to help triage process along, it can be helpful. In both directions!

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      We have a saying in my department:

      “When all of the tickets are High tickets, none of the tickets are High tickets.”

      Folks where I work are pretty good about accurately setting their ticket priority, but we will absolutely push back if it’s getting ridiculous. And this is where check-ins can be good, as you mentioned. These check-ins can be either from the person putting in the ticket, or from the person triaging, but it needs to be done with a view to managing everything in the best way. ‘Tammy came by my desk to chat about her party planning ticket, so it is now more important than the server fire ticket’ is not the best way to handle a large ticket queue. ‘Tammy’s party planning ticket came in 5 minutes before Fergus’s ticket which says the server is currently on fire, and Fergus is standing at my desk yelling “THERE’S A FIRE!” but they are both high priority, so I will do the party ticket first’ is ALSO not a great way to prioritize, so yeah, there always needs to be some degree of flexibility.

      To be fair, I don’t think OP or Mom meant anything that extreme, but I’ve been very surprised before about what some people will consider “life and death urgent,” so it does need to be said.

  15. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I’ve been the target of people who thought the only way to get my/my team’s attention on a project was to ‘swing by’ my office ‘just to check in’ with me several times a day. Plus emails saying the same thing. But no hurry, just ‘staying on top of things, SheLooksFamiliar’! So I learned long ago to politely ask if the delivery or priority status had changed (almost always no), and if they had any reason to believe my team and I would drop the ball (we never had before). Heck, I pulled our a project folder for one especially querulous HRBP and walked her through every line item in our last project, just to drive home the point that we delivered as promised.

    I also learned to tell anyone providing assistance to me – IT, payroll, legal – when something was truly time-sensitive, and it was a ‘whenever you get around to it’ project. Then I left them to it. Funny thing, I can’t recall a time when anyone dropped the ball so maybe there’s something to treating people like they can handle things without my constant ‘input.’

  16. Formerly Ella Vader*

    I completely agree with Alison.

    As you become more experienced in your position and get to know more about what the tasks need, you’ll also get to use your judgement in planning your own time. For example, if task X and task Y are both due on Monday, but task X was requested by the Head of Llamas and you know that the Head of Llamas doesn’t always describe their needs clearly the first time – you might want to get back to the Llama Group on that one early on, and keep enough time in your schedule for revising it before Monday. Or you might make a different choice, because you get frustrated with the Llama Team never submitting complete requests … but pay attention to what you learn and incorporate that in the planning.

  17. Rafiology*

    I categorize tasks by urgency and importance.
    Urgent and important has the highest priority,
    Not urgent but important are bigger, strategic things that need to get done, but depends on other things.
    Urgent but not important should be little tasks that might not be important to you but can hold up other people.
    Not urgent and not important tasks are for procrastinating.

  18. AndersonDarling*

    It all comes down to office culture and the backlog. If we are talking about projects that take months to complete, there is a backlog a mile long, no one puts down realistic timelines, and everything is the same “urgent” priority, then the only method to prioritize is by doing the project of the most persistent person. . . or the individual that makes the most “If this doesn’t get done now then ELSE” threats.
    It’s a systemic issue more than a “how do I prioritize” issue. I’ve received tickets that will take 3 months to complete and will have to go before a committee for budget approval and the deadline is set for 3 days from now. These are tickets from people who know better but are trying to throw their weight around. Multiply that by 10 and you have absolute prioritization chaos. Then the squeakiest wheel gets their ticket completed first.
    And the you get a new job because its a symptom of bigger workplace problems.

    1. Wintergreen*

      The older I get the more squeaky wheels irritate me. I know I shouldn’t but I’ve gotten to the point with some people that each time they squeaked at me, they dropped further down on my to-do list. Within reason, I wouldn’t knowingly delay a project or miss a deadline, but there have been people in the past have tried that tactic with me with amazingly bad results.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I originally had written “jerks” but thought I was being to negative so I changed it to “squeaky wheels.” In systems where all projects are running on-time, it really irks me when someone keeps “checking” on their projects to see if they can bump it up in queue.

      2. Anti-Ageism*

        …and here, in a nutshell, is why age discrimination is a problem in the workplace.

        “The older I get the more squeaky wheels irritate me. I know I shouldn’t but I’ve gotten to the point with some people that each time they squeaked at me, they dropped further down on my to-do list. “

      3. allathian*

        The older I get the less F’s I have to give, that’s true. We often get requests without a set deadline, and those are good because there’s some room to negotiate. I always try to build in some slack whenever I can so I can deal with the inevitable last minute urgent requests without screwing up my entire schedule. Obviously this also means that I can sometimes deliver before the deadline. But if someone’s constantly bugging me about a project, I’ll deliver at the last minute, even if the job has been completed hours or even days before. A bit passive-aggressive perhaps, but still… I do open and put in an extra space at the end and save the file so it looks like I’ve just completed the job. Usually I like to keep my to do list as short as possible and I’ll normally deliver completed work as soon as I can just to get rid of it, but sometimes I’m just malicious enough to sit on it a while.

  19. no comment*

    I think it is highly likely OP misunderstood his or her mom, and what mom was really saying is what Alison said in her last paragraph. There’s a decent chance what mom is talking about is people coming to her to explain the priority of their work, and mom was acting on it. OP’s stridency in relying on what’s typed into the work request makes me think they aren’t totally understanding office norms or, generally, how office environment works, which could easily have led to their misunderstanding mom.

    1. lemon*

      Hmm. I think it’s hard to tell if the OP is being “strident” or if mom was really describing was more in line with Alison’s take without knowing more about both of their individual work cultures. I’ve experienced both: 1. a culture where in-person conversations actually provide useful, helpful context that truly changes the priority on a task; and 2. a culture where in-person conversations aren’t providing more context, they’re really just intended to bug you into doing what that person wants right now. 2 has been more common in my limited experience. I think that the individuals who do this aren’t usually intending to jump the queue or be pushy– I think it either stems from anxiety or from having poor organizational skills. Like, they need X to finish project Y, but they have the kind of mind that can’t just put a pause on project Y and go work on project W until they get X– they have to finish project Y before they can move on, which means they have to bug you until they get X.

      It’s culture 2 that ends up being really problematic for all the reasons the OP and Alison describe.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      It could also be that the OP is following what is the norm in her office, and the offices that she’s worked in, which is different than the sort of offices that OP’s mom worked in. Her mom thinks she is hopelessly out of touch with office norms and is trying to coach her…when in reality, they are both following appropriate norms for their respective environments.

      I’ve run into a lot of oddball advice from people at work that’s involved this sort of crossed wiring, ex: someone giving me advice that was objectively bad and possibly offensive, but upon later reflection was reasonable for the crummy environment I was in; or someone giving me advice that was objectively good and would earn them an Alison Gold Star, but was so out of the norm where I was working that it would get me fired.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        From the letter I thought the Mom had retired from the same company OP is working at, so she was speaking from understanding that specific office.

        Granted, in a large company, things can be different even department to department, or shift after a few key personnel changes so Mom may still be a bit of base as to the culture OP is currently working in.

  20. The Other Katie*

    Mom’s advice sounds like it’s heavily influenced by a lifetime of working IT helpdesk. In that environment it’s often true that most people mark everything highest priority, whether it’s a flooded data centre, new starter account, a busted mouse or an executive who doesn’t know where the recycle bin is. Prioritised based on who follows up with a call or personal visit isn’t ideal, but neither is it unusual. Of course, that’s a very specific context and likely not applicable to other departments at all, but it’s understandable given the work environment.

  21. KC*

    For IT tickets, we use service level agreements to determine priority. The agreements outline how a priority is achieved, for instance a stop work item affecting more than 20 people or directly impacts the safety or life of customers is priority one. We have five priorities. Then with each priority, we have a turn around time agreed upon. Outside of tickets, we have project work and maintenance work. Project work priority is determined first by a governance board that determines which projects get worked on, then by sponsors or owners who decide which work gets worked on first in the project. With maintenance work, we have predetermined regular releases and an agreed upon number of hours of IT hours for each release. A business leader determines what is worked on with each release. This system keeps prioritization out of the hands of both the person asking for the thing and the person working on the thing.

  22. Sled dog mama*

    Maybe this is why I have two tickets just hanging out with IT for the last 3 months (looks up map to find IT). Time to go smooze.

    1. Sled dog mama*

      I should say both of these are relatively minor quick things that I could do if I had the user rights (software install and issue from an up grade that needs a setting tweaked)but have to get IT to do because of policy.
      And just in case anyone asks they are marked as inconveniencing multiple people (Issue) and I can’t do my job until this is fixed (install) and both are just sitting there with nothing done on them.

  23. Lora*

    Uh, am design engineer on large capex projects. Here’s why this is a bad idea:

    Project A is the pet project of the site engineer. He had a similar project at his last job that he really enjoyed, there will be a business need for Project A within the next three years IFF expansion continues as the business development projections predict (risky projection). Project A benefits only this site, has no revenue associated with it directly, costs about $20mio and will eventually…someday…maybe…save us about $30mio over 10 years, so it’s not a terrible investment. It’s a utilities capacity project which will not do anything nice like enable LEED certification or anything cool like that.

    Project B is required to support several clients, is anticipated to generate $300mio in revenue per year (20 years lifespan) after ramp-up, will cost about $500mio to build, and obviously very high visibility. Its spokespeople and promoters, however, are very soft-spoken and nice and gentle – so it doesn’t get nearly as much attention and support as Project A, because the site engineer throws his weight around to get people to do things and the Project B spokespeople rather feel that the value of this project should be pretty damn self-evident.

    I know who is spending all their time on Project A and not supporting Project B. I am definitely replacing them with contractors who will do the work when I ask them to do it. *shrug* If they are not able to demonstrate that they are trustworthy and reliable about deadlines, this would be their problem. They can keep working on little bitty things and not be trusted with big stuff. Fine with me. But they are quite mystified why they aren’t trusted and promoted…

    Not saying you don’t need to have collegial relationships with your co-workers, but you will need to be able to tell people nicely, “hey, I understand you want this earlier but unfortunately I am swamped with Very Important Work. You are here in the queue, and I plan to have it done by (whenever).”

