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
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenqIBkzMjmPoJKbygMner@ChacFTzpFYeIVvUsJYuMoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The Solving Lamp Is Lit
- We waste a lot of time finding solutions before we understand the problem. And sometimes, we start solving
before everyone is even aware of the problem. Here's how to prevent premature solution.
- You Might Be Stressed If…
- A little stress once in a while keeps us sharp, but chronic intense stress shortens lives. Stress can
build gradually, out of our awareness. Here are some indicators of chronic intense stress.
- How to Avoid Getting What You Want
- Why would you want to know how to avoid getting what you want? Well, suppose you had perfected ways
of avoiding getting what you want, but you weren't aware that you were doing it. This one's for you.
- The Limits of Status Reports: II
- We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who
write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.
- Virtual Clutter: I
- With some Web searching, you can find abundant advice for decluttering your home or office. And people
are even thinking about decluttering email inboxes. But the problem of clutter is far more widespread.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrencErrhBPQQlodunUdner@ChacWurQetaOaSRiezuZoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
- You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
- I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
- A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
- …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.