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Your Problem Is Not My Emergency!
By Tom Dennis –
President, Effective Engineering [email@example.com]
You’re busy at your job managing a group of people who provide services to
other groups and organizations in your company. The pace at this time is
hectic, with everyone in the group involved in doing what they do best –
providing high quality delivery of the services they provide. Your pace, as
manager, is hectic as well, trying to ensure that all demands by your
‘customers’ are being met with high quality results in a timely fashion,
while also attempting to ensure that all of your people are fully engaged in
activities that meet or stretch their capabilities without being
overwhelming. You try to stay on top of things by polling your ‘customers’
to identify what’s likely to be coming so that you can plan accordingly and
identify who will be doing what when. Everyone in your group is feeling
somewhat stressed, but manageably so, and is, in general, feeling good about
their ability to satisfy the demands placed upon them.
Then you get a call from someone outside of your normal ‘customers’. This
person has a problem of her own making, and is seeking help from you and
your group. She made promises to an outside customer to deliver something
requiring your group’s services in an extremely short (and unreasonable)
timeframe. She didn’t check with anyone about the reasonableness of the
delivery, but just assumed it could be done in the timeframe she promised.
You’re more than willing to help, within reason and within the constraints
of delivering on prior commitments. But this person isn’t interested in
your constraints or commitments. Her problem is ‘far more important’
than anyone else’s, and she expects you to drop everything else and, if
necessary, make everyone in your group available to help address her problem
eN-091105 – The Sky Is Falling!).
What you want to say to (actually to yell at) this person is, “Your
problem is not my emergency!”, or, to say a bit more calmly, “A
failure to plan on your part should not constitute an emergency on my part.”
eN-031023 – Failing to Plan Means You Are Planning to Fail!).
And to then follow this with an explanation of some of the realities of
life. Just as it takes a finite amount of time to bake a cake, it takes a
finite amount of time for the people of your group to deliver their
services. It’s simply not possible to wave a magic wand and make the time
it takes to do things go away! Further, that you’ve published Standard
‘Service Level Agreements’ (‘SLAs’) stating how long it normally takes to
carry out the various tasks that your group performs. What’s more, you have
even published ‘Expedited Service SLAs’ to cover cases where an outside
customer is willing to pay extra money to deliver services in shorter
timeframes, within certain guidelines. And that the intent of these SLAs is
to enable people in the company (in her position) to set expectations with
outside customers on the time it takes to carry out tasks associated with
their requests (see also
eN-090903 – Pound the Facts, Not the Table).
But this person is totally unaware of either the Standard or Expedited SLAs,
doesn’t really care, and simply wants her promises met regardless of the
impact or even whether it’s possible (see also
eN-061005 – No Job Is Hard For The Person Who Doesn’t Have To Do It!).
She simply does not want to be confused with the facts. Her promise is her
word and her problem must necessarily become your emergency! (See also,
eN-060706 – If You Want It Bad, You’ll Get It … Bad!)
But you don’t say what you really want to say, at least yet. You are a good
corporate citizen who wants to help the company deliver on commitments
made. So you first talk with your boss to explain the situation, and he
tells you that this really is a critical situation, made worse by
this person’s unreasonable promises, but that now her promises actually are
your emergency, like it or not. So you hold your tongue, at least for the
time being, and try to shift things around, delaying less critical
activities, to shoehorn in this request (see also
eN-090205 – When Everything Is High Priority, Nothing Is High Priority!).
And you’re able to get it done!
That’s the good news and the bad news. It’s good news in that you were able
to deliver on an ‘impossible’ commitment, thanks to the ‘above and
beyond’ efforts of your team. It’s bad news in that, unless something
changes, such ‘impossible’ requests may become normal expectations
eN-080403 – No Good Deed Goes Unpunished!). You now need to do
whatever is necessary to prevent that from happening, or life for you and
your group may have every prospect of become a living hell.
So what can be done to set reasonable expectations and to do whatever
possible to eliminate or at least minimize ‘impossible’ requests?
First, do what you can to better inform people in the company about your
services and the group’s turnaround times:
• Get agreement with your boss and his boss that such behavior will not be
viewed as acceptable in the future. If a critical need arises, it should
come through the chain of management, and not be thrust upon your group by
an out of control person with no knowledge of the facts of life for your
• Better publicize your SLAs and make it perfectly clear what they mean.
Distribute the Standard and Expedited SLAs to all organizations that may
even peripherally use your group’s services. Publish the SLAs on your
internal website if you have one, and get the word out about the website and
the SLAs. Post copies of the SLAs in prominent places that all in their
relevant organizations will be exposed to. Include your internal website on
these postings. In all of these communications, let people know that the
timeframes specified are there to help them in their planning efforts with
their customers to set expectations, and that quoting times shorter than
those indicated in the SLAs need to be cleared with you in advance, or
escalated through the chain of management.
• Meet with the managers (and perhaps their managers) of the groups that
currently use or are likely in the future to use the services of your group
to let them know the realities of life, and the unacceptable demands that
some people have been inflicting on your group. Help them to understand
that life is busy enough without self-inflicted problems of others being
foisted upon your group.
Next, for the people who directly submit requests for your group’s services,
ask them to consider the following:
• Put yourself in the group’s position. What would your reaction be if
someone attempted to do this to you?
• Don’t make promises without checking on what can or can’t be done.
• Don’t make promises you can’t keep (on your own).
• Don’t make promises on things you don’t control.
• Don’t make promises on people you don’t control.
• Tell your customers you will see what can be done before making promises.
• Think before you speak.
• Think before you promise.
• Don’t be an a$$hole!
In general, almost everyone in a company wants to do the right things for
the company, themselves, and others. People generally don’t want to do
anything to hang someone else out to dry, and recognize that they should try
to make sure their commitments are solid and backed by agreements by all
parties who will be involved. But sometimes the pressure of the moment
leads people to make commitments without recognizing the impact on others.
Before making any such commitments, they need to take some time to think
things through, and to remember that their problems should not become
someone else’s emergency!
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Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved