For project managers working in a fast-paced team environment, careful workload planning and time management are essential in ensuring work is managed effectively and efficiently.
However, regardless of how organized a team is, they will inevitably have to deal with a certain amount of ad-hoc tasks. These last-minute projects can be frustrating and lead to poor productivity when handled inefficiently.
It is vital that your team have a strategy to deal with ad-hoc requests in order to assure they don’t become an unnecessary drain on time and resources.
In this article, ‘How to manage ad-hoc requests: A complete guide for project managers’, we discuss the ins and outs of ad-hoc requests and a range of strategies to help deal with this unavoidable part of your workload.
In the world of project management, ad-hoc requests are tasks or jobs that arise unexpectedly. Coming from Latin, the phrase ‘ad-hoc’ means ‘for this’ or ‘for this situation’. These projects generally arise unexpectedly due to unforeseen roadblocks or miscommunication. They are time sensitive, often needing to be addressed and resolved swiftly.
Some examples of ad-hoc tasks include:
Unexpected internal IT issues, including security vulnerabilities
Requests and queries from current clients
Quick reaction projects in response to market trends.
Ad-hoc projects are unique to the rest of a team’s workflow for the following reasons.
Ad-hoc projects tend to have tighter deadlines than other projects. This means they are more difficult to plan for and require pivoting and thinking on the fly.
Having a range of established strategies to deal with last-minute requests will assist in ensuring these projects are dealt with in the most efficient and timely manner.
Large, predicted projects tend to involve a wide range of stakeholders. They may fall under a broader portfolio of work and require interdepartmental collaboration. Ad hoc tasks, by comparison, are usually focused on a particular goal and utilize fewer team members to bring them to completion.
Since ad-hoc requests usually occur at the last minute, they often lack the resources needed to complete them successfully. These unexpected projects require immediate attention, which often leaves little time for networking and fewer resources at the disposal of the project manager. Managing ad-hoc requests successfully means leveraging minimal resources in a short amount of time.
Any project manager worth their weight understands the importance of tracking planned projects and monitoring their progress. There is a range of collaboration tools at their disposal, including project management software and meeting agenda software.
Metrics that can be used to track the team's work include earned value and planned value, which give insight into how far along a project is. Using a project management tool to track time and goals is a great way to allocate resources and keep your team on track. The problem is many teams fail to track ad-hoc projects.
While tracking an ad-hoc request may seem like an unnecessary waste of resources, the time taken to log the project will pay itself back in spades.
By tracking everything in their project management tool PMs will get a bird’s eye view of the following:
An accurate picture of how each team member is spending their time
How to best manage the available resources
How to redirect time and attention toward the key strategic initiatives
Justify to key stakeholders the current resources and lobby for more as required
Which projects to say no to and the ability to justify why
When an ad-hoc project goes untracked, the result can be disastrous for the wider business. Money, time, and effort are lost to this invisible work and become untraceable. If you’ve ever gotten to the end of a project and the financial analysis doesn’t add up, it can often be because the personnel budget has been lost to untracked ad-hoc projects.
Tracking and reporting on ad-hoc projects are essential to understanding:
The impact on other projects: Last-minute projects can quickly cut into a team’s productivity. Therefore, tracking unplanned projects is essential to understand the impact sudden requests are having on the team’s workload. This will also empower PMs to be able to say no with evidence to new requests if they feel the benefits will be outweighed by the impact on the wider workflow.
How to assemble the right team: Tracking ad-hoc projects allows PMs to understand precisely who is needed to complete the unexpected project in the shortest amount of time. Information is power and will bolster a PM's case when it comes to recruiting extra staff and resources.
Where to reallocate resources: Understanding exactly how much time is required for the average ad-hoc means the wider team can manage its human resource capacity and be better prepared to handle ad-hoc projects as they arise.
Clearly define the scope of the project and what is expected to be delivered at the end of the project. This will help ensure that everyone involved in the project has a clear understanding of what needs to be done and can work towards common goals.
It's important to have a clear understanding of the priorities for your project and to communicate those priorities to your team. This will help you to manage ad-hoc requests effectively, by being able to quickly determine whether a request aligns with the project goals and can be accommodated within the current project scope.
Having a clear process in place for managing ad-hoc requests can help you to handle them efficiently and consistently. This might involve defining a specific point of contact for ad-hoc requests, setting up a system for tracking and documenting requests, and defining the criteria for evaluating and prioritizing requests.
