Your poor planning isn't my emergency.
March 1, 2011 11:21 PM   Subscribe

How to balance being a team player with not wanting to work 24/7?

I'm a web developer in the marketing department of a company that earns most of its revenue through our website. We are in the travel industry and have a lot of partnership deals and promotions that require landing pages or some type of web presence.

Basically what happens is that my team - me, and a web producer, an email manager and our supervisor - are told that the brand team has a promotion going live and that we'll need to build them a landing page and maybe promote the campaign on our home page. We learn about these things anywhere from a week to a month or two in advance. This is not really a problem except when it comes to getting the creative and copy assets that we need to build their landing pages.

We can tell them that we need FINAL copy and FINAL images at least two days before the "go live" date, but that never happens. We'll often get the creative and the copy the day before the page is supposed to go live and be asked to finish it by end of day. Then, there are multiple rounds of edits and correction - they didn't finalize the copy before giving it to us, or they want to move the buttons around or change the graphic - requiring us to make fixes at night and on *their* schedule, regardless of what other projects we may be trying to work on.

It's not that building the page itself takes very long usually, it's just that as the deadline approaches, we're asked to drop whatever we're working on and handle their landing page as a crisis. This may mean that we put in a full day at work and then go home and make fixes for them at night, or that we build out their page and go about our regular work and then have multiple interruptions as they ask us to make changes that have to be done TODAY since the deadline is tomorrow.

On the other hand, we want to be team players, we want to meet their deadlines and help us all earn the revenue from these deals. We can say we want to push back and let deadlines slip, but we're often contractually obligated to finish these things on time. As the last hurdle before the go-live point we're the ones getting crunched.

Does anyone have any good strategies we can use to push back or motivate these people to give us what we need in time for us to meet their deadlines?
posted by bendy to Work & Money (30 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Write better contracts. Seriously; boundaries, they're not just for for your mommy.
posted by fshgrl at 11:49 PM on March 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

I'm not sure that what you hope to achieve is achievable. There may be a lot going on among the non-computer people that is not poor planning exactly but the multiple-humans-process of how these things get put together. Even if you had the best planner person in charge (big if), that person is working with other humans. And even if those people are good planners, sometimes things don't turn out in the expected manner so changes are needed. And projects can have a life of their own that goes beyond the intentions of the people involved.

What you may be able to achieve is more respect by the non-computer people for your role in the (possibly) inevitable last minute crush of work. And you may be able to achieve more reality about the work and possibly a reduction in unnecessary work (e.g., Do you really want me to build this now or should I wait until you all figure out exactly what you want?).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:51 PM on March 1, 2011

Best answer: Once, just let the site go live without fixing the problems. Guaranteed they'll give you more time to work on it in the future. The problem is that right now, they don't need to give you enough time to complete the job (the two day window), because they're giving you enough time to do the job (less than 24 hours). If you keep coping, they'll keep putting on you.
posted by Solomon at 11:51 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your supervisor should put together a release schedule for when various things (layouts, final copy, final approval) need to be done in terms of -x days before release. Then your supervisor needs to speak to their boss and push for adherence to the schedule. Frankly whether your supervisor can pull this off will really depend on their experience level.
posted by atrazine at 11:51 PM on March 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Can you change your process? In other words, it sounds like things go like this:
- Final text/image delivery [by 2 days before]
- Final build [2 days before]
- Review [1 day before]
- Panicked final corrections [the night before]

Can the process that you promote be:
- Final text/image delivery [by 3 days before]
- Final build [3 days before]
- Final corrections [Day before -- in the daytime]

You could even give yourself one or two additional days for those last changes. The trick will be not leaving so much time for review that they produce tons of revisions or fail to run the content by enough others first, figuring that the build-out is a first draft.

