how can I protect my team from last-minute rushes?

A reader writes:

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

The other groups have developed a habit of not including my team on work to be performed, then dropping it on us and demanding it be done ASAP.

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

To get everything done correctly and on time, I need advance warning when possible, along with accurate deadlines so I can have the staffing and materials available to handle it. However, the more that I explain this, the more the other groups’ managers seem to dig in their heels and try to circumvent our proper channels.

Am I being unreasonable? And would be out of line to explain to both my employees and the other managers that my employees report to me, they are no longer to take on any new tasks without my approval, and if those requests don’t have a realistic deadline, then I can’t promise that it will be done on time because my folks are already scheduled for other jobs?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 134 comments… read them below }

  1. AthenaC*

    “And would be out of line to explain to both my employees and the other managers that my employees report to me, they are no longer to take on any new tasks without my approval, and if those requests don’t have a realistic deadline, then I can’t promise that it will be done on time because my folks are already scheduled for other jobs?”

    No. No it would NOT be out of line. Enforcing the natural consequences of failing to use the existing ticketing system is exactly how you get other teams to adopt the existing ticketing system, IME. Let a couple of the noncompliant teams burn (and toast marshmallows while they do so), and they will learn REAL quick that they need to change their behavior.

    Also, clue in your boss to what you’re planning to do and ask for their support. So that when the other teams go to your boss and complain about you doing your job, your boss can have your back.

    1. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Yup. As long as they can get what they want done by grabbing people in the hallways without consequences, they are gonna do that. You’ve got to make it so that it’s less hassle for them to use the ticketing system. That might create more work for you up front – but with the goal of things running smoother later. At minimum whenever anyone tries to cut around the ticketing system, you need to make it as much of a pain in the butt for them as you can – send them emails cc:ing their boss and your boss and whoever else saying “Hey, you grabbed Jane and asked her to do X, but we really need to using the ticketing system for ALL requests and if Jane does X right away Y and Z won’t get done (also cc: whoever is working on Y and Z if you feel evil and can get away with it) please submit a formal ticket. Then do that again every day that they don’t submit a ticket. Make going around the system as annoying for them as it is for you. Even if you aren’t allowed to implement big policies, you can personally use email warfare to make them regret their choices.

      1. No Name Today*

        And regarding the employees, OP writes s/he has 12. Are there a couple who are particularly targeted and maybe encouraging others to do so?
        It could be because of: personal relationships with other departments (used to work there or with someone); people pleasers who say yes to everyone; new people who are only doing what they see longer term coworkers doing; longer term people who got burned by a previous manager saying what OP is saying but not following through.
        OP, please talk to your staff.

        1. Threeve*

          This is definitely a possibility. If one of LW’s employees straight-up tells people “can do, no problem, happy to help!” every time someone comes to them with a rush request, it’s setting up that expectation for everyone.

          1. Brownie*

            Oh, look, it’s me. Except what I’m doing is fulfilling the boss 3 levels up from me’s requirement of providing excellent customer service and not being a “roadblock in the path to success.” It’s a double-edged sword, if I push back at all on the rush requests I get called out as being a roadblock at that high level, but if I don’t push back then I get utterly swamped with last minute things that should have been planned for weeks ago. I’ve brought this up to my immediate management and asked for guidance on what to do and all they could say is that yes, it’s a tough position to be in and that they’re working on it. Slowly. In the meantime I get rave performance reviews from everyone I help because I’m fixing their OMGPANIC issues while I slowly burn out from overwork and sheer workplace chaos. It’s absolutely a requirement that all levels of management buy in to the same plan and support their staff, otherwise the employees get caught in this unsustainable trap between layers of management expectations.

          2. LizM*

            I used to work with this person. She said yes to everything, and when her priority work that she should have been doing instead of agreeing to help with optional “nice to dos” fell through the cracks, our supervisor made me drop everything to help her get it done.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sort of in this vein – what was the prior manager like when it came to organizing and prioritizing tasks? Could OP possibly be fighting the ghost of a prior bad manager while trying to retrain these other departments?

        3. SentientAmoeba*

          Another potential problem. Good staff who have options are going to leave rather than continue to deal with constantly being rushed and having to work overtime to keep up with unrealistic deadlines.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Add to that the stress caused to junior people trying to juggle the priorities of their assigned tasks coupled with random drive by tasks dumped on them at by upper management. I lost a promising junior person to this. It wasn’t even the workload so much as the stress of constantly having to sort out prioritization decisions that were well above his paygrade.

      2. Stina Neitz*

        Can the letter writer bill the OT to the offending department or team instead of his own for non-ticketed rushes? Another way to make it hurt to not follow policy and to protect their own budget.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          Good idea – I brought a version of that up to one of my clients. Their department would be contacted by the requesting dept to do work, would engage me, and then the requesting department would decide a few days later to do something else. Meanwhile. my client contact’s department had me getting up to speed on the request and then would have to cancel it. I was getting concerned that billing my client contact was going to look like I wasn’t producing anything, but I also couldn’t afford for them to just waste my time.

          My client contact and I worked out a solution that my projects had a minimum time and dollar commitment, and that it was billed directly to the department that requested support. Suddenly, projects were better thought out, alternatives were considered beforehand, managers were engaged (rather than ignoring the request once they submitted it), and everything worked out better for everyone.

          1. John B Public*

            This is the solution- bill their department. I guarantee their manager has a budget and will be VERY unwilling to allow this to continue once it affects her metrics (Eval).

            Hit them where it counts- where the measurements happen. After all, “what gets measured gets managed”, and this is how you affect their measures.

            Any grammar peeps agree with how I used “affect” here? Effect feels wrong but it also seems like I used affect two different ways ‽

            1. MM*

              You used it right both times. “Affect”(as a verb) means do something to, influence. “Effect” (as a verb) means cause to happen. (As nouns: “affect” means feeling, mood, sometimes style, because our feelings reflect how we are affected by what is around us; “effect” means result, like cause and effect.) So we effect change, and change affects us. If we work effectively, it means we are succeeding in making things happen. If we work affectively, we are…working in the arena of feelings and moods, I guess (soft skills!).

              A good way to keep them straight if you can remember is to think of the words’ derivation (etymology). They have the same main root in “-fect,” which really just means to do or to make (Latin facere, if you care; same root is in factory, and loads of English words). But they have different prefixes. The “A” in affect means “to or towards,” from the same ad that’s in ad hominem. The “E” in effect means “out,” from the same ex that we have in words like exit. So literally affect is about input (influence, affecting something) and effect is about output (results).

              That last part might be more confusing than clarifying, but I’ll leave it there in case it helps anybody, or for the curious!

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve been known to go BOFH on people hassling my staff – though I’ve made it very clear in the past that requests for work go through the appropriate ticketing system: incidents for emergency stuff, change requests for project work. Granted, I’m an older and fairly resilient hand at this – but at least none of my techies have quit due to ‘overwork’.