  24. Treebeardette*

    Op, do you work IT? Sometimes you do whatever the person asks because they flipping came by for the 10th time and is making your life hellish. Some people cannot deal with technology very well. Sometimes they are a priority because if they can’t use their computer, then that hurts the company. All companies do IT differently but this is more common than what Allison said.
    I think you should take what your mom is saying at face value. She had a successful career so it worked for her. If it doesn’t work for you, so be it. However, prioritizing first come, first serve doesn’t work for some companies either. Maybe all of this really depends on your job.

  25. Data Analyst*

    I started a new job just as the pandemic hit so I’ve never met my team in person or been to the office. I don’t mind, and one reason is because it cuts down on the “hey, got a sec?” type of drop bys, which would happen at my last job too…this wouldn’t be people trying to bump their way up in the queue, more trying to act like something that should be a new request/ticket might be able to be solved by an off the top of one’s head “quick answer.” (Or, I guess just hoping it might be that quick, to give them the benefit of the doubt). Some people are still trying to do that via Skype, which I am having to learn how to shut down/request that they set up a meeting instead. I don’t know where I’m going with this other than to say it’s A Thing, not always as clear cut or blatant as the LW’s mom described, depending on office culture, and WFH definitely seems to reduce it.

    1. Cedrus Libani*

      As a fellow data person, I agree that WFH definitely makes you more reliant on official work capture systems (and highlights any deficiencies you and/or your workplace may have on that point). What concerns me about that is, well, a good portion of my job is to poke my nose in where I’m needed! I’m here to automate the computer-friendly bits so the subject matter experts can focus on the human-needed bits. They don’t always realize when they should call me in – sometimes I find major projects in the stuff I overhear in the break room. That part is getting lost.

  26. Jean*

    Every workplace I have ever been in has had people who did this, and it drove me crazy. Don’t hit send on an email about some non-urgent workflow issue, then pick up the phone to call me and ask if I’ve read it and what my thoughts are. Just don’t. Get your head out of your ass and understand that this behavior is inappropriate.

  27. Important Moi*

    Am I the only one amused that this is a topic of conversation?

    People do have strong opinions I see.

    1. Jostling*

      Haha, yes! People have STRONG opinions about “shoulder taps”… it’s SOOOOO important to have cultural norms established about what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of interruptions and face-to-face vs. digital communication.

  28. Phil*

    in my previous life I always had a list of work to get done but there ALWAYS was something that would move to the top of the list for any number of reasons, none of them having to do with dropping by and asking.

  29. zlionsfan*

    I do work that is very similar to what your mom did, OP. At one place I worked, it was very much like what she described – priority frequently set by who pushed to have their project done next – and like Alison said, it went very poorly. That place was toxic in a number of ways, and while I learned a lot there and made some really good friends, I’m also glad to be long gone.

    The place where I work now very much does not work like that, and it goes much better. There are still times when someone insists that their project is Important and Must Be Done Now, but there’s much more pushback, so even if they do get their way (which is frequently because they’re actually correct), the departments who rely on us for work know that sometimes things get pushed back and there’s nothing we can do about it. More often, their Important project stays at normal importance and is handled in the queue as appropriate … and they generally understand as well. Our workflow is still disrupted fairly often, but it’s more because we do both support and new development work as a small team with not enough resources for either, and I’m fortunate that our internal customers understand and accept that. It doesn’t always work out that way!

  30. Shirley Keeldar*

    I can only see one flicker of validity in what the OP’s mom says, which is that good relations with coworkers can lead to them helping you out when you need it. If the choice is between “handle X for grumpy Taylor who never says thanks” and “handle Y for Morgan who’s always so nice” and both X and Y are labeled as equal priority, Morgan’s stuff is probably going to get done first. Maybe Mom is worried that these kind of collegial relationships will be harder for Daughter to build without being able to do the “drop by and chat” thing that worked so well for her?

    But of course you can build those kind of relationships even from home–by handling your work well, responding promptly to communication, being generally pleasant to work with. So Mom’s off base–but I can see a point hiding in there somewhere.

  31. I coulda been a lawyer*

    Decades ago I took over a position in a sales office from someone who operated that way and the pandering from the people I worked for was mind numbingly exhausting. I finally set up an easy (for me) system: you put it in my inbox and I do it in order. The only priority I accepted was a sales contract-an actual sale ($50,000 and up) takes precedence over everything. And if you try to skip for any other reason, you automatically go to last. I agreed to review the system in one month if anyone was unhappy with how long it took to get their work back. One month later sales were up 30%, every one was happy bc they were out selling instead of begging me for things, and the boss sprung for a very expensive celebration (and a raise for me). Those days are long gone, I know, but not the efficiency part.

