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? rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.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.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
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:
- Unnecessary Boring Work: I
- Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about
work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.
- Creating Toxic Conflict: I
- Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates.
Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.
- How to Find Lessons to Learn
- When we conduct Lessons Learned sessions, how can we ensure that we find all the important lessons to
be learned? Here's one method.
- The Risks of Too Many Projects: I
- Some organizations try to run too many development projects at once. Whether developing new offerings,
or working to improve the organization itself, taking on too many projects can defocus the organization
and depress performance.
- A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem
is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional
activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
- Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
- And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
- Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenIyeJIiAfnGdKlUXrner@ChacsxirZwZlENmHUNHioCanyon.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, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- 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.