Another suggestion might be on this point -- "requiring us to make fixes... regardless of what other projects we may be trying to work on." I'm sure schedules must be shifting around all the time, but could you make a schedule that takes into account that you'll be spending that day before launch on their page?
posted by salvia at 12:20 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Contract pricing - they can miss the deadline and you'll still turn it round but it's going to cost them need a disincentive for them being late. At the moment there isn't one.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:14 AM on March 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think you need to be asking your manager about all this. Is he/she aware that these crunch times are getting in the way of your other work? Is he/she willing to be firm with other departments on how late changes can be made?

But I somehow doubt that these crunch times will go away, and dealing with occasional crunch times is a part of IT. But perhaps they can be mitigated. Put them on the schedule (so for your other projects only half a day of work is scheduled). Come in late that day and order pizza. Or designate a rotating schedule of who has to handle the late-night changes so all four of you aren't on call all night.
posted by zompist at 1:19 AM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: is the content and review that causes these problems being provided by people inside your company (the brand team), or the external partners you're doing the promotions with?

if it's coming from outside, then you need better contracts (as fshgrl said).

if it's coming from inside then you need to be clear about when you need the content and then push those requirements back up through management in your organisation. I know that situation all too well (hello, working 36+ hours over 2 days as additional "updates" to the "final" content keep arriving) and sometimes you've just got to say "sorry it can't be done". if you're the one tweaking layouts and loading new copy at 11:30pm, what happens when you say "sorry I have personal commitments tonight that can't be changed, and you're sending me content updates a day and a half after cutoff. sorry, but it'll have to be fixed tomorrow after it's live."?
posted by russm at 2:02 AM on March 2, 2011

Have someone create a workflow with each of the steps, like a checklist, that need to happen before a package goes live. The go-live date is determined by the arrival of the assets. If step 6 is "give webdev final images and copy," then that kicks of a 72 hour window for you guys after which it goes live. If all the other steps take 8 months, then it's still takes 72hrs for you guys to do your thing once the package reaches you. Think of it like a beanbag that is passed around, but that signifies responsibility to the next step in the workflow (feel free to incorporate an actual beanbag here).

If you construct this workflow with everybody's input, then everybody knows that it's everybody's agreement that each step takes as long as it does, and then the structure of the workflow becomes the authority and the motivation for discipline.
posted by rhizome at 2:17 AM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: You have to stick to your guns. You need the FINAL content 2 days before deadline, anything that arrives after the cut off doesn't make it into what goes live on deadline day. If they haven't sent you anything by that time then the deadline gets bumped, no exceptions. If you're contractually obligated to meet their deadlines regardless of how unreasonable, even when they have missed the deadlines you set them, then you need to renegotiate the contracts.
Whenever I set/agree to deadlines it is ALWAYS specified that the deadline is contingent on the client providing the content by x date and answering queries/providing additional information in a timely manner.

Of course the compromise would be to continue accommodate their lateness and last-minute amends during regular working hours. If they don't get it to you until the day before and want to do several rounds of revisions before it goes live you do what you can but make it clear that you're going home at 6pm (or whenever is normal) and that in future if they should make sure that either they get the copy and designs to you 2 days in advance of the deadline or they make sure what they do send you is the FINAL copy.
posted by missmagenta at 2:28 AM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Say no. Remind people of the policy (it's in writing, somewhere, right?) and say it can't be done. (It can't be done, right? That's why the policy exists, because you need two days.) And then head to your 5:30 doctor's appointment/son's soccer game/other non-work event that you had planned.
posted by Brian Puccio at 2:36 AM on March 2, 2011

Best answer: As somebody's mom once said, you teach people how to treat you. And your department has taught these people to treat you like crap.

When you ignore your own boundaries to pull a bouquet of roses out of your butt for them time after time after time, what incentive do they have to change their behavior? NONE.

The only way to change this is for the consequences of their lateness to fall on them rather than you.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:01 AM on March 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

Take "time in lieu".

I think in this situation the late nights and weekend work will never change. You are on the end of the line and have to work on it last so you will always be working till the last minute.