      1. SMH*

        I had one staff member that would continue to take requests directly from another department without running it through me or anyone else. We would find out when other work wasn’t completed because she would drop everything to make the new request happen. After several conversations about her being ‘helpful’ was causing multiple issues wasn’t working I wrote her up and told her I would continue to write her up and terminate her for not following procedure. She was shocked and couldn’t believe she was in trouble for doing her job. And yet as I explained she wasn’t doing her job.
        I also followed up with that department and their manager to stop the requests but I could not make my employee understand why she couldn’t accept assignments out of the ticket system. I didn’t end up terminating her but she quit when she realized she couldn’t work outside the system.

        1. SentientAmoeba*

          I bet the rest of your staff loved you for that one. And I mean that wholehearetdly.

        2. No Name Today*

          My most sincere thank you, for not being another manager who sees this and thinks, “she is a good employee, but…”
          No, dammit. She was not a good employee. She she was a lousy employee and worse coworker who put her need to look good or work on what she wanted over everything else.

          1. Mimi*

            Depending on the way the org works, “being liked” may not just be a superficial thing. At my last job my annual review was significantly influenced by how much my coworkers liked me. And the effectiveness of my department was heavily influenced by how “approachable” coworkers thought we were.

            So I needed to be “nice” to the random IMs (and know when it was appropriate to deal with them outside the regular ticket queue, or before they were tracked in the queue) because it was important to be viewed as friendly. Sometimes that was “I do really need you to submit a ticket,” but sometimes it was just doing the thing “and please make it a ticket next time,” or doing all the extra tracking work myself because Corporate Finance Honcho was never going to follow procedure and I didn’t have the standing to make him.

            1. learnedthehardway*

              In this case, I would probably make a point of walking the person through the ticket process every time, until they got the point that it is just easier and faster to do it themselves.

              1. Your Local Password Resetter*

                That can be tricky if they have a lot more power and a lot less patience than you though.

                1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  If you explain to the Finance guy that it’s so that your department’s finances reflect reality, he ought to get it.
                  And if not, WTF is he doing in charge of finances?

          2. Wintermute*

            It’s tough, it’s a rough lesson to learn, and sadly some companies undermine the lesson and you have to learn how to survive in a broken environment and develop bad habits but…you really do have to think in terms of being a member of a team first, department second and company third, especially in IT.

            you can be a good employee for the business but a terrible one for the department and team and that makes you a bad employee. And when you set your coworkers up for failure or accusations of being obstructionist by being overly helpful and bending procedure, you are being a really bad team member.

            I’ve had this conversation a lot when it comes to people that have outside knowledge or expertise, or retain knowledge or even systems access privileges (which should NEVER happen but… does) from old jobs in the company or whatever. “Yes, just because YOU could reset a locked Llamaware account real fast doesn’t mean you should have. It’s good you got someone back to work in five minutes not two days, but now they will tell people that systems operations can reset Llamaware accounts, when in reality **we** cannot, but **you** could. Now the next time someone calls us to do this and get told we cannot, you’ve made whoever gets that call, and doesn’t have your special access, look incompetent, your team look incompetent, and the fault for the slow turnaround on Llamaware resets look like our fault not the actual team responsible”.

    3. HR Exec Popping In*

      As Dr. Phil always says…Don’t reward bad behavior. I’m not a huge Dr. Phil fan, but I really believe this is good advice for most situations.

      1. Agile Phalanges*

        And in the horse world, there’s a saying that you’re ALWAYS training the horse. Always. Similar vein. Any action you take, and even most inactions, are showing people (and animals) how THEY should behave. Reward what you want to see, discourage what you don’t.

      2. Oh no, Dr.Phil!*

        yeah, me too.. I don’t like him either but got a couple of good lessons from him.

        – You teach people how to treat you
        – And how’s that working out for you?
        – Don’t reward bad behavior!

    4. TiffIf*

      This is what my team refers to (only semi tongue in cheek) as the “Pain Pillar”.

      Right now they don’t feel the pain/see the consequences of not following the system; they’re not going to change until they do.

  2. Lucious*

    Whether the LW can solve this problem or not rests 100% on their managements buy in.

    Should their upper management not care about the issues (or may even prefer the chaotic system because it keeps true operational costs out of their tracking systems, strategically “boosting” important metrics) , the last-minute workflow may as well be considered “normal operations”.

    At which point the LW (and their directs) may need to determine if continuing to work for this employer is in their best interests.

    1. PurplePartridge*

      Absolutely. I left my previous job because (among other reasons) this type of request had become pretty much the norm. The accounts team came to our team with rush requests from clients, and the direction from the top was that they be as accommodating to clients as possible. As the business grew this kept snowballing and the strain on our team was palpable; everyone was burnt out and miserable and working extra hours just to keep our heads above water. I did give feedback about this on my way out, but knew there wasn’t going to be buy-in from the owner.

      While interviewing for my current job I specifically asked about team workload and how they handled resourcing, particularly when there were too many requests. They told me they’d turned down client work in the past when they didn’t have resources, and this was coming from two people high enough up that I believed it. My old job has reached out a couple times to see how things are going, but they couldn’t pay me enough to trade this culture back.

      1. WonkyTonk*

        Oh wow that is a terrible management process! I’m in accounts and the production team tells me “not right now, put it in the queue” 9 times out of 10. It’s then my job to relay that to the client while keeping them happy. It would be way easier for me to push for every client request to be fulfilled immediately, but it would also tank the company because we’d have no prioritization, no review process, and no time to work on strategic long-term projects.

    2. Wendy*

      This. OP, it may become necessary to sit down and make a spreadsheet of actual, provable costs: your employees put in X hours of overtime at 1.5Y/hour, expedited shipping cost an extra $Z above what it would have if you’d been able to order a week further in advance, etc. If the company is still comfortable footing this bill, great, but they need to not penalize your unit for it (either in your budget or in retaliation for your employees being so busy they can’t get other things done).

      1. Amaranth*

        The additional costs should also be going against the requesting department’s budget. “Sure, we can do this as a rush but it will be an additional $2500 charged back to your department”

        1. Rachel in NYC*

          right? that’s what I’m missing. why is OP’s budget getting the hit if it’s needed by the other department?

          1. Kevin Sours*

            Indirects and how to handle them are the bane of accounting. Not every organization has a system of chargebacks for support departments — and that has it’s own complexity, overhead, and drawbacks. So when somebody creates work for the support department in the absence of chargebacks they eat the cost.

            Ideally she should be able to go to her management and say “we need to budget for this or tell them to knock it off” but managing support departments sucks for a reason.

            1. SentientAmoeba*

              Especially when departments with Direct billable hours pull this crap to offload costs onto indirects so they can claim they are meeting their numbers. Or use the crunch on the indirect to justify their own overbilling . e.g. There’s no way we can complete X for the client in the required hours. If I don’t deliver on time, my department looks bad. If I sent stuff to IT late, then when they don’t meet deadline, I get extra time to complete and it’s Not My Fault the client isn’t happy.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Yes to all of this. My husband learned the system the school district mass print shop used, and was careful to tag his requests properly and submit them in a timely manner (and was always polite and thankful when his product was received). It’s no surprise that somehow his work requests tended to run more smoothly and get done when he needed them more than certain other people…

    3. A Girl Named Fred*

      Completely agree. I have to admit that I chuckled a little at Alison’s last point, because in my org these sorts of requests/problems originate from the C-suite and so that culture has just trickled down to other departments from there. But I wish OP the best of luck in solving it in their org, or in getting out if that’s what they need to do!

