Yesterday I went to buy fruit at my local market. Picking out some nice peaches, I noticed that the cherry boxes were empty. So I walked over to a man in a white shirt, who was feverishly stacking lettuce, and asked about the cherries. He had on a nametag that read "Stan."
When you rank problems
according to total cost,
think short term
and long term"I'll go look, be right back, sir," he said, and disappeared through the swinging doors at the back of the store. Stan is always helpful.
Meanwhile I went looking for grapes. They were low, too, as were the nectarines. Unusual, I thought. I moved on, and got lost in thought picking out sweet corn.
A few minutes later, Stan returned and called to me: "Got the cherries, sir."
"Thanks, Stan," I said, as I met him at the cherries. "A little behind today, eh?" I asked.
"Yeah, the morning guy no-showed, and I just can't catch up."
As we chatted, a woman approached and asked about the grapes.
"I'll go look, be right back, ma'am," he said to her, and left again through the swinging doors.
Now I understood: Stan was behind because he had been spending too much time with singleton service requests, and not enough time on catching up. I didn't blame him — he was probably following instructions — but it's a heck of a way to run a produce department.
And that's how many of us deal with similar situations. When we're flooded with problems, and the rowboat is taking on water, we tend to bail with buckets rather than take time out to plug the leaks. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.
- Understand present value
- Rank problems according to total cost — the short-term cost plus the present value of the long-term cost. Giving too much weight to short-term cost can keep you from finding a more effective approach. In the produce department, making a single trip to deal with several stockouts at once could have helped Stan catch up.
- Manage the escalation process
- Why are you flooded? Are problems coming to you when they ought to be dealt with elsewhere? Monitor escalations to ensure that they happen only when they should.
- Detect before affect
- Measure the incidence, resolution, and escalation rates at all levels that deal with problem triage. This alerts everyone in the escalation chain as a pulse of problems moves along. It helps them plan, and prevents the false starts that happen when they have to drop one problem to solve another.
Sometimes the feeling of being flooded is a problem in itself, because we can't think clearly under pressure. Accept that in a flood, you're bound to get a little wet, and focus on clearing the flood as best you can. Top Next Issue
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- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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