  32. Parenthesis Dude*

    I’m more on the mom’s side than the daughters side. Many times, the easiest way to find an answer to something is to ask the right person instead of spending two days figuring it out yourself. The people I’m most comfortable asking are the ones that I know and chatted with and vice versa. You need those relationships to help build your network to do your job. What can look like “just chatting” is actually relationship building.

    That’s why I’m going to prioritize things based on importance, the due date and the person asking. If somebody is going to get left hanging, and the tasks are roughly the same priority level, then I’m going to help my friend who helps me first as opposed to the co-worker that always gets me things a week late and never quite gets it right. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to do work for the person who I don’t know. Ideally, I’m going to schedule my time so I get everything done. And if my friend has a task that’s of low importance, I might tell them that it’s going to take me a while to get back to them. But everything equal, I know who I want to help.

  33. Nicki Name*

    Mid-career programmer here.

    The fact that your mom was doing work for internal customers is very important here. Office politics can’t help but get involved. In my experience, it’s usually less about individual people working to get their projects moved up the list and more about the more powerful managers using their political leverage to have their tasks prioritized.

    Another aspect is that a department only serving internal users will almost always be understaffed for the amount of work coming in, because the department is seen as a cost center rather than a revenue generator. Not everything can be done in strict due-date order. Not everything, can be done, period. Tasks have to be prioritized, as Alison says, and there may be a priority level which is functionally “we’ll never get to this”.

    (Also, due dates are sometimes negotiable, or they may be in the form of “whenever you can get a minute to do this”, or they may change because of changing business priorities.)

    You’re right that it’s horribly inefficient to have to deal with constant attempts to get tasks reprioritized. Ideally, there would have been someone on her team in charge of assigning priorities to tasks and being a buffer between the people actually doing them and the people trying to get them changed. But see above about this sort of team usually being understaffed.

    Bottom line: What your mom describes is not a way you should aspire to work, but it is a work culture that exists and you might find yourself exposed to at some point. Now you know to ask about the task prioritization process next time you’re interviewing for a job.

  34. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Everyone thinks their projects should be the highest priority, it’s so important to either have a fair system in place or a neutral party like a project manager in place to do the prioritization to avoid people getting left in the dust just because they don’t “squeak” enough.

    On a small scale, your mom’s situation does work fine enough. I mean on my size of scale, I can easily prioritize tasks without a true system in place, it’s all my gut and knowledge in play. I evaluate how long it should take, when the due date is and who it’s for, what the end result is, who it impacts, if it’s crucial for functioning or if it’s just a “tweak/nice to have” kind of deal. Is it for evaluating just “cuz” or is it for you know, a government requirement, etc. But at a certain point, one person cannot be tasked with all that decision making and someone has to filter it, either a computerized ticketing system and a person who is making the needed escalations here and there, etc.

    But yeah, it’s not that either of your techniques are absolutely right or absolutely wrong in my POV. It’s very much a thing that is not a one-size-fits-most setup. Lots of variables.

    I mean there are people that I just deal with because they’re stuff is fast and I hate them, I know they’ll make other people miserable while they wait so yeah, I do reward their bad behavior since the other option is painful and it doesn’t really set anyone important back. But yeah I do not want that reputation that Alison speaks of, that you have to go grease the damn wheels that is Me to get your stuff done PDQ.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      To articulate what you said slightly differently: Everyone thinks their projects should be the highest priority because they haven’t been trained on the system, flowchart, process or similar that the OP’s team (or her mother’s) uses to prioritize incoming requests. If, of course, there exists one – which would be industry standard.

      I started out in the corporate world in a team charged with fulfilling technical requests (or troubleshooting issues, delivering configurations, running and writing code…) on my employer’s proprietary hosted software, coming from clients or account representatives on behalf of clients, and spent several years leading that team. So I’m quite familiar with what it takes to design, roll out, and tweak such a process and defend it against the inevitable corporate pressures.

      There is a whole theoretical framework that deals with assigning priorities to technical request. The most basic concept is that priority is the sum (or product, whatever) of two elements: urgency and impact (or importance). You can have any combination of high/low urgency and importance. Then you come up with prototypes of requests for different priority levels from the real-life examples that come up in your business. In our case every request started at level 3 of 5 and our team had clear criteria what constituted a level 1 or 2, or which (rarer) requests could be prioritized down to 4 or 5. And the account reps were trained on these, always starting with the pretty uncontested statement that if everything is a priority 1, then nothing is a priority 1. Engineers are supposed to review their workload starting from the highest priorities and working downwards.

      Of course the details depend on the exact mission and function of the team and the types of work people do. Is a small request a 5 min thing and a large request a 2h task? Or is small = 1 h and large = 1 week? In any event, it is smart to fill waiting time (when your work’s next step depends on new input) with fast-to-complete requests. The human factor is perfectly legitimate — you WANT to build relationships both with internal and external clients, understand the context, and also be able to anticipate pushback and find out where “quick gains” lie. Taking care of low-hanging fruit even when lower priority can mean building goodwill, but this is something to fit in between the highest priority task, when there’s a little slack, not taking away from high priority tasks.