      1. No Name Today*

        I had a moment like this, people were used to my group jumping when we were told president wanted something outside the workflow process, that they started vague-authority-borrowing.
        It went:
        Project coordinator: “Hey No, they want this* ASAP.”
        Me: “I’ll get it out as soon as I have all the parts.”
        “Well, they are asking for it.”
        “I understand.”
        “it’s just, they need it now.”
        “Really, who would need this without all the parts?”
        “Well, they are calling me and they said it can be sent out as is, he just needs it.”
        “Wait, you mean (president office)?”
        “they said it was important.”
        “wow, ok. then if President’s Office needs it, please go to (my supervisor) and get this set up so we can figure out how to create it with what we have.”

        This was not even push back. I followed up with project coordinator and was told to forget it and that someone in a different department was pushing and never mind.
        Learned a lot that day.

        *a document I couldn’t layout until I had all the parts.

    4. Stratocaster*

      My former department operated like this, and was one of the reasons I left. My company has an enterprise ticketing system – it’s a very nice system that any department can use! All our customers are familiar with it! It has all sorts of workflows, project tracking, you name it! But Old Dept refused to use it, and instead operates on email and a completely separate, third-party tool that no one except Old Dept has visibility into, and I’m 100% certain it’s because they don’t want to be held accountable for anything. They also didn’t want to be strategic about prioritizing workflow – the only “strategy” was, if one of their VIP customers wanted something, we’d drop everything on a dime and rush to get it done. And the result is that Old Dept is slowly ruining their reputation and losing good employees.

    5. Kes*

      I wish there was an update to this. I’d be really interested to see how LW’s efforts played out and whether they were able to be successful or not, because I agree it depends on whether they were able to get buy-in on enforcing it

    6. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yes. I’ve been where the OP is and my thoughts are:

      1. The OP needs to get the ear of whoever owns (or has the decisive influence on) their process. And yes, insofar as this is higher-level management, they will listen to numbers – client satisfaction, money saved/wasted, quality metrics, potentially (depending on the staffing/labor market) employee satisfaction.
      2. I’d totally harp process process process. That is, rather than saying “X, the manager of team Y, is digging in their heels” frame it as “team Y and our team are sharing a process, which is currently broken; [here’s how;] how can we get X’s buy-in to fix this?” Step back from the interpersonal, and present it as a commonplace process problem that needs troubleshooting, and *of*course* everyone should be expected to be on board with *that*, right?
      3. Being less accommodating is a good idea, but it, too, needs careful framing. You don’t want this to come across as “team Y is not being very helpful, but you guys, too, are acting like assholes”! You want to put your team to stay on the moral high ground. So rather than saying “if a request isn’t submitted through our ticketing system with information A, B and C provided, we will ignore it” frame it as “here is the process to follow so that your request will get the best and most timely attention”. If your team members are accosted informally in the hallway they need to walk the requester through the steps of the process. And the vibe shouldn’t be “oh, crap, ANOTHER badly unnecessarily urgent request that will wreak havoc with our planning schedule” (HOWEVER TRUE THIS IS) but “oh, great, a request! here is what you [OTHER team member] need to do, and it’d a pleasure to help”.
      4. Publish, stick to and report on your turn-around times. Assignment of a ticket to a team member? 15 min for priority 1, 1h for priority 2, 1 day for priority 3-5. New database setup for new client? 3 working days from the moment of ticket assignment to team member. Data loading task? Dependent on data volume, but ETA will be communicated within 1 business day. Document all problematic, out-of-process tasks and how they impacted your team’s work pipeline, including ripple effects (“Task A for client X (yearly revenue $$$) was submitted on [date] with a deadline of [date + 2 days] during a week with a public holiday. Task is a 4-workday-turnaround task. We completed it by the deadline, but this required pulling [coworker] and [coworker] off the technical review for offer for client Y ($$$ volume), which means the sales team was late submitting their offer / submitted an unreviewed offer.])

  3. Jenna Webster*

    Not out of line at all – and be sure to tell your staff that when work comes directly to them, they need to consistently tell the person that it needs to be entered in the ticketing system, and if there is some reason it needs to be rushed, they need to speak with you directly about that.

    1. Isabelle*

      This is so important. All it takes is one weak link, like an employee who just started or someone who is too shy to say no. So tell all the employees: no requests by phone/email/IM/in person etc…, ALL requests go through the ticketing system. No “just this one time etc…”, no exceptions.
      Reinforce this message regularly until everyone uses the ticketing system and make sure new employees are informed.

    2. TiffIf*

      We had a period where we were going through this adjustment phase where we needed to get people used to submitting tickets to the system. Eventually I would do this:

      Them: “Hey we need this thing done asap”
      Me: “Of course, do you have the ticket ID handy so I can assign it to myself?”

      Often doing this assumption that “of course you already made a ticket” made things go smoother and made it more likely they would write the ticket than a “I can’t do anything until I have a ticket” more direct rejection.

  4. t*

    “To get everything done correctly and on time, I need advance warning when possible, along with accurate deadlines so I can have the staffing and materials available to handle it. However, the more that I explain this, the more the other groups’ managers seem to dig in their heels and try to circumvent our proper channels.”

    This is so angering, because there cannot possibly be a valid reason to sneer at established protocol. Reasons, perhaps, but not valid ones.

    What a massive display of abject disrespect for you and your team, OP. IMO, AthenaC is exactly right on all points.

    1. MassMatt*

      Well, maybe. Sometimes the “established protocol” is dysfunctional, slow, and cumbersome. I worked somewhere that had an established procedure to make updates, and yet following the procedure resulted in no changes or feedback, ever. I would enter tickets and for all I could tell they just… disappeared. And these were for significant updates. So I definitely worked around it.

      It doesn’t sound like that’s the case here, but it’s definitely worth asking whether the system in place is working. Maybe the other managers are just inconsiderate and poor planners, but maybe they are trying to tell you something.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        Yes. I said above I’ve been there. The reason it was like this was that around the time I was hired, my team (that I was later promoted to lead) was critically understaffed, the ticketing tool was buggy, the process was more understood than documented, and no one in the other teams was trained on it. OF COURSE the way to get something done was for an account manager to grab an engineer and convey how important their client was and how justified their need. Because it was!

        It wasn’t just that we had to herd everyone into the ticketing system and established process – we also had to clean up the process, defend (and get the director above us to defend) our turn-around times to the executive team (“if you want a new client setup with a 1-day turnaround, we need to hire X more staff; your choice!”), *become* reliable, and obtain the official assignment to provide training (= less time to execute requests).

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          (To add: I don’t mean to imply that this is the case at the OP’s company. In fact, it clearly mostly isn’t! But having a clear idea where the other teams are coming from will help usefully inform the next steps – is it arrogance? use social capital. is it lack of training? train. is it shoddy project management? lean on the PM team so that they know you’re there and what your turn-around times are. is it that the higher-ups think a little bit of unpleasantness for your team is not a big deal? document the impacts. Etc.)