I don't think you will ever change the working methods. - so instead. make it 'offical' ie state you will be available until say x am on teh night before live. BUT in recompense you will be taking the next day off work as 'Time in Lieu'.

I am in a similar situation. I have clients who tend to leave things to the last minute and we occasionally may find ourselves in the office at 3am waiting to finalize something. I usually take the following day off. This is considered 'fair'.
posted by mary8nne at 3:18 AM on March 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

Contract pricing - they can miss the deadline and you'll still turn it round but it's going to cost them need a disincentive for them being late. At the moment there isn't one.

exactly this, write it into the contract that if they miss their deadlines and it forces you to work overtime, they have to pay for it
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:26 AM on March 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Give them a reason to not treat you like shit.
You haven't yet, and this needs to change.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:07 AM on March 2, 2011

The problem is the brand team is getting exactly what they want - they get to turn in their snowflake-y promotion late, and it still goes live.

There are two things that can fix this. One is better management. Your manager needs to be able to push back. If a copy arrives late, then your manager needs to be able to say "We're going to miss go live," or "these 10 fixes that we were going to put in place are going to be a week late because we had to adjust for brand's lateness." You could even make a "go / no go" meeting part of the process - you, your boss, the brand guy, the brand guy's manager, and someone who can crack heads (salesperson? director?) all have a 15-minute meeting/call to hand off the materials. As soon as the head-cracker sees that the brand team consistently misses deadlines, they should crack heads. Or maybe the brand team will fix themselves now that a head-cracker is watching them.

The other thing that can help is leaving the job. Really - a job can be great in so many ways, but if they won't let you have a reasonable work/life balance and won't make the brand team turn in their stuff on time then that could be a deal-breaker. I left a great with great coworkers last fall because I refused to put up with ridiculous expectations like this. I now make more money and have more free time working at a place where timelines mean something. So get your resume ready just in case, and if you find yourself worn out in 4 months you can start sending it out and interviewing. Your main power as an employee is your ability to leave your employer. Exercise that right.
posted by Tehhund at 5:18 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Until you stop bailing them out for their lateness, they'll keep pushing the boundaries. That's creative for you.

Once in a blue moon with this kind of thing is OK (everyone has a bad week sometimes) every time is not. Tehhund is right: set boundaries & simply refuse to implement any changes if the boundaries are crossed. Any changes they want to make at the last minute should simply met with a "that will push the go live time back another 24 hours, is that what you want?" response. If you can't get management backing to do that, then start looking for another job because the current one is taking advantage of your good nature.
posted by pharm at 5:23 AM on March 2, 2011

Nthing hitting them where it counts - in the wallet. For every hour over the set deadline(s), they will pay "late time" (whatever your rate is x .5 or 1, or whatever you choose). Write it into the contract. In fact, template your contract so that it is there for all future clients as well.

Most companies will see this as reasonable. Then again, you sometimes get clients with too much $$ to spend, but for the most part, $$ talks.

Do not make concessions when clients balk. If it's in your standard boilerplate contract document, clients will eventually realize that it's "the way it is". AND your firm will establish a reputation for being firm about deadlines and deliverables.

Oh, I SO DO NOT miss client service!
posted by sundrop at 6:00 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need a change management system. The implementation of the change management system needs to be your number one priority. The key to change management systems isn't that you're inflexible and that you refuse to do things after a certain deadline, it is so that to get approval to do that you end up bugging upper management to sign off on the changes. If marketing group X is always bugging upper management to sign off on last minute changes (and these sign offs themselves take time), they will either increase your budget or reprimand the team that's always dropping the ball. The key is that someone in charge of all this knows what's going on and it is not one more powerful team bullying another one.

Of course if upper management sees the marketing team as THE TALENT and you as a bunch of monkeys slaving away, you're sort of screwed and anything you do will be seen as, "How can we replace these guys?" Sorry, that's just the way it is.