      And such a system is very well suited to working from home (we had two co-workers working full time out of their homes, in different countries!) — the relationship building and quick chats can very well happen via a chat platform.

  35. TiredBeing*

    I work in a place de works like this, even for purchase orders signatures or to ask some information. It’s really tiring, there are days were all I do during my 9hours work hours is go from one place to the other with a paper on hand asking for signatures and information from other departments, and I’m an engineer, they are paying an engineer to walk around “asking favors” .

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Pet peeve alert, I hate when job duties are treated like “favors”.

      It’s not a favor for me to sign paperwork that I need to sign to continue on with a chain of events! It’s not a favor to fix your timeclock, it’s not a favor to sign your time off request, it’s not a favor to pay an invoice for your expenses, it’s certainly not a favor to adjustments in payroll!!!!!!! *screamy-face* I don’t need someone to “ask nicely” and “pretty please, I’ll get you back for this later!”. Just put it in my box and I’ll happily stamp it or whatever and send it to the next stage.

      I’m exhausted and your comment was only two sentences explaining your work day, I’m sorry you’re stuck in that spot!

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        I know, seriously! Especially since “favor” sometimes has different meanings in a work context in my experience, like “do this work off the clock on your day off.” :-/

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Thankfully this isn’t a thing in my world, I don’t do things for free and I’m in charge of payroll so that’s not a thing. But I do know others get taken advantage of that way, it’s gross.

          A “favor” to me is asking for something that a “no” is really not a big deal one way or another but “worth a shot”. Like when I bought some ratchet cheap office supply and the quality was just not even decent, so I was like “It makes your life easier to have Post It brand because the adhesive is better, that’s fine, point taken. We’ll splurge ;)”

          Not at all when it costs you personally money [free work!] or it’s just you doing your damn job [signing a PO! WUT!]

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            A “favor” to me is asking for something that a “no” is really not a big deal one way or another but “worth a shot”.

            I also consider it a favor when you do something you were going to do anyway, but earlier than planned and the result is an improvement in my situation.

  36. Jackalope*

    This is something that would make sense if the issue is truly urgent; at my job we might walk over to someone’s desk and let them know that we sent them something to take action on, but only if that action is truly an emergency and needs to jump to the top of the list so it can happen that day. Otherwise we wait until the person gets to it.

  37. Box Jumps*

    I work in tech job in a non-tech industry (among other things, I manage databases on the application level, not on the underlying infrastructure level). Someone continuously tapping me on the shoulder to bump their ticket drives me bonkers. I have a system for receiving requests and I have a system for prioritizing them. I serve many people and I really, *really* need requests to come in through a narrow avenue or I guarantee something will fall through the cracks. I am very transparent about how I prioritize my work and what is on my punch list, so it’s not as though I’m in a black box where nobody knows what I’m doing but data magically flows out from my door. And yet, pre COVID-19, I always had those few people who would swing by in person. It gives a false sense of urgency, and even if I set the expectation that their issue will be dealt in X days and not RIGHT THIS SECOND, often times that in-person visit will cause me to mentally reshuffle their ask to the top of the list.

    FWIW, a really clear, concise, and informative IT helpdesk ticket will get you a faster response than constantly poking them. (I could write so many essays on good ticket writing…)

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      SRSLY, your manager needs to advocate on your behalf that your coworkers are trained on how your organization prioritizes requests and what the *agreed* SLAs are.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      FWIW, a really clear, concise, and informative IT helpdesk ticket will get you a faster response than constantly poking them. (I could write so many essays on good ticket writing…)

      I’m so envious. Our IT team will not read a ticket, even at gunpoint; every ticket gets a phone or IM response of “So, what do you need me to do?” no matter what its contents are. And they will not accept that they’re continuously training the rest of the organisation to ignore TFS.

  38. JSPA*

    Ideally, most “tell me why this should be high priority” info should be included in the original request.

    (It’s fine to say, “the hard deadline for me is Tuesday, so monday morning is the hard deadline for me to get this from you. But you’d be making my life and stress levels a lot better if you could have it to me by noon on Friday. Let me know.”)

    But when the rationale is, “my boss is new to managing and has been on my ass every day for updates even though the hard deadline isn’t until March. So please either get this to me in a few days, or give me something in an email response that tells me why that isn’t possible, so I can smoothly get her to back way the hell off, because she’s making me crazy,” you don’t put that in an email.

    Or rather, the time spent composing the sort of email that will carry both the right message to the coder, and plausible deniability if your boss sees it, is time better spent walking over.

    So there does need to be a “non email chain” version of “tell me why,” for reasons such as this.

  39. Rusty Shackelford*

    I picture people watching your mom’s office door like a hawk, waiting to pounce and reclaim their place in line when they see someone else was talking to her. It really sounds awful.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I worked with a pouncer. I hated it. You’d be in the middle of X and get up to get a glass of water (or something similar, but really just briefly pausing from what you’re doing) and then all of a sudden Pouncer would be there waiting to make sure her request was heard. It was so inefficient, because it broke the thought train and required a shift from X to Y.