    2. No Name Today*

      Because rules are for other people. Their work isn’t “regular work” that can be forced into protocols that are designed for “regular groups.” Their work is special and needs OP’s attention RIGHT NOW.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I said it elsewhere, but OP said they were new to managing this group and process. It also sounds like they are conscientious and want to protect their people from burnout.

      I wonder if the prior manager turned the ticketing system into an ignored thing or a hot mess and taught the other departments that the only way to get my department to do anything was to circumvent the ticket system, grab team members in the hallway, always make everything a five-alarm last min project, etc. the old manager is gone, but the way he ran thing and length was enough that now the new manager is fighting his lingering ghost while trying to protect the production team and get everyone retrained.

    4. Andy*

      > This is so angering, because there cannot possibly be a valid reason to sneer at established protocol. Reasons, perhaps, but not valid ones.

      “Established protocol” is pretty often incredibly dysfunctional mess. And pretty often it requires you to go through someone who is very uncomfortable to interact with.

  5. been there done that*

    You’re not being unreasonable. The only way to address this does involve being strict, and people will be a bit grumpy, but in my experience they will get over it. You have to say that you will only accept requests through the ticketing systems, and make sure your employees feel empowered to say “sure we can do that if you put in a request”. If the requestors balk, say “we’re going to hold a brief training on using the system” or similar.
    Make sure you frame it as “I’m trying to implement a new scheduling system for my team”, something very bland and neutral and process-y and not at all a judgement on the requestors.
    For the other part of the problem, make some rules there too. Make an announcement that starting April 20, we will need at least X weeks of advance notice, and enforce it. If you get called it, get your boss’ buy in as another commentator said, and say “given that we have less than the X weeks required, how should we handle this?”. Just consistently have the air that this is completely normal and expected procedure (which it is) and people will get used to it quickly.

  6. Anononon*

    I really appreciate Alison’s response here that acknowledges that, in the real world, many teams/departments simply do not have the ability to issue an ultimatum about working on projects or not. Yes, in a perfect world, OP could simply do that, but IRL, there will likely be consequences that OP needs to be aware of.

    1. LQ*

      Agreed! I get that everyone wants to just NOPE out of doing work because someone didn’t follow protocol, but that doesn’t work in the real world where a lot of this is built on relationships, what needs to get done, and the like. Everyone seems to assume that all the work that people do is stuff that doesn’t matter. But if my team decided that we were just Not Going To Work unless it came through appropriate channels it would really matter in people’s lives, someone wouldn’t be able to pay rent if I did that, so yea, I’m going to let people skip channels when they need to.

      That said you absolutely can get the noise on this kind of thing down a lot.
      One of the things I’ve said is basically yes, you can skip the line, but you have to go through me to do so and then told all my staff to CC me any time someone tries to skip the line. It gives me an actual idea of how often it happens. And who does it. And then you work through why those people keep doing it. Do you just not know how to use the process? Are you out to show that my team is incompetent so you can take it over and fold it into your unit? Are you kind of mediocre at your own job and disorganized so you can’t plan well? Those things have very different solutions!

      1. Anononon*

        Yeah, missing deadlines in my line of work generally either means losing clients, which means losing revenue and losing jobs and/or it means missing court deadlines, which is Not Good. Like, we definitely have some wriggle room with internal requests, but we’re all working towards the same goal. And a lot of the comments here essentially saying that OP just needs to put their foot down…would not work in many places.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          So what happens when you miss a deadline because Joe grabs Bill in the hallway and Bill spends half a day working on some task and can’t get the project Sally needed done on time?

          When you operate the way OP described you can’t prioritize anything.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Yep. That’s how I feel a lot of the time. If everything is the “top priority,” then there are NO priorities. I can’t do everything first…or at once…and forget doing the tasks well! It’s exhausting.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              It’s worse than that. It’s actual priorities not getting done because somebody three levels up the food chain tasking one of your junior reports and you don’t even find out until it’s too late. You can’t prioritize if you don’t know what your team is working on.

              1. Mongrel*

                Or out of the 3 weeks that the request could have been worked on the other department has sat on it for 2 of them.

          2. HotSauce*

            I think it’s more about what Alison was saying, get to the root of the problem and work with the other departments to find a solution. Putting your foot down might work in some places, but where I work it could cost thousands or millions of dollars. Of course I want to tell people to go pound sand, but that’s just not realistic. What we have in my company is a system for identifying slow-downs in the process, including people who try to circumnavigate our ticket system and figuring out what we can do to fix it. A lot of times it’s actually outside of the person’s reach, like product arriving late, or customers giving incomplete information, not just that they were waiting until the last minute to spring something on us.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              I can’t think of any circumstance where it’s outside of somebody’s reach to enter their task in the ticket system.

              1. Evan Þ.*

                When the ticket system itself is broken. Or when someone’s computer’s broken and they can’t get online to the ticket system.

                In other words, “I can’t enter it into the ticket system” is itself an urgent-priority bug that needs to be addressed promptly.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          Well it depends. In some areas people *will*not* cut corners because cutting corners is dangerous. A pilot will not shorten their pre-flight check because someone comes running with a box that needs to go out ASAP. In technical fields, the use of a ticketing system – and to not do any task that isn’t in the ticketing system – is widely accepted as a standard.

          Also, the OP’s team is missing deadlines because a new, super-urgent task comes in and they drop everything to make THAT deadline.

          I don’t think anyone would recommend to just point the requester to the ticketing system and walk away, never to think again. But to work to get people on board with that. Team members *should* rebuff people who buttonhole them in the hallway and always say “HERE is what you need to do next, and we’ll get it scheduled as soon as humanly possible, for sure!” … and then if the request doesn’t appear, I think the OP *should* keep an eye on it and go back to the requester (“I believe you have a task for us and I’m concerned it hasn’t come in yet. How can I help to get it into our pipeline?”). Not giving them what they want shouldn’t mean a worse experience for the requester – ideally, it should mean a better experience. Attitudes are changed in steps and increments.

          1. Mongrel*

            This is also the time to ask if the ticketing system is broken.
            I had persistent issues with someone with a required monthly file. After going through their manager it turned out they’d been using the wrong e-mail address despite having the correct one in the reminder e-mail I sent out.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      There are protocols and there are protocols. The real world has emergencies and you need to deal with them. But if you can’t take five minutes to enter your task in the ticket system for tracking then you don’t need it that bad. Following that up with an out of process phone call to make sure it got noticed and ensure the notes you left on why this needs an immediate priority (you left those notes, right?) is different thing.

      Badgering low level employees to circumvent process needs to be stepped on hard. It’s the mark of somebody who doesn’t want to justify their requests or take responsibility for the consequences of those requests. Nothing will destroy moral and productivity of a team then having time sucked away on takes that team management has no idea are occurring. And it prevents any ability to priortize.

      Ticking systems provide a written record of who is creating emergencies, the impact of them, and a very stark list of what needs to be done and the relative priority. Which is a large part of why people like to circumvent them.