Good communication is key to managing ad-hoc projects effectively. Make sure to keep all relevant stakeholders informed about any changes to the project plan or scope as a result of ad-hoc requests, and be transparent about any potential impacts on timelines or resources. This will help to minimize misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Project management software can be a useful tool for managing ad-hoc projects, as it can help you to track and document requests and their progress, as well as allow you to easily share information with your team. There are many different project management software options available, so it's worth doing some research to find one that fits your needs and budget.
Ad-hoc requests can often come with tight deadlines, so it's important to have contingency plans in place to ensure that you can still deliver on your project commitments despite the added work. This might involve identifying potential resources that can be brought in at short notice, or identifying ways to streamline your existing processes to free up time and resources.
Rather than waiting for ad-hoc projects to come to you, consider being proactive in identifying potential areas where ad-hoc work might be needed. This might involve conducting regular reviews of your project plan and scope to identify any potential gaps or areas of risk, and proactively addressing them before they become urgent.
While it's important to be responsive to ad-hoc requests, it's also important to set boundaries to ensure that you don't become overwhelmed and your other project commitments don't suffer as a result. Consider setting limits on the number of ad-hoc requests you are willing to take on, or establishing clear guidelines for how you will prioritize requests. It's also a good idea to delegate ad-hoc projects to other team members where appropriate, to help ensure that the workload is distributed evenly.
When an ad-hoc request comes in, it's important to communicate with the requestor to understand the reasoning behind the request and any specific needs or constraints they may have. This can help you to better assess the impact of the request on your project and determine the best way to accommodate it.
Before making a decision on how to handle an ad-hoc request, it's important to carefully assess the potential impact on your project. This might involve evaluating the potential risks and benefits of the request, as well as considering any potential impacts on timelines, resources, and budgets.
Good documentation is crucial for managing ad-hoc projects effectively. Make sure to document all ad-hoc requests, including the details of the request, the decision made, and any follow-up actions taken. This can help you to track the progress of the request and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. It can also be useful to have a centralized place where all ad-hoc requests are documented and tracked, such as a spreadsheet or project management software.
Having effective project management tools is essential when managing ad-hoc projects.
A good PM tool will assist in giving your whole team a bigger picture of the ad-hoc request. It will establish the work breakdown structure, will help to track cost estimates and clarify where the bulk of your team’s time is being spent. Further, it will allow team members to communicate on the key issues as you move the project to fruition.
The following strategies will also aid in tracking unexpected requests and help you to manage projects in the most streamlined way.
It is vital that project managers have a clear protocol when it comes to accepting an ad-hoc project. Under-the-table ad-hoc requests are one of the biggest time and money suckers, and without visibility and accountability from the wider team, PMs may ensure that all requests come through a formal request process that justifies the project's importance and the resources that will be needed to complete the project request.
When everyone on your team is aware of these projects PMs are better able to:
Ask for the people and resources they need to complete the project
Define the parameters and goals involved in bringing the task to completion
Assign clear tasks and start collaborating using meeting agendas and PM software
In order for these last-minute projects to be successful and take as little time and resources as necessary to complete you should have an ad-hoc system in place, whereby all requests comet through a central channel. Request management best practice means creating a project intake process that involves:
A centralized request hub through which all requests must be funneled. This means any ad-hoc request, no matter how small must go through a formal process. This means PMs are able to prioritize tasks and say ‘no’ or ‘not now’ to projects that are time-consuming or not essential to the bottom line.
Standardize the request form to ensure you understand what resources you need, the expected timeline, and the importance of the project.
Prioritizing these requests.
Defining project expectations, timelines, resources, and budget.
As ad-hoc projects will continually arise throughout your workflow, it is wise to encourage your team to set aside a certain amount of time per month to tackle ad-hoc requests.
Similarly, encourage your team to look at how these projects can be combined so that they are tackling one larger project with clear deliverables, rather than a series of seemingly unrelated tasks.
Assigning one person to capture, prioritize and address ad-hoc requests as they arise can be a great way to ensure as few team members as possible are distracted from their standard projects.
When PMs only track their standard projects, executives and other stakeholders may get the impression that these large projects are the only things getting completed. It gives an inaccurate picture of how time and money are spent.
Create visibility by tracking each and every project, no matter how small.
This allows everyone an accurate overview of exactly what your team is working on, where current projects stand and where more resources may be needed.