  40. Gazebo Slayer*

    Ugh, your mom’s workplace sounds hellishly dysfunctional.

    I am NOT a fan of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I don’t like pushy people, and they should go to the back of the line, not the front. As Minsc the Ranger (and Boo the hamster) put it: “The squeaky wheel gets the kick!”

    (Baldur’s Gate came out more than 20 years ago. Man, now I feel old.)

  41. Susan*

    The problem described here was the bane of my existence as a project manager in many ways.

    1. People like to be nice. So when someone gets a reputation as being good at their job people come to them directly with asks, because coming to me means they are not immediately told yes. It’s especially awful when they are “just five minute “ asks that a.) are unlikely to be five minutes and b.) are very likely to be one of many five minute asks that turns into full days of unprioritized work being done before project critical work.

    2.) Another aspect is the level of the person asking. I’ve had to have conversations asking my boss (the Chief Product Officer) and the CEO to be careful with casual comments, because anything from upper levels can sometimes be given higher importance when it should not be.

  42. Lexica*

    If everyone really is marking every request as “urgent”, wouldn’t that be a matter for management to address?

  43. designbot*

    Something I haven’t seen mentioned yet (sorry if I missed it) is also prioritizing by lead times. I tend to look at what’s on my plate and zero in on tasks that require a level of organization that may take some back and forth and leave me waiting on pieces (whether literal parts, input from people difficult to pin down, or otherwise) and bump the first steps of those to the front. That way while I’m waiting on what I need to push those further, I can get other stuff done, and I don’t get stuck trying to do something at the last minute when I really should have requested input or ordered materials a week prior.

  44. Jady*

    At all my jobs where this is applicable, this was absolutely my experience.

    “Squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

    The two factors OP’s mom is missing though is the level of the squeaky person and whether or not they go squeak at your boss. People with more authority got prioritized higher. People who didn’t like they were low on my queue would complain to my boss, which would then force me to prioritize them highest.

    Due date was my primary way to prioritize because it was a very deadline driven job, but I regularly missed dates because of other people shuffling my work through their complaining.

    Fortunately my boss was smart and kind enough to understand and believe me when I said that it would make me miss a deadline, and I could remove myself from the fallout that followed (and oh boy yes did it follow). I always had the defense of “just following orders” and send them to complain to the boss!

    Business as usual.

  45. Lytrel*

    Omg, this email is so great. I’ve been on both sides of it, as a requester and a do-et. Two different companies, we would have to request a heavier IT than us to do things. I am like the letter writer and very happy to put in tickets and follow the rules. In both, my *sshat bosses would make me go bother the people in person. Agghhh! They thought it was go getter-ness, but since it was outside the norms, it just made the IT people grumpy. I’ve also been on the receiving end – lots and lots of people requesting projects from me. I did a good job prioritizing, but if things were equal priority/due dates, I absolutely put the people who bugged me a bunch dead last in the queue. I’m not your little bitch, thanks!

  46. Moira Rose*

    Completely freaking standard at large government org. Nothing makes money in government, so you can’t prioritize by “keep the cash flowing in,” and everything is quite frankly pretty darn important. Yes, there are technically priority matrices and whatnot, but you could really screw up by ignoring all the low-priority older stuff in favor of the high-pri stuff that is getting blasted at you every day. So you have to advocate for your personal stuff to get attention from people like IT. Sometimes that’s getting on their case directly; sometimes it’s getting a sponsor from your division to get on IT’s case. I feel like this has to be pretty common at orgs like mine.

  47. Mel_05*

    We have a ticket management system and clear expectations on turn around. It doesn’t keep everyone from bugging me, but it keeps them from doing it too often.

  48. IndyDem*

    One thing that unfortunately happens in a “favor” system of priorities is how it at times can reinforce the “old boys network”. If you are an outsider, you are lower priority, so your tasks linger longer, affecting your own work performance, which of course can affect your raises, promotions, etc. It’s the dark side of “favors” that I hadn’t seen mentioned yet. Maybe that’s not how it was for OP’s mother, but it still happens, unfortunately.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*


      Also, people of color and/or women tend to get penalized for pushiness that would be accepted from a white man, just as with salary negotiation.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*


        It also punishes introverts and rewards extroverts for their intrinsic natures.

  49. ambivalent*

    I think it’s a bit of both really, especially for the researchy type of work I do. Some people ask for some really complicated thing, and then forget about it. If I actually get it done, sometimes they are like “oh, I already did it a different way” or just don’t remember they asked for it. I even had a person say, after I bugged them 2 or 3 times I had results for them “yeah… just remind me again, I’m busy right now”. So I do kind of try and suss out their level of engagement after a bit of cooling off time after they make a request, but before I actually start working on a project. If someone asks for something and then it’s radio-silence, usually they don’t care much about the results.

  50. Count Nerdulon*

    Prioritising in the way that Alison has described is something that I’m still learning. Thank-you for pointing this out so explicitly.