      1. Anononon*

        I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you. But, the way to make people follow the system isn’t by OP unilaterally just not working on the projects that don’t follow the system (which is what a lot of the comments are suggesting).

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Quietly dropping projects because they didn’t dot every i and cross every t is crap but that’s not what we are talking about. If people aren’t making a good faith effort to engage the process and you reward those people by getting it done — especially at the expense of people who are — then your process is worthless and will never be followed. Worse, the people inclined to follow the process are going to learn that they’ll get screwed over for doing that and they’ll join in who’s screaming the loudest today game.

          Some people aren’t going to learn until you start telling them you can’t meet their deadline due to their own failure to plan. And, at a bare miminum, “If it isn’t in the ticket system it doesn’t exist” has to fly at any sane organization.

          1. t*

            >Some people aren’t going to learn until you start telling them you can’t meet their deadline due to their own failure to plan.

            On this truism alone, Kevin, you’re my favorite person for today!

          2. tamarack and fireweed*

            Exactly. Also, ticketing systems can be set up to emit alerts (both to the requester and to the manager) if there are incomplete tickets. And a team member who gets improperly accosted can say “Right! What’s the ticket number for that? Oh, it’s not in the system yet, so let’s start out with putting it in there…”

            1. Kevin Sours*

              Honestly I’m a huge proponent of the KISS principle for ticketing systems. Having 50 bajillion different fields for each ticket may be vaguely helpful but mostly serves as a deterrent to people who don’t live in the system and thus have no idea of which options to pick for what actually using it.

              Frankly the only required field should be the title and most people should be able to just enter a title and a description.

              Having to go back and ask questions is better than not getting the report or getting the report out of channels. Once people are using the system you can quietly nudge them towards using it better.

              1. tamarack and fireweed*

                Oh, yes. I was mostly hedging because the OP mentioned insight into the project-internal deadlines and possibly other ramifications. So depending on what type of tasks we’re talking about it may be that the OP’s team needs a certain raft of information to be provided to even be able to correctly assign, let alone start work on the ticket.

                But yes – lower the barrier to getting the task into the pipeline as much as possible.

      2. Amaranth*

        What strikes me is that a big part of the problem is cost overages, and if the urgency is created from last-minute requests, then shouldn’t the requesting department be eating the extra costs? That seems like a worthwhile discussion with management as well. People are surprisingly flexible in many cases when their own budget is impacted.

    3. AthenaC*

      Some of us(*) have actually been the team that got burned by not going through the official channels, either because of ignorance or because we were told that the “back door” is more efficient and just to go that way. So I know how rough it is when a support team says, “No can do; TFB” and I also know how effective that is to get folks to figure out how to make time for the official channels.

      So it’s not necessarily coming from a place of naivety; for some of us it’s coming from experience.

      (*) Okay – me. I’m referring to myself. And others I have worked with, as well.

    4. Generic Name*

      Agreed. A similar scenario happens at my company. A coworker of mine just left the company because they were tired of the last minute rush work they were constantly doing. When I discussed this with our manager, manager was like, “Well some companies come to us because we can mobilize so quickly.” Okay, fair enough, but if we decide we want to keep doing business with those companies, we need to be okay with higher turnover and we should probably stop talking about “work-life balance” and what a “great culture” we have.

    5. That_guy*

      I get a lot of this from a few particular people at my organization. I always tell them that I have a tendency to forget things not not submitted through correct channels. When they come back to me looking for results, I play dumb and ask for the ticket number.

    6. TiffIf*

      Yes you do need buy in from your management.

      Another option that I have used in extreme cases where someone refuses to use the ticketing system–I write the ticket and then tag them to have them verify the request reflects what we verbally discussed and then everything gets tracked like it should. This can only work in some circumstances and departments though.

  7. Banjos are Cool*

    Chargebacks. At the very least on last minute shipping which should sometimes cause people to say, “Oh, nevermind, I don’t need that until next week” and then hopefully think ahead a bit more.

  8. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I feel like the real solution involves missing a few of these deadlines. Nothing says “we need time to do the work” quite like not getting the work done without having the time.

    Failing that, I could see stiff rush premia being appropriate if your organization uses internal billing. Try to spread the proceeds around to the staff who are making the impossible happen–it’ll help morale until you start getting time to work with to cut back on the spending. Every overhead must be expensed back to the group that is making it necessary–materials, overtime, incentives, everything.

    If there’s truly no solution, interview out. You can’t fix stupid.

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      The “interviewing out” may generate its own pushback. (“You can’t quit. We need you here to fall on our sword and be blamed for our lack of planning.”)

      1. Anononon*

        Who cares if the last generates pushback? OP’s allowed to quit whenever they want (assuming this is the US with no contract).

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Who cares if the last generates pushback? OP’s allowed to quit whenever they want (assuming this is the US with no contract).

          In the US, it’s at-will employment almost exclusively, and we settled the question of whether or not one can quit their job during South Carolina Exit.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Um, yes, I know. I’m not sure why you replied this to me?

              I am agreeing with you.

  9. staceyizme*

    You need to figure out how much of a pain point you can get by with creating in order to make your point and then DO that. Right now, they aren’t paying any price for their failure to prioritize. Here, you’re going to rely on written standards of turnaround times and performance (if you have any) or on a reality check. So-
    1. EVERYONE who is grabbed in the hall needs to send you an email about what was said, copying the original “asker” and then YOU need to have it entered into the system for billing and documentation, while copying the “asker”, the “askee” and their manager.
    2. EVERY failure to ask you to a meeting or to give reasonable notice needs to be addressed. That doesn’t mean that you fail to perform the work, it means that you make it clear that it’s a disruption, a one-off and a major fail of professional etiquette to ask this. Include cost issues for overtime and for shipping or other impacts.
    3. Find yourself a “backer” who has the political capital to help you to make the point. Who, in your org chart, has the potential and the inherent self-interest needed to help you shake this up and get a reset? If such a unicorn exists, identity him or her and start networking/ sharing/ seeking counsel.
    It may take time and persistence, but if you make it painful for the party who is being unreasonable, it’s less likely to recur or be considered as “just the way things work out”.

  10. Mannheim Steamroller*

    [“…or the work they need from us is known several weeks in advance but we’re not notified until the eleventh hour.”]

    The folks at the top of my chain of command L-O-V-E to do this, and staff in other departments actually have standing orders to withhold information from us. Fortunately, our AVP is good about pushing back against that and isn’t shy about saying things like…

    “You missed the deadline for the planned Summer cycle. Do you want to delay the Summer cycle by one week or add this to the Fall cycle?”

    “No, we’re not costing out four different scenarios when you have already chosen which one will be implemented. Just identify the chosen scenario and we’ll cost out that one.”

  11. CP*

    There definitely needs to be in agreement on how other departments send requests to your employees. And definitely hold other groups accountable for not being communicative about deadlines and expectations.

    I had a similar situation at my last employer. I worked on the web development team. Usually, the product management team received requests from other and wrote them up in our ticketing system for the web dev team. At one point, someone decided to let the new marketing team write up requests in our ticketing system. The marketing team was given two rules: 1) only put things in the To Do pile when you have all the details ready and 2) if you need to change your ticket after a developer has started working on it, then you need to talk to the developer about it and make sure the original deadline is possible (don’t just change the ticket and and assume the developer can deliver on those changes).

    When our busy season came, marketing quickly abandoned those rules. Yes, I ended up doing work that didn’t need to be done because someone didn’t tell me that they had changed their mind. And yes, marketing would change my tickets without discussing with me and I would have to tell them that their request would take longer to do or that I would actually need the help of another developer with the right skills. A lot of excuses were actually made by my grandboss: it’s a busy time, marketing is just trying o do what’s best for the company’s revenues. Well, I can’t deliver on my part if marketing is just all over the place. I completely lost confidence in my grandboss.

    It also didn’t help that marketing didn’t know how to write up their requests. I ended up spending a lot of time asking basic questions. For example, my company maintained three different websites and I would receive a ticket that requested a change to the website navigation. Well, is this for all three websites or just our most trafficked site? I’m not a mind reader and I’m going to make assumptions.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I’m in communications (web, print, etc. If it’s written & shared with the outside world, I handle it.), & I think it’s an endemic problem. We have an upper-level review requirement, & people will try to get around that, too. I think part of the problem is that a lot of people don’t realize the sheer volume of requests a team often has, or how much back-end work goes into the creation. But public-facing comms also require gatekeeping, to keep from embarrassing an organization, or worse, getting into legal trouble.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        One of the biggest problems is that the priorities of department heads do not always align with the priorities of the organization. This is especially true when there are individual balance sheets involved. There is a “the world can burn so long as I make this months numbers” culture that can do a lot of damage.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Can you explain a little more? I think I’m missing a connection, as numbers don’t enter into it for my org. (But managers asking multiple people who don’t report to them & might have higher priorities to drop everything for their convenience often does.)

          1. Kevin Sours*

            So Bill notices halfway through the month that sales in his department are sluggish and he’s not going to hit his numbers. He figures if he sends out some coupons he can goose sales (a common enough practice). Which means he needs to get some communications out in the next 48 hours if he’s going to do it in time to get the 100K of sales he needs on this month’s report.

            Cindy, on the other hand, is setting up an ad campaign that has a bunch of interlocking pieces and moderately intricate timing. It’s expected to be worth 10M. She has planned this out with the Comm departments months in advance and while it’s going to stretch things to the limit everybody is convinced it’s doable.

            Which of these do you think Bill thinks is more critical?

            1. Amaranth*

              And Bill figures ‘its a simple coupon, just copy the last one, and it will take ten minutes to send it out.’

              ‘Just add this copy, edit this graphic to say x and make sure its segmented six ways’

            2. Charlotte Lucas*

              Ah. I work in government/healthcare, so a non-issue. We all know what our highest priority should be. (Global pandemic generally wins.)

  12. Brett*

    Coming from the software development and data world, this is very common with backend teams. By this, I mean teams who deliver data, apis, databases, etc that support teams who deliver customer-facing (internal or external) applications. The context of this letter does not sound like software development, but I think the issue is transferable.

    So, in my experience, the main cause of this issue is:
    Not having direct access to the customer and their priorities.

    No matter what you do with your interface between yourself and the upstream teams, you need access to the customer. You need to know why they are making their requests, what drives their timelines and priorities, and the full range of deliverables that could impact you as far in advance as possible.
    Ideally, you should have a seat at the table when these deliverables are first being laid out in long-term planning.

    Without any change in behavior from the upstream teams, this does several things for you:
    You can influence the timelines for the upstream teams by influencing the customers’ timelines.
    You can gain visibility into deliverables and risk of change in deadlines, without a need to get that communicate through the upstream tea.
    When work does come up suddenly you can go _direct_ to the customer to have them (not the upstream team) decide what work will be pushed back in order to make room for the new work.

    Most importantly, you can set the priorities for your team based on the needs of multiple customers, and when a deadline cannot be met, the customer will hear from you, not the upstream team, on why it could not be met.

    1. Brett*

      This problem stems directly from not having direct access to the customers (internal and external) and going through upstream teams. You need a direct seat at the table with the customer, and access to their timelines and priorities, to fix it regardless of what the other teams do.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Yes, this! We are having this issue ourselves. My team is specialist at, say, glazing a rare style of teapots. Our grandboss works closely with another org that does second-tier research into the aesthetic impact of glazes, but they don’t do the actual glazing. They decided to launch a project experimenting with a new approach to glazes and got three glaze manufacturers to agree to be part of it. They agreed targets for number of teapots glazed and sold, and how to measure the aesthetic impact on teapot customers.

        Problem is they forgot to check with any of us actual teapot glazers. If they had done, we could have told them that X,Y and Z brand of glazes were the most popular, and we are unlikely to even get enough orders for teapots using glazes A, B or C in the timescale. Worse, many of the orders we do get won’t be the kind that need glazing, or where the new technique would work. We are locked into targets it won’t be possible to meet, using glazes there isn’t enough demand for, when if we had been involved in the project design to start with, we could have suggested a much more feasible approach.

        Sigh. Grandboss does understand and we won’t be penalised for missing the targets, nor will our funding be affected, but the project will not succeed the way it could have done.

      2. Lana Kane*

        Agreed – I’m in a completely different field, but the same upstream principles apply. Decisions and plans are made that my teams are the one to actually implement, and we have to continually ensure we have a seat at the planning table. Otherwise, since we have the customer access, we can’t give feedback on why something wouldn’t work. And it took a long time to convince those directly above me to advocate for us that way. Once they did, I’ve noticed smoother processes (even though there is room for improvement still)

    2. Lucious*

      Quote: “ Not having direct access to the customer and their priorities.”

      There’s a wrinkle here- there have to be priorities in the first place. If an organization’s business activities are meeting the immediate tactical needs of stakeholders/customers/ VPs with little or no long term vision, prioritization might be weak or even entirely absent. In these circumstances, the whole company is just a layer cake of teams bouncing from one fire drill to the next.
      By the time the people at the bottom of the production chain work on the last fire drill, the stakeholders changed their minds and the cycle repeats. No workflow process can fix an absent priority system.

      1. Brett*

        The stakeholders and customers have priorities though, even if they are not being captured by the organization. Getting the direct access would allow the OP’s team to capture those priorities and use those in planning, even if the rest of the org is not doing it.

  13. CurrentlyBill*

    Probably not the best solution, but if you like causing some chaos…

    “I’m sorry, Lucinda. We’re already working on the Llama sweater project for Wakeen’s rush. If you need the Llama Leashes done sooner, can you get Wakeen to consent to delaying his project? If yours is more important, I’m sure he’ll consent.”

    Keep doing that and watch the world burn.

    (Probably not a good solution, but could be fun…)

    1. H*

      This is my favorite! I have unofficially sneaked in a general distribution of the developers in my team all in the interest of being fair. This means that the departments under one VP have one front end resource. So the answer to all of those are exactly this, that they need to decide internally what is the most important as I need to take away resources from their colleague to be able to squeeze in that last minute development request.