This is one of the instances where more paperwork is a good thing. Change management is just a solid project management skill that'd be good to learn anyway, so even if it doesn't work in your organization you're learning something that you can take with you.
posted by geoff. at 6:29 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you need to be asking your manager about all this

I'm a web guy, and the big difference between a Good Job and a Bad Job is the presence of a manager that will go to bat for you. If your PM has to go into a content person's cube and sit there until they get you your deliverables, that's what needs to be done.

You need to pinch these problems in the bud before it's the release date. Of course they're going to be getting you edits kinda late, it's just How Things Work, but what you [read: your manager] can do is harass the living hell out of them start from the first point that they miss a deadline. Make their experience for being late correlate with your resultant experience of them being late. Otherwise it's no skin off their back.
posted by soma lkzx at 6:34 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You also want to make sure they understand why switching graphic A for graphic B or replacing text X with text Y is not just a matter of making a quick change -- if you do not know much technically, it seems like that should be a minor change, just attach a different file or copy and paste some new text.
posted by jeather at 6:57 AM on March 2, 2011

Welcome to my world! Advertising/marketing agencies LIVE this way.

Like soma lkzx said, how you are treated here is the difference between a Good Job and a Bad Job. In my last Bad Job, my boss treated us like janitors, in a way that no janitor should ever be treated (stay here and clean up our mess until we're satisfied). In my current job I have enough Cool People above me that if I receive the assets 3 days late, the deadline is pushed back 3 days. There are simply enough people in high enough places willing to go to bat for us.

You need to talk to those people and find out if they're on your side or not. If not, there's really not too much you can do. You can attempt to communicate more and more (and more and more) with the people who you're relying on for the assets you need to try to make them understand how much your life/job/output suffers when they're late, and they'll either listen to you or they won't. If they're jerks and there's nobody above them enforcing this, then you may be out of luck. But maybe they'll surprise you. :)

Good luck! Bad Jobs suck. (And there are more Bad Jobs than Good Jobs.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 7:29 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing writing better agreements that hit them in the pocketbook when this happens.

I've seen clients like this that don't care about your life, your commitments, the original timeline, etc. They just want you to perform magic.

So, give them the option. They either pay more (much more) for missed deadlines, or they wait.

This gives you more budget (to allocate for on-call support resources, if needed), removes the yes vs. no pressure, and shifts the conversation from "Can you do this now?" to "How do we accomplish this together?"
posted by asuprenant at 7:52 AM on March 2, 2011

As a completely different solution, at my company we (IT) got out of the content stream completely. We set up a CMS that allows the creative side to create the landing pages themselves. They can publish the pages to our QA site and then migrate it to production all on their own. We made sure to set it up in such a way that any mistakes THEY make only affect THEIR pages. Believe me, taking the time to set this up correctly once up front has made all of our lives so much happier ever since. You just have to get buy-in to the fact that IT is in the system design/implementation/support business, and creative is in the content business.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 8:23 AM on March 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are three things in play:

1. The product
2. The deadline
3. The price

Clients get to pick any two. When they pick all three, there's a problem.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:35 AM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

iguanopolitico said, "Advertising/marketing agencies LIVE this way."

This is exactly correct, IME. They take a perverse joy in burning the midnight oil, then go out for drinks to complain together -- but they ignore the fact that when their work ends, yours begins.

Start taking comp time now, while also pursuing a mutually-agreeable schedule for future deployments that the Techs and Creative and all managers are in on. Good luck!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:27 AM on March 2, 2011

Seconding the "Time in lieu" suggestion above.

When I had a (IT) job that demanded I be available for calls 24/7, and to carry a pager, I was at first angry about it, then I got smart. I looked up the law, in Minnesota at the time, the minimum you could pay an hourly worker was in blocks of two hours. So, I simply started adding two hours for every single call or page. Since I was not allowed overtime, that usually meant all or most of Thursday off as well as all Fridays. It worked for three or four months, until they figured it out and stopped calling me for ridiculous garbage after hours. Win/Win.