    Other reasons I have been given for prioritising work is the strong potential for a project to bring in further cash. These are things that weren’t pointed out to me in my studenting… But kinda seem obvious now :-/

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      For me it’s completion. When left to my own devices, my priority list looks a lot like my queue sorted by distance from completion ascending.

      But I have almost no impact on revenue.

  51. ProductivePossum*

    I’m coming at this from a business perspective, and not an IT perspective, but I deal in a lot of cross-functional asks (and I’m not a PM) where you need other people to do things for you. It seems very similar to all the issues OP described.
    I could always categorize these asks as “needs to be done”, “should be done, eventually”, or “this is dumb, but I’m obligated to bring it up”.
    The “obligated” group meant I submitted a ticket or equivalent and barely followed up. As long as I could say to my boss, “submitted, but de-prioritized due to x”, I couldn’t care less what happens afterward.
    The “should” group involved me having casual convos with other stakeholders to get a sense of bandwidth or interest in completing the task. If I could make it easy, I’d try to push it to be done in spare time in a sprint cycle to get a win. If it was complicated, I’d “let” them deprioritize (not usually my call) and shield them as best I could until it became a “need” from the powers that be.
    The “need” group I was very on top of, but it almost always got done by trading favors as opposed to winning the scrum/prioritization meeting.
    That was a long winded way of saying that in my experience, following protocol meant adding it to the backlog to die and conversations meant it was important so it would be completed.

  52. Andy*

    > Due date and then the order that they came in.

    This would not end up with good prioritization at all. It would motivate people to give you as short due dates they can get away with. You would end up with all the tickets supposedly having to be done in two days and real deadlines would end up lost in noise. Which would lead to people with real deadlines urging you personally, cause they have to.

    Also, if you would be punishing people for coming to talk to you, they would grow to perceive you as uncooperative and you would end up being perceived badly – regardless of how much work you “objectively” produce. Companies are not too good as knowing which coder “objectively” produces more, instead, they use various guesses. Your perceived cooperativity is one of them.

    Lastly, the “talking” does two things: 1. it costs time/effort whoever have to hunt you down and talk to you. People actually dont want to do it, so they dont overuse it. If they overuse it, you will learn that this person is here often and can slow their requests. 2.) you can to some extend learn to guess what business need they have and make educated guess. It is not as good as real planning, obviously, but it is better then due date they made up. The trouble is that “real” planning needs to be done by management and if they dont do it, you have only bad options.

  53. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    Anyone who tries to sweet-talk me into doing something sooner gets asked for a deadline. They laugh and say “yesterday”. I laugh like I’m a drug overlord in a netflix series then stop and say “sorry not funny”. Then I put their project at the bottom of the pile. They point out that their feeble joke was an attempt to convey the extreme level of emergency without putting me under undue stress. I point out that every single file in the pile has “urgent” on it. The only difference is that the clients have given a clear deadline. We don’t refuse jobs: if I can do it no sweat within their timeframe, I’ll do it. If I can’t, I’ll have it outsourced. But I can’t fit it into anyone’s schedule without a clear deadline.
    I haven’t ever had anyone bring me cookies to make sure I prioritised their work. Either I’ve got it all wrong, or I’m not crabby enough, or translations just aren’t as important as IT.

  54. Andy*

    It is interesting that everyone in discussion treats this as “mother’s system” while in fact it is project leadership, project management issue. When the programmer herself has to prioritize based on competing demands often, regardless of which personal prioritization strategy the programmer chooses, the overall blame should go to people who should do prioritization and organizing things in the first place.

  55. Bob*

    Your mom had a system that somehow worked for her.
    And she thinks thats how its done and there is no way to do better (a defense mechanism to justify her system perhaps)?
    This is not that far off from parents who give bad job applying advice, she is giving you at best outdated job performance advice. Do not follow it.
    But she will keep insisting she is right, you can try things like changing he subject, keeping her out of the loop so she does not know whether you follow her advice or not (if possible), tell her you will consider her advice, have a chat with your boss and come out of it with an i’m supposed to do (better system) by decree or use whatever will work with her.
    Don’t try anymore to convince her because you can’t, she has anchor biased onto her “superior” system which is anything but.

  56. Eliza*

    Your mom is right. You must talk with others in order to get your ticket prioritized – it cannot be up to the individual dev to do that! I’d never get my tickets worked if I didn’t discuss with the team how I need it prioritized.

    You’ve been given some bad advise. Listen to mom, in this one case.

  57. Sharon*

    I work in a high volume environment where everything is marked high priority. I really appreciate it when people reach out to me about their deadlines to help me prioritize. I feel this is helpful, not rude. Everyone may not get their stuff done when they WANT it, but I can get to everyone’s stuff by the time they NEED it. (Also, I work with people around the world, so most of the time they reach out by phone or email, but I wouldn’t mind them stopping by in person.)

  58. Anon Tech Worker*

    Sounds to me like they are talking from two different seniority levels here.

    The mom was likely a tech lead type & a big part of her job would have been to set priorities for the team, which can involve a lot nuance. Oftentimes the best way to do that is talking it out with various stakeholders & things can change very quickly. I’m in this role now and it can be a lot harder while working from home – there are a lot of Zoom calls and emails.