      It has actually gone surprisingly well, with the VP assigning one of their employees the responsibility of maintaining a short term and long term priority list and coordinating all requests.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I support two project managers. Neither are senior to me, we’re all on the same level, but my position is geared towards supporting them while they work on projects that don’t overlap. One day both of them came into my office with “top priority” items. I just looked at the two of them and said, “I can’t do two things at once. Work it out between yourselves and then let me know who has greater needs.” Most of the time it’s up to me to figure out what needs to be done in what order, but I think it may have been the first time they every REALLY understood how much they both demand of me and tend to forget I have another person who also needs tasks done as well. I made them have to act like adults for once and it was glorious!

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I’ve done this! No one has ever followed through with telling the other department that their project takes priority.
      Managers who make drive-by requests need to be aware that they are not your only customer and their lack of planning has consequences. They are the bad guy and they need to play the role of bad guy by telling another manager their work will be late.

    3. Lucious*

      It’s a good idea -if the leadership is reasonable.

      If they’re not, the it’ll backfire. The response will be something like…… “Your Resource budget is $X , do the Llama Leashes & Sweaters at the same time. Neither project will be delayed. Yours, Jane Unrealistic, VP of Llama Development.”

  14. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Oh mate, my area of expertise! I’m an IT manager (also doing techie work because heck, my staff need the extra pair of hands) and that kind of ‘grab the techie in the corridor and demand they put your test rigs into Production NOW’ situation happens multiple times in multiple months in multiple companies.

    What I’ve had to do almost every day in some cases is:

    A) let your team know that if something is demanded and they don’t have the time/doesn’t fit in BAU/didn’t come through proper channels etc. that they come to me. I’ll take charge of the situation.

    B) have a robust, clear and well documented change management/change request system that people learn that if they don’t put in the requirements in time then I can’t allocate resources. Or I CAN but your project is gonna be paying through the nose for the extra staff I gotta pull in.

    C) likewise, there’s a proper system for requesting emergency help. If your project is collapsing around your ears and you desperately need our help then ok but that still better be logged. Additionally, departments that frequently log emergency requests will get a stern response (unless there are super mutants and radroaches in the halls in which case log as many emergencies as you like).

    Also, documentation of exactly how much lead time you need for X sized project implementation, where to log the requests, and who to come grab when you think you wanna bypass it (NOT my staff, me, and don’t physically grab me either) will help. I’ve found it a whole lot easier when your procedures are written down, shared/on the company intranet/mandatory inclusion in project planning etc. Spend the political capital if you need to get this. Else….you lose talented staff.

    1. SoloKid*

      I wish my management enforced tickets. We get told by management that our tickets are “non value add” in the way of getting “real” work done. I don’t disagree since the real problem is the amount of work that gets put into the tickets to begin with, but if management isn’t enforcing or even using them that leads to morale in the toilet.

  15. Another Michael*

    I work in a field where last minute things do often come up, but something our marketing team has done that could be helpful in this instance is to ask last minute requestors to still put things through the ticketing system. It reinforces the process and also ensures that they have all the information they need to implement the last minute solution. It’s certainly also made me better at thinking ahead to submit tickets in a more timely manner generally.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      That’s the bit that I find the most galling about this scenario. Yes things happen out of your control. Yes something you make mistakes and need somebody else to bail you out. But you can enter a goddamn ticket. Unwillingness to do so suggests either somebody feeling they are above dealing with the process or somebody who knows that if their request goes through a real prioritization process it’s not going to get accorded the attention they think it deserves. People frequently try to circumvent the process because it’s working as intended.

      But I’m going react a lot better to a phone call that starts with “I entered ticket #XYZ. It’s an emergency and I’d appreciate it if you can check that right now”. It acknowledges the process while making the case that the process is insufficient to address this particular instance. Which happens.

  16. Cat Tree*

    I think Alison’s suggestion of getting support from high up in the chain is really key here. There’s one process that other departments request of us that is inherently tedious and time-consuming. I don’t necessarily mind doing it because it’s important and part of my job, but sometimes I need to focus on higher priority things.

    Thankfully, we have a good management structure. During certain time periods when other things are going on, this kind of request gets funneled through management one step up. They make the call on whether we fulfill the request now or defer it until later (certainly with room for discussion from the requestor). It is a little more work for them, but if it allows the team to focus on the top priority it saves them the headache of last-minute reviews for the priority thing. And since it’s only during certain time periods, most of the time we manage these requests ourselves just fine.

    Now, this all depends on competent and supportive management. If your company doesn’t have that, it’s *really* hard to drive change. And in my experience, good management is THE most important factor in job satisfaction, significantly more than the actual technical work I do (as long as it’s generally in my field).

  17. C in the Hood*

    I’m wondering if you should have a big-picture, proactive conversation with the managers from the other teams. Such as, what projects are they working on? What pieces might be needed from your team at some point? Also, letting them know what your team is working on, what kind of margin you’re working with so that deadlines can be more realistic.
    Also, are there any tasks that need to be done a regular basis? How regular? What can you team do to prepare for these tasks?

  18. Trek*

    A few thoughts.
    1-Charge any overtime back to the department that caused the overtime. When it starts impacting their budgets and bonus maybe they will fix it.
    2- Ask your team to try to leave on time for a few weeks. Then when people come to them for last minute projects, sorry we don’t have staff available to stay late as they are either on PTO or need to leave for other commitments.
    3-Get your manager and the other departments manager on the phone and ask ‘When did you know that this work would need to be done? Don’t accept a today answer. Why didn’t you schedule time with my team?’ Make it completely awkward and keep asking the questions over and over. Who is covering the overtime if my team stays late? This should not hit your budget. I can’t force people to work late and they have done a lot of OT so not sure they will want to stay late. Finally after a few moments of silence of them stating or begging for the work to be done state ‘I can work with my team to get this out for you if you can commit to following the process in place and submitting all requests timely. The next time this occurs the answer will be no.’ No work should begin until this conversation is had.
    4- Finally and this is important send out a message the next day to the entire company giving a special thanks and recognition for Kevin and Sarah for stepping up and finishing this project with no notice. They went above and beyond and without their hard work and overtime the team couldn’t have finished. ETC ETC.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I like the idea of charging the department for the costs of having to do everything last minute all the time. It’s completely unfair to chip away at the LW’s budget for things that are the fault of those departments!

  19. AndersonDarling*

    I still fondly remember the one manager that would step in when someone put in a drive-by request/demand for my time. It became such a problem that my manager kept his door open and yelled at people who stopped at my desk and he would make a scene when the worst culprits tried to circumnavigate the process.
    Making the effort to stop the overwork goes a long way to restore the happiness of the team.

  20. Chickaletta*

    The company I work for had/has a very similar issue in IT, which had routinely been left out of planning conversations and just handed work. It became a widespread issue when big projects were being impacted because no one had coordinated with IT or considered that they might be handed other projects at the same time. The answer was to start getting IT involved in more of the high-level planning at an early phase. It’s not an infallible solution but has created great strides towards correcting some of the larger issues. It also took buy-in and purposefulness from the top-level executives.

  21. Rusty Shackelford*

    People do stuff like this because they get what they want. When their behavior is no longer rewarded, it will stop. Eventually.

