Being an implementer of prior proper planning pays out most of the time.  However, it doesn’t eliminate dealing with short notice taskings.  These are the emergent issues that pop-up on every project, sometimes at the most inopportune time.  They most often come from the client, or a senior stakeholder, and your ability to concisely and accurately answer the mail is critical. The alternative is that you gain a reputation of not being responsive or equally as bad: you’re replaced with someone who can promptly answer the mail.


Dealing With the Pop-up’s

The best way for dealing with short notice taskings is to:

Be Flexible.  Know that short notice taskings will arise on your project, just like unforeseen site conditions might happen during implementation of a civil project or unplanned delays might happen due to a strike.  You can’t control every aspect of the universe, so accept that there will be some risk that you can’t mitigate.  By the way…if you’re a project manager the reason your services are retained is so you can, among other things, fix emergent issues.  Otherwise anyone could do your job.

Be Proactive.  Although you can’t predict the future, you may be able to determine what type of short notice taskings might pop-up.  If the client is very concerned about costs, you can make a good bet that there will be financial-related questions thrown at you throughout the project.  A senior manager is typically concerned about risk mitigation plans, so expect to get called in to explain in detail the risk management plan.  Spend some time analyzing the people involved in the decision-making circle and what their typical questions focus on.  This is an indicator of what short notice taskings you might expect.

Be Standardized in Response.   Short notice taskings require concise and accurate responses.  Unless asked for, don’t provide a dissertation in response.  What’s best is to set up front common responses to common issues, for example with templates.  These can be quickly adjusted to meet pop-up issues as needed and shorten your response time to requested information.

Be Agile to Re-Prioritize Taskings.  You have a work plan.  You have your daily task list.  You like to stick to the plan, but then the short notice tasking throws it all into disarray.  Your ability for agility in reprioritizing your tasking list to deal with emergent tasks is a barometer for your ability to be a leader and to run projects with more responsibility.  So begin to accept the need to adjust fire and rework your work plan.  Especially if you wish to gain more responsibility on larger projects.

Be Knowledgeable of What’s Important.  There are a lot of faux important issues floating around every project.  Your job is to cut through the BS and understand what’s important to the project you’re running.  Again, it helps to understand what’s important to the client and senior stakeholders, since they’re the individuals whom you ultimately need to satisfy. Always operate with the knowledge of what’s important to them.  If you don’t know at the onset of a project, then ask.  Assuming what’s important is a dangerous risk not worth taking.

Be Clear in Your Communications. This includes listening (to capture the problem right the first time); speaking (to convey the response concisely and accurately); and writing (to convey the response simply for clarity). 

Your role in dealing with short notice taskings is to deliver the response as quickly as possible, as accurately as possible, and as concisely as possible.  This not only provides the answer to the one asking, but also allows you to put energy back on your work plan faster.  This only occurs, however, if you’re prepared in advance.

By Christian Knutson

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