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How do I manage a workflow that is dependent on other people?
December 13, 2011 1:07 PM   Subscribe

How do I manage a workflow that is dependent on other people's efforts? My (mostly administrative) job requires that I do things that are frequently dependent on the contributions and/or approval of other people, who frequently can't/don't/won't complete tasks in a timely manner. What do I do? (Details inside)

There are actually a few issues I need help with:
  1. Tips and tricks for managing a to-do list that involves a lot of "I did my step, now I'm waiting for soandso, but I don't want to just check this as done in case soandso forgets/ignores me." I am frequently in a situation where someone wants something urgently from me, and it is important for me to get it to them, but the person who actually needs to do something (sign a document, approve a purchase order, etc.) has relatively little incentive to do what I want in a timely manner. Often they themselves are overworked, and have other priorities. How can I incentivize them to do what I need? I have some experience with GTD and it seemed overly complicated for my needs, but maybe I just wasn't introduced to it properly?
  2. Related to the above, how do I prioritize what really needs to be done now, versus what can slide? (Often my boss is not clear about this.)
  3. My boss is easygoing, knowledgeable, and helpful, but is himself overcommitted and frequently can not or does not devote the time required to the sub-portion of his responsibilities that is my whole job. Certain interactions that are critical for my workflow really need to be handled at his level (requesting certain favors from other department heads, for example, as well as certain kinds of oversight that I don't have the expertise to responsibly do), but I often feel like I'm pushing and pushing him to do this stuff.
  4. My job involves having to follow a lot of bureaucratic rules/TPS report type stuff that often generates a lot of cognitive dissonance for me. I am not in a position to do much to improve the situation, and see this as a job that makes possible other unrelated personal short-term requirements, not a long-term career. So how do I deal with it day-to-day without losing my mind at the inefficiency/stupidity? Put differently, how do I cope with a reactive risk-averse bureaucracy? To be clear, I am not dealing with ill-willed or purposefully unhelpful people, just droids.
I've tried to avoid details as much as possible to protect the guilty. Please memail me for a specific detail.

I did see some good advice here, but it's not exactly what I'm asking.

TL;DR - Everyone is too busy, and it's my problem. What do I do?
posted by Wretch729 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
We've had success beating this using Asana. For each project you set up your series of tasks, assigning each of them both a due date and the person responsible for them.

Then, when you look in the Project view, you get a one-screen/printable view of everything that has to be done, and by whom. If someone is past their deadline, it's highlighted in red - and, the site sends out regular email updates to the whole team, letting them know the status of tasks. That has the added bonus of seeming like, it's not you who is doing the nagging, it's the project itself.
posted by jbickers at 1:15 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I found that whenever I was relying on someone else to do something for me, the first time I asked via email. Then in a phone call. Then I walked over to their desk. If they have an administrative assistant, make it his/her responsibility too. Extensive use of calendar reminders to nag someone for what it is you want. If you use Outlook, put a due date on the email.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:24 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


A software tool that would allow you to assign tasks to other users would be ideal. LACKING THAT - and you need authority to implement such a system - I'd go for some system that allows you do the same thing, even if you're the only one using it. That when, when you are asked why X is late, you can pull it up and say, 'I've been waiting for Y from Bob, and I've emailed him twice about it.'

Depending on the number of tasks you are tracking, I'd also consider getting a large whiteboard and writing out what stage you are at and who you are waiting on. That will take some of the heat off of you.

Consider delivering your boss a daily morning update with a list of a) what you need from him and b) what you need from other people. If you make it a routine and characterize it as 'part of helping keeping yourself accountable' it should seem less like nagging.
posted by bq at 2:25 PM on December 13, 2011


bq:
You're absolutely right that getting new software approved is a hassle. That said, I do have the full Office suite. Does anyone know of good tips/examples/tutorials of how to do the sort of things bq suggests using MS OneNote or MS Project or something?
posted by Wretch729 at 2:39 PM on December 13, 2011


A bunch of my work is like this too, and honestly for people that are already ignoring emails and such, another software doohickey to remind them you need something from them isn't going to cut it. Do what you need to on your end to keep track of where you are with a project (a simple Excel spreadsheet is great), but trying to foist this kind of organization on people to whom it does not come naturally just ends in frustration all around.

I've tried out lots of different methods over the years, and the one that gets me the best results is keeping lists BY PERSON of what I need. So when I catch Boss for 10 minutes, I run down my list of all the things I need from him and they're done. Doing this in person gives my requests a sense of immediacy, and there's no nagging or reminders involved, so it's quick and painless for everyone.
posted by ella wren at 4:02 PM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've used spreadsheets for this. If you can plug dates of requests in there, perfect. If you can make it publicly accessible for maximum shaming, perfect, though I like the whiteboard for that.
posted by prefpara at 4:57 PM on December 13, 2011


MS Project is probably the best solution, but I could never get the hang of it. I tried building my own mini project manager with Access, but got derailed.

Any solution is going to require some overhead, so maybe the simplest is to use email and folders/tags to keep track of things? Just send yourself (and the other person, if appropriate) an email that says "Task X done, waiting for Jenkins' approval." And then file it in a folder named "Pending".
posted by gjc at 5:04 PM on December 13, 2011


I am your boss. I get a daily wrap up from my assistant wherebshe puts in red letters what I owe her or other team members. She'll also note when a meeting ends early "Perhaps this 15 minute block can be used to call recruiting/mark up your expenses/write a conference blurb." Her reminders really help, especially if she points out where I am inconveniencing others!
posted by mozhet at 6:41 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am frequently in a situation where someone wants something urgently from me, and it is important for me to get it to them, but the person who actually needs to do something (sign a document, approve a purchase order, etc.) has relatively little incentive to do what I want in a timely manner. Often they themselves are overworked, and have other priorities. How can I incentivize them to do what I need?

Sounds to me like you need a quick refresher course in problem ownership and pressure channeling.

If Bob's motivation to deliver X is pressure from Alice, but Bob is blocked by non-delivery of Y from Carol, then Alice's pressure ought to be Carol's problem, not Bob's.

So when Alice sends Bob an angrygram, Bob should not fall into the trap of saying (or even worse, believing) "I need you to give me Y" to Carol; instead, Bob should tell Carol that "Alice needs you to give me Y", and cc that to Alice.

So how do I deal with it day-to-day without losing my mind at the inefficiency/stupidity?

Embrace your inner droid. Chant the mantra that other people's needs are not my needs until you genuinely stop caring.

Bureaucratic inefficiency is a learnable skill, and like any other it comes easier with practise.
posted by flabdablet at 6:55 PM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


CC'ing people on emails is definitely a low-tech, key solution.
posted by maryr at 9:34 PM on December 13, 2011


Thanks everyone for the ideas. Flabdablet, your advice is painful but probably correct.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:21 AM on December 14, 2011


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