  22. azvlr*

    I came from an org that had a clear process and timeline to submit requests, to an different org where it is less clear how to submit various requests. For the main stuff, I know what to do, but when there are one-off requests, I never know if I’m supposed to reach out that team member directly or put in a task. It also varies by individual and the type of task I’m requesting.
    At my old org, the system was managed through Sharepoint and I thought it worked well. I don’t know how to set something like that up, so I haven’t really brought it to my new team.

    All this to say, make sure your intake process is crystal-clear. The ‘official-ness’ of the Sharepoint system really helped people stick with their deadlines and provide concrete documentation of who was doing what (and potentially, who dropped the ball). It doesn’t have to be this formal, depending on your organization, but the key is clearly communicating this.

    1. NinaBee*

      I work in design/ad land and agree that having schedules in Sharepoint/Float/Resource Guru helps everyone see what they’re doing. Not sure if it could work for OP’s industry but it works for agencies.

      Having a resource manager to triage requests and acting as a ‘go to’ person also helps direct people to them only. They have the power to oversee everything and shuffle things around if needed before it gets to the production side (and also to push back unreasonable requests). Might be worth hiring someone like that.

      Ticket systems might make people feel like they won’t get done on time or like they’re too rigid, which then trains people to circumvent them habitually.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Most glorious day at former job was watching the worst planner who was always shuffling his work onto me (or trying to anyways) gape like a beached fish as I said exactly that to him.

      Manager (who had given me permission to deploy the phrase) choked while trying to drink and laugh at worst planners expression. Worst planner never tried to stop pushing things onto other people, but we all got better at pushing them back onto him.

  23. _ID_*

    Weighing in here as a previous victim of this mentality. I was both the process owner and the only person who had access to, let’s say, upload important and large files into the system. The last minute and hallway/sidewalk conversations came up so often that I created a ticketing system – super easy and as few fields as I could – just needed a heads up. I finally had to say “verbal conversations, emails, instant messages, smoke signals, hand gestures did not happen. The ticketing system must be used.” (This was when we had 500+ requests per year – just for little old me.) Despite having “management approval”, you would have thought I wanted to kick puppies. It was literally abusive – and as Allison has pointed out before, when you stay for abuse like this, you get used to it. Took me years to leave and more years to heal.

    The key is real support from management. I tried everything else – attending their meetings, trying to anticipate future needs – but when the Big Shot says “no!” – that’s when it works.

  24. AnonEmployee*

    Wow is this timely for me, I work on a team that is constantly being asked to perform tasks (some of them not so small!) for projects that we either knew nothing about, or were brought in at the last minute. I have been on the receiving end of this for years, with no end in site. I have started pushing back more and letting people know I am not available for their (last minute) meeting, and I can just drop what I’m doing to assist because I have to adhere to my own deadlines. It’s frustrating as hell, and my new manager is well aware of the issue, and is trying to resolve it but we’re a small group, and we rely so heavily on each other. I am hoping to see some changes in the future so that I don’t feel like I can’t say no when asked to do something that should have been planned for or perhaps someone else (a consultant) should have done. Frustrating as hell.

  25. Kapers*

    One thing we’ve tried is making Rush an official status but the only way they can drag are something a rush is if 1) they go thru the usual request system and 2) someone senior to ALL OF them has to approve of all rushes.

  26. LizM*

    I have worked on teams that get hit with these kinds of requests. Alison is right, if you don’t have leadership’s buy in, you will only get so far by digging in your heels on mandatory tickets and timelines.

    One thing that really helped us was to have bi-weekly meetings with the managers of the teams that were causing the major issues. Hearing that they were working on the Llama leash order gave me the opportunity to say, “oh, will the Llama leashes need to be embroidered? Sarah has a big Llama harness order she’s working on, you should probably put the ticket in for the order in at least 2 weeks before you need.” Then I can give Sarah a heads up that a big order is coming and see if she has anything else on the horizon that may impact that.

    I feel like it also gave me a lot more license to push back if the ticket didn’t go in until a month later when it was due in 2 days. I could go to my leadership and let them know that we were really clear about how much time was needed.

  27. Cathi*

    The Phoenix Project goes through a similar scenario and solution. While I’ve worked a larger company that completed a similar transition – it’s not a 6 month change – it’s much longer however, using some of the tools and techniques can help. Helping the entire company understand that everyone must work together for everyone to succeed is a lot of hard work and some of the most exciting changes to be a part of.

  28. SoloKid*

    A similar problem at my org is that people tend to be just fine with making concrete tickets, but there are a lot of side emails that start “Would it be possible IF…” or “Can X system possibly do….” which is work in and of itself to figure out how to accommodate their requests!

    e.g. if llama leadership takes on a big mongoose effort, requests trickle down to our group (llama hairbrushes) like “is it possible to use a llama grooming brush on a mongoose?” Saying an outright “no” means you’re ‘not a team player’, but management doesn’t prioritize the work needed to go through system dependencies to accommodate the “mongoose ideas guy”. And people making requests want a quick yes/no, not a flowchart of decisions like “are they allergic to the metal comb teeth used in llama product A?”

    1. PX*

      A lot of people I worked with in situations like yours got good at giving “soft-no’s” – often phrased as “it depends”. If you do it right, it pushes the question back on the requester to explain exactly why they need to know if a llama grooming brush works on a mongoose, and usually going into that level of thought/detail is too much work so the request dies, but you still made an effort to help and are thus “a team player”. Bonus is that if they *do* reply with more details, you can often make that quick yes/no decision!

  29. Berkeleyfarm*

    Wow, this sounds like my life in IT Operations.

    Things that have worked:

    1) Buy in from top management that our team is owner of certain areas and must be in the planning process from jump.

    2) Consequences for leaving it till the last minute. Oh, you have six people starting Monday and expected us to magic up computers and phones for that? Our lead time with the vendor is two weeks so good luck with that. (Also requires management buy in.) No, we cannot go to Best Buy or whatever and get enterprise-suitable items for you right away. No, we do not have that stuff lurking around. This is something that a lot of people have to be told – IT services and equipment have timelines just like everything else and should be accomplished in a professional way without “magic” or “screaming”. Some times they have to learn it the hard way.

    3) Speedy, cheerful service for items that were requested through proper channels.

    4) Chargebacks for any rush fees (if your team is putting in chargeable OT due to someone else’s screwup that should be charged back as well) – in other words, consequences.

    5) Once basic diplomatic relationships were established we became part of the budgeting process so departments understood they had to plan for and budget for equipment upgrades.

    I have had to magic a web/sql server infrastructure out of my hat in four days for legal deadlines (the project had been running for months and we learned about it just before the legal deadline) because “you had lab equipment you can use”. I am glad that I don’t have to deal with that any more.

  30. Berkeleyfarm*

    Also, with tickets, it has to get enforced and consequences for not entering one (again, requiring management buy in, but you also have to have employee buy in because they’re used to doing it the other way).

    It has to be easy to do. At my last and current jobs sending an email to a particular address would do it. If you were unable to get to email that is a priority 1 issue that you should call about.

    “Do you have a ticket?” “No” “I’ll create one for you this time but in future please do one and call if it’s an emergency”

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