    The OP is far more junior & doesn’t set her own priorities. She’s working thru a queue pre-prioritized by her lead, so going roughly by due date probably makes sense.

  59. Ori*

    I find talking to people the best way to prioritise client work (I am not in IT). If people make the effort to follow up in person, there is usually legitimate context or reason why a file has to bumped up in priority. A brief discussion makes it easier to ascertain how that urgency balances against the other files I am working on. Date in is certainly a consideration but rarely the most important in my job. I don’t think OP is necessarily wrong- methods of prioritisation depends on what you actually do. However, his mother is also right in the context of her own job.

    I also don’t see favours as necessarily bad. We have a lot of government set deadlines in our work and if someone is running short on time and asks me to help out, I will. Not because we are buddies but because it needs to be done and my turn of needing a favour will come around soon enough. Goodwill helps the office run smoothly.

  60. Wintermute*

    I wonder if the LWs mother worked using a ticketing, change management or project management system that just presented them with a firehose of undifferentiated requests. Having been there, on both ends, yeah you need to reach out face-to-face (or by phone, sometimes internationally, the joys of IT offshoring) to let them know “hey this really is a showstopper, putting it 15th in line is not acceptable” or “this is a serious issue that’s a 10-second fix, can you do it now so I can get back to work?” because the system does not.

    A ton of stuff in IT works that way, you’re expected to be judicious in what you reach out about, the more junior you are the more judicious you need to be, the ticket prioritization system does exist but usually uses ITIL’s three (or nine) priority levels. Once upon a time it was just severity-1 (massive showstopped for customers, like “our website is down and no one can place orders” or “our customer service center’s phone system is off and our 800 number is giving a busy signal”) severity-2 (big deal but not totally blocking, or a massive internal tools outage– “the credit card processing at our retail locations is down and they’re doing it by hand with carbon paper”, “our analytics system is not processing data”) and sev-3 (small issue, one-system impact, there’s a workaround in place, a server is down but there are others, etc). Some systems used A, B and C for non-blocking issues. These days most systems use Urgency 1, 2 or 3 and Impact 1, 2 or 3 for a total of nine on the severity matrix, which is the ITIL standard.

    Problem is not all low-impact are equally low impact, some are not impacting YET but will be unless fixed soon, sometimes it’s only affecting one user but that user is important (a VIP or someone working on a vital time-sensitive project, etc). That’s when you have to reach out to a human and explain.

    So, yeah, pretty normal for the industry.

  61. Ralph Wiggum*

    I’d actually like to defend the practice your mom is describing, or at least a variation of it.

    The problem with a sterilized ticketing / task management system is that everything can appear to be of equal value. Even if there is a “High Importance” option, what does that mean? Does my idea of High Importance match somebody else’s?

    The advantage of the shoulder tap to increase priority is that it introduces friction. It requires the requester to go out of their way and expend some amount of effort / attention / social capital to flag their request as important. Now you have a measurable way of determining if your request is important: Is it worth going out of your way to bother Flo in accounting?

    Of course, if you do this routinely, goodwill towards your projects will dry up rapidly. That’s part of what keeps the system in check.

    Where I’ve worked, this is recognized formally (at least for sales requests of engineering). “Put in a ticket, but if it’s a big customer or urgent, let me know.” I’ve found it works about the same in remote work as it does in person. You can bug them on slack, but you only want to do so judiciously.

  62. Berkeleyfarm*

    OP – actually your boss should be giving you guidance on what your highest priority project is. FIFO (first in, first out) doesn’t always work because something newer might be more important, more urgent, or both. Your mom is right in that you have to triage requests and learn to politely tell people that they are not your first priority.

    Ticket systems and project management systems (my place uses Jira) are 100% my friend. If the grandboss sends me mail, I do his stuff, but otherwise those systems show anyone who can look what I’m working on. (And if I get something orally from either the grandboss or my boss I will often turn it into a ticket/project.)

    Managing by personal relationships makes everyone feel good until the person doing all the work “off the books” and personally attending to the emotional needs of the asker as it were is out/somehow unavailable. Then someone else has to pick up the slack, either with a pissed-off requestor, no information because the other person didn’t document, or both.

    When my department started working remotely, some people really couldn’t deal – they were so used to coming in our area (with a seperate badged door, thank God) and saying “HELLLLPPPP MEEE” and having us figure it out for them that despite clear signs saying “Call this number” or “Email this address”, some people actually left Post-It notes on our door. (Without their names of course.)

  63. Skeetpea*

    I was dinged on a recent performance review for *not* bugging people. I was trying to fix a software bug reported by an internal customer who would take a week or more to respond to follow-up inquiries. I figured that was evidence that it just wasn’t a priority to her, and moved on to other things.

    My boss felt otherwise, and pushed me to set up a meeting, for which the customer didn’t bother to prepare as requested, wasting several other folks’ time. The bug took a couple of months to resolve, and the time was a mark against me. Sigh.

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