Your team is heads down and focused, working hard to get the job done before a campaign launch. They’re making good progress, and with a little luck, you might actually hit your deadlines. Then suddenly, it strikes... the ad hoc request.
The cubicle drive-by, the quick email or chat message, the “Hey, I was going to ask you...” while grabbing a fresh cup of coffee in the kitchen. These requests pop up out of the blue, and while they’re typically quick-turnaround tasks, they can hit your team hard.
According to our Work Management Report, which surveyed 1,400 knowledge workers, the top productivity roadblock for 60% of respondents was “working on too many things at the same time,” followed by “unclear priorities” (31%) and “too many requests from others” (28%). Today’s marketers spend just 36% of their time on the work they were hired to do.
It’s no surprise that ad hoc requests are among the top workplace productivity killers. And yet, ad hoc requests are not only unavoidable, they’re necessary for keeping customers happy. Your marketing team must be responsive to changing client and customer needs, and doing so requires flexibility.
One of the biggest challenges for marketing managers is establishing a process that accommodates ad hoc requests in a way that minimizes disruption and distraction for your team. Use these strategies to incorporate unexpected tasks into your workflow and keep all those incoming requests manageable.
Plan For Ad Hoc Requests
You know ad hoc requests are coming, so leave some wiggle room when you plan your team’s workload and sprints.
Enterprise Agile blogger Vin D'Amico suggests prioritizing items as A or B: A items are tasks the team commits to getting done in that sprint, and B items will be done if time allows, but can be subbed out for ad hoc requests if necessary. This ensures your team makes real progress on primary goals, while allowing for some flexibility.
Visualizing your team’s workload is another easy way to see who has the bandwidth to pick up an urgent request when one inevitably comes in, or shuffle tasks as necessary to keep one person from being overloaded with work.
Embrace Agile to Be More Responsive
Implementing an Agile methodology allows your marketing team to be more responsive, and makes your workflow much more flexible when it comes to incoming requests. 18% of marketers say adopting Agile has improved their quality of work, and 16% say their team is now better aligned on priorities.
It’s important to note: Agile is not the same as improvisation, and adopting Agile doesn’t mean abandoning structure and planning. Two key components of Agile are ruthless prioritization and constant team communication.
This means your team is better able to identify which ad hoc requests are priorities worth incorporating into your sprint, slot them into the current workload, and collaborate with each other to keep a deluge of incoming requests from bogging down a single team member or creating bottlenecks for the whole team.
Learn more about implementing Agile on your marketing team in this free download: 7 Steps to Developing an Agile Marketing Team
Be Your Team’s Buffer
As a marketing leader, you know that even the best laid plans can be derailed by a single curve ball. It’s your job to field those curve balls and act as a buffer so your team can stay focused.
Chances are, your marketing team is currently getting bombarded by requests in their inboxes, Slack, meetings, shared Google docs, and hallway conversations. Not only is it impossible to get an accurate picture of the amount of work you actually have coming in, it makes it very difficult to prioritize tasks and ensure your team has the resources they need.
All ad hoc requests must come through you, so you can collect all the necessary information and weed out unimportant tasks before they distract your team.
Appoint a Gunslinger
Kirsten Minshall, founder of London-based web applications studio UVD, suggests defining a special role on your team— someone who can quickly “shoot from the hip” and clear out incoming requests.
Working closely with you as the buffer, the gunslinger fields ad hoc requests that are vetted and accepted as priorities. If none come in, they can always pick up tasks from your defined backlog to stay productive. But this enables the rest of your team to focus on executing and achieving your goals, while still accommodating urgent tasks.
You can always rotate the gunslinger role amongst your team members to keep any one person from feeling isolated or burnt out by a steady stream of incoming requests.
Formalize the Request Process
You can’t manage what you can’t see. If you’ve ever sat down for a one-on-one with a team member only to hear they’re working on tasks you know nothing about, it’s time to institute a formal request process.
That means no more unofficial, drive-by requests: everything must come to your team via a formal request. No matter how small the task, or how big the title of the person who's asking for it.
Establishing a central location where you can direct all incoming requests, prioritize them, and find all the info you need to get the job done right is essential for you and your team to get a handle on the madness.
Instead of scattered through emails, sticky notes, or spreadsheets, use a Scrum board to quickly prioritize, assign, and track requests. You’ll know who’s responsible for each request and its status, and any duplicate requests can be easily identified and cleared from the queue. Learn how to set up your Scrum dashboard in Wrike to get started.
"Wrike actually changed and improved how we function as a team. I look at the new requests that have come in, evaluate who has time this week, and move these into the Design inbox, so the team knows the priorities." - Katelyn Good, Manager of Marketing Strategy & Implementation at Lightspeed POS
Track Everything You Work On
Since so many ad hoc tasks are invisible, “off the books” requests, it’s impossible to quantify how much work your team is actually doing — or determine how you should improve processes to help your team perform their best.
Many marketing leaders are turning to cloud-based project management solutions to help teams communicate and share information. But while there are thousands of tools to help marketers organize and collaborate on campaigns, there are only a few solutions like Wrike that are designed to help teams manage planned projects along with unexpected requests.
By tracking everything in a work management tool, you'll be able to:
- Get an accurate picture of your team’s current capacity, and see exactly how each person spends their time
- Allocate resources more efficiently, or make a convincing case for additional resources/staff
- Clear out urgent but unimportant requests and keep your team focused on high-priority business goals
- Make work visible to executives and stakeholders so they can easily track the progress of their requests
- Say "no" (or "not today") to low-priority tasks—and easily justify why
Keep Your Marketing Team Proactive, Not Reactive
Defining a process for ad hoc requests enables your team to focus on the key strategic initiatives that move your business forward, while maintaining the flexibility to respond to client and customer needs.
The more you can make plans that reflect what's really happening with your team—by making invisible work visible, formalizing new requests, and blocking out time for ad hoc tasks—the more flexibility you'll have to not only make adjustments and course corrections along the way, but capitalize on significant opportunities.