Work Done Goes Over the Wall

I remember many years ago, my first office job where my work was well-defined and manageable. I was a staff worker. I processed lots of paperwork and was essentially responsible for some important filing systems for the company I worked for.

There were times when my work was simply “done.” Nothing left to do, at least nothing that really mattered. At those times, it felt perfectly normal to roam around the office and chit-chat with my co-workers.

But a few years after that, things seemed to explode somehow. Suddenly people at all levels of a company were assigned more work than they could ever handle, and there was always an endless stream of projects that could be tweaked or followed-up on. There was no longer ever a chance to call the work “done.”

Worse, along with that trend for companies to constantly schedule more projects than they knew what to do with came a trend for staff employees to be increasingly responsible for their own project management, strategic priorities, and cross-team communication.

So everyone is busily working away in their corner of the cubicle farm. Joe (my boss) gives me a task on Project X. I get to a point in my task where I need a sub-task to be completed by Pete, who is a member of a different team. But Pete is busy working on Project Y. I’ve got a full backlog of projects. Joe has no idea what’s going on. I TOSS my completed work pile with the needed sub-task attached over the Team Wall. Pete, who is busy and mildly annoyed either doesn’t notice or doesn’t have time to think about it until three months later. Then Pete picks up the work, completes the sub-task, and tosses the whole she-bang back over the wall.

But by that point I am deep into the middle of work on Project Z, and I am annoyed that Pete took so long to make what was really a very small amount of progress. Besides, I’m very busy and I just don’t get a chance to look at Project X again for another three months.

And so it goes – nobody is ever able to sync up and complete a project because all the teams with their priorities are working on different projects.

What can you do about it? I’ll have some ideas in a future post…