Even if you are salaried (which, although IANAL, it sounds like you should *not* be, based on your responsibilities), you can negotiate something similar.
posted by Invoke at 11:07 AM on March 2, 2011

I'll chime in to agree with wenestved and iguanopolitico, and with geoff too - this is my husband's life as a studio/production manager at an ad agency. His studio uses change forms that outline the repercussions of late submissions and which need to be signed by the account person at every step, but they are essentially useless in the face of account people who won't push back on their clients for approvals needed to sign off on things. They are only used to document and defend when the studio acted upon the changes, really. Here, based on our dinner conversations, is what they also do, due to the nature of the US vs THEM mentality that seems to be rampant - he doesn't even pretend there's such a thing as teamwork, since in nearly every place he's been situated the account people will cheerfully hang the studio out to dry:

At 4pm every day, he sends an email around reminding everyone what needs to be in by the end of the day. If something is delayed/not done - he has the response and reason in writing. He may not actually have what needs to be done, but he at least knows if something's not happening so he can figure out something else, and isn't surprised at the last minute by having to stay. And he has evidence for when it comes time for reviews.

He is meticulous about getting everything in writing. Everything is confirmed on a change form or via email. This is the only thing that's saving his bacon this week: two emails with changes that indicate awareness of a discrepancy that arose and required acknowledgement, when an account person is claiming it wasn't given. He follows up anything verbal with an email. It is a giant, enormous, time-wasting pain in the bum - but the timestamps are invaluable and the trail is irrefutable at the that address any failures.

He builds it into the budget whenever possible to have a freelancer scheduled on days when there's a deadline, for the daily/overflow/emergency work that comes up.

He makes sure to take the time owing to him so resentment doesn't build.

At the mr.'s last job, the senior management had the studio present to the account people at a meeting, explaining what they did and how things needed to get done in order to benefit the clients and smooth the workflow. I believe a deliberately tacky power point presentation was created and deployed, using baby steps, including, at the end, stick figures of account people at 5:30 holding their blackberries in the break room, drinking beer and eating Mr. Noodles and checking Facebook and talking about their new shoes they went shopping for on lunch (no one could argue with the representations - they were too accurate, while carefully nondescript) while the studio manager's little stick figure family sat sadly around a dinner table with one empty seat at 6:30.

Theoretically, the account people were supposed to understand that the printers who make the giant billboards/streetcar wraps happen don't just get the new information emailed to them and then run it off the press just like they're using the photocopier in the office; and that when you don't meet a deadline that you still have to pay all the guys that were hired and scheduled to install the taxi wraps, and that yes - they should actually travel to the printers for colour proofs and such because it looks different on the screen. But it didn't really work that way. You may never be able to get that one sector aware of what needs to happen in yours - you can only expect the worst and plan accordingly. It's been fifteen years of married to this for me, and it's true that it's a Bad Job/Good Job situation more than anything. And that's why whenever he can, he tries to build extra time in wherever possible. If they know it will take two days, they will make it take two days. So, tell them three days. It will still take three, but there's a better chance of it actually happening in only three.
posted by peagood at 11:44 AM on March 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the great input and answers. I shared the thread with my manager - who is definitely taking steps to push back and has gotten agreement from the other managers in the department that we need to mitigate this issue. I am also going to start being more proactive and bugging the brand team for assets two days before the go-live date.

We've just started addressing this problem in the last week or so and have already had a good response from other managers and higher-ups. It will probably never be a perfect system, but I like to think that it can change.

Thanks again - one of the many great things about AskMe is finding out that other people have shared your pain experiences.
posted by bendy at 8:58 PM on March 2, 2011

i work in a similar situation. you need better account managers dealing with the clients to manage their expectations. we often get assets late late late and the account managers will push back for us to get more time. granted even with this we still have some irritating 'cutting it close' moments and clients who drag their feet getting us the assets but we always make sure to build in enough time for creative work, dev work, and QA without everyone having to massively work overtime.
posted by raw sugar at 10:41 PM on March 2, 2011

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