The key to success with any ad-hoc project is simple- make the invisible work visible. By implementing a range of tools and strategies that illuminate all aspects of the ad-hoc project and facilitate transparency for all, project managers will have the flexibility to make adjustments when things go awry with these unexpected work requests.
‘Under the table’ ad-hoc projects can threaten the bottom line and impact team cohesion.
Allowing all key stakeholders full visibility into these projects keeps the team focused and reduces the risks of oversights.
Smart ad-hoc collaboration is a way of working together that is flexible, agile, and responsive to the needs of the project. It involves using a variety of tools and techniques to facilitate communication and collaboration among team members, stakeholders, and other key players in the project.
When dealing with ad-hoc requests, smart ad-hoc collaboration is essential because it allows the project team to respond quickly and effectively to changing circumstances and priorities.
For office-based teams, this may involve having on-the-fly meetings to discuss issues as they arise. For remote teams, using tools like project management software, real-time messaging apps, and virtual meeting platforms will allow members to stay connected and share information, even if they are not physically co-located.
Smart ad-hoc collaboration also involves using data and analytics to inform decision-making, and using agile project management methodologies to adapt to changing requirements and deliver value quickly. By using these approaches, project teams can be more responsive to the needs of the business and more effective at delivering value in a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment.
As previously discussed, when dealing with ad-hoc projects, many teams tend to forgo the usual reporting formalities. However, tracking ad-hoc tasks is essential. Not only does it allow you to report on your success, but it is also invaluable in learning lessons on how you can better manage ad-hoc work in the future. Further to this it can help to justify your efforts and rally for resources for future ad-hoc projects.
Make use of your collected data and analytics to demonstrate the key goalposts throughout the project and the numbers attached. Combined with an ad-hoc project summary, this data will help demonstrate the biggest challenges encountered and how you brought the ad-hoc request to successful completion.
While some ad-hoc projects will inevitably come through the pipeline, anything you can do to slow the flow of these projects is invaluable. Here are some ways to keep last-minute requests from becoming the norm.
Having clear processes in place can help reduce the need for ad-hoc requests by providing a structured way of addressing issues and opportunities. Moving these requests away from endless email chains and water cooler conversations and into a project management tool will ensure transparency and accountability. Make sure your clients and colleagues understand the correct channels via which to request an ad-hoc project.
Make sure all stakeholders understand what is and is not an appropriate request for an ad-hoc project. Determine what resources (e.g. time, money, personnel) are available for ad-hoc projects and communicate those boundaries to stakeholders.
When an ad-hoc request does come in, prioritize it based on its importance and fit with the organization's goals and resources. This can help ensure that ad-hoc requests do not distract from ongoing work. Regularly review and assess the impact of ad-hoc requests on the organization's resources and priorities, and make adjustments as needed to prevent future requests from becoming overwhelming.
Your team’s culture will play a large role in how you work together on these ad-hoc tasks. Teams that encourage an open and collaborative framework will be less likely to be overwhelmed when dealing with last-minute projects.
A streamlined internal communications strategy, paired with intelligent use of collaboration software will empower your team to ask for help when they need it.
An ad-hoc project is a project that is formed for a specific, one-time purpose and is not part of an organization's regular operations or business. Ad-hoc projects are typically formed to address a specific problem or opportunity that arises and are often undertaken on a tight timeline with limited resources. Because ad-hoc projects are not part of an organization's regular operations, they may involve a different set of stakeholders and decision-makers than those involved in ongoing projects.
An ad-hoc manager is a person who is responsible for managing an ad-hoc project. An ad-hoc manager is typically appointed to lead an ad-hoc project on a temporary basis and is responsible for organizing and coordinating the resources and activities required to complete the project.
An ad-hoc manager may be an employee of the organization or may be an external contractor or consultant who is brought in specifically to manage the project. In either case, the ad-hoc manager is responsible for establishing clear goals and objectives for the project, developing a plan to achieve those goals, and coordinating the efforts of the team to ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget.
Ad hoc work will obviously vary from industry to industry. However ad-hoc projects may be defined as any work that sits outside a team’s usual tasks and larger, pre-planned projects.
Some examples of ad-hoc work include administrative tasks, unplanned projects, meetings, and catch-ups.
Michael started his career as a product manager and then developed a passion for writing. He has been writing on technology, remote working, productivity, etc., hoping to share his thoughts with more people.