four Steps to Managing Unplanned Work


Regardless of how a lot you propose, there’s all the time going to be some degree of uncertainty. As Dwight D. Eisenhower famously stated, “Plans are ineffective, however planning is indispensable.” And for agile product groups, this sentiment couldn’t ring extra true. Whereas the act of planning itself is essential, the ensuing plans are destined to vary.

One kind of change tends to be probably the most irritating of all for product groups: unplanned work popping up mid-sprint. Maybe you understand the sensation — your groups are cranking away on the consumer tales they’ve dedicated to when abruptly an government storms in demanding a brand new performance…now. Or, an pressing buyer request comes out of left discipline. Or, an outage threatens to derail supply of some essential options. What do you do?

We mentioned this precise predicament in depth throughout our current webinar, Setting Priorities: Learn how to Stability Deliberate vs. Unplanned Work.

The Bother with Unplanned Work

Unplanned work may check with something from help escalations, to emergency outages, to characteristic requests coming in sideways, or stakeholder calls for. One of these work can current a number of challenges to product managers and their cross-functional groups.

  • Surprising tasks can influence the workforce’s skill to ship on roadmap.
  • It may be troublesome to speak the influence of unplanned work to stakeholders.
  • In some instances, unplanned work can result in unsustainable work practices and an unhealthy tradition.
  • There’s solely so many issues that may slot in a dash or iteration. If one thing new is available in, one thing should exit.

What can product groups do about this? The brief reply: don’t simply anticipate the surprising, embrace it. First, get within the behavior of considering not all unplanned work is inherently dangerous. And quite than feeling as if you’re on the beck and name of unplanned work, you possibly can set up a construction for dealing with it. At the moment we’ll talk about a sequence of tried and true techniques for this.

1. Assess and Prioritize

As Teresa Torres factors out, earlier than you determine the way you’re getting the work finished, it’s sensible to ask your self why. In any other case you threat spending an excessive amount of time combating fires. “No matter the way you deal with it, it’s actually essential that earlier than you tackle new work, you ask what metrics you’re driving,” she explains. Trying on the metrics concerned makes it simpler to see the significance of the brand new work and decide the most effective route ahead.

In lots of conditions, you possibly can simply apply one of many generally used product roadmap prioritization frameworks to prioritize unplanned work. For instance, weighted scoring or a worth vs. complexity matrix. These frameworks may help information discussions with stakeholders and the remainder of your workforce concerning whether or not unplanned work is pressing or not. The caveat, nevertheless, is that these frameworks are solely a place to begin. On the finish of the day, it’s essential to faucet into your product supervisor instinct when it comes time to make selections about the way to proceed.

2. Techniques for Tackling Unplanned Work

After you’ve assessed the significance of latest work, you possibly can resolve the way to really get it finished. There are a handful of various methods to deal with unplanned, or as our panelists known as it, reactive, work.

  • Squeeze it in to the present dash.
  • Throw it into the backlog.
  • Carry it in to the following dash.
  • One merchandise in, one merchandise out.
  • Deal with it in a pre-planned buffer
  • Set up a devoted workforce for reactive work.

We polled our webinar attendees on how they sometimes handle reactive work. 44% advised us they take the “squeeze it in” method. In the meantime, 46% of members stated they put reactive work into the backlog or carry it to the following dash.

Every of the strategies above for coping with unplanned work include their very own set of professionals and cons. And there’s no single “finest” method to tackling reactive work. Usually, you may make these selections on a case-by-case foundation. Nonetheless, establishing a pre-planned buffer inside your growth cycles is one sensible strategy to preserve unplanned work’s influence on supply of deliberate work at a minimal. In fact, there are some conditions the place unplanned work must be dealt with instantly, and in these instances, you’ll must do some shuffling to accommodate it.

three. Speaking about Unplanned Work

One of many challenges unplanned work presents for product groups is the communication facet. How do you talk the influence of unplanned work on the execution of deliberate work? And how will you handle stakeholder expectations when your plan is consistently in flux? Frequent conversations about change are essential.

You don’t essentially want to organize prolonged, formal displays each time one thing adjustments. A weekly assembly with management to debate progress, adjustments, and new findings could also be all it takes to maintain everybody on the identical web page. And in the event you can’t get everybody in the identical room on the identical time for that, a weekly e mail is usually a good stand in for a gathering. Our panelists agreed that your particular communication tactic will not be as essential because the aim: fixed communication with stakeholders. So use whichever communication channels fit your workforce finest.

four. Mitigating the Downside

As we’ve already talked about, there isn’t any strategy to utterly remove unplanned work. However, there are some things we are able to do to restrict surprises and disruptions to these that are really vital.

Help Tickets and Escalations

As our panelists defined, you possibly can usually remove a good quantity of reactive work by proactively offering assets to help. In the event you’re a gatekeeper for data, chances are high you’ll spend a variety of time fielding help tickets and answering questions. In the event you can present others with the data they want, you possibly can cut back the sort of reactive work. Spend time coaching help, creating FAQs, and producing documentation, and also you remove no less than a few of this work.

Quickly Shifting Enterprise Priorities

When companies and government stakeholders can’t agree on a transparent set of measurable enterprise objectives, chaos might ensue. With out alignment on objectives, desired outcomes, and a unified product imaginative and prescient, it’s extremely troublesome to give attention to something. Particularly if you’re pressured to discipline sideways characteristic requests and deal with priorities that shift in a single day. In the event you don’t have alignment on these key strategic constructing blocks, getting alignment on them must be your first precedence.

When you’ve gotten a slender focus, clear objectives, and alignment from the highest, you possibly can cut back the quantity of left discipline concepts and fear much less about dreaded HiPPOs.

So there you’ve gotten it, an summary of some steps you possibly can take to defeat the chaos that usually outcomes from unplanned work popping up mid-sprint. For extra perception and suggestions from our skilled panel, watch the complete dialogue in Setting Priorities: Learn how to Stability Deliberate vs. Unplanned Work.

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