Working with overloaded WIP that isn’t yours…

It’s 1030pm. I was promised three major artifacts that would allow me to move forward with three different projects by three different people …. Tonight.

My inbox? Empty.

Surprised? Nope.

So my three cards sit on the board … blocked. In fact, my blocked cards often outweigh my entire backlog.

Is there ever a task or project that isn’t interconnected and requires collaboration with somebody? Limiting your own WIP is certainly a fabulous step to managing workflow and increasing effectiveness; however, it makes you hyper aware of how other people you’re working with still have an overloaded WIP.

I have no right to stand on a soap box because I have been one of those people so … many … times. Just because I’ve started to make some tough decisions this past year on not overwhelming myself does not put me in the position to judge. However, I do admit to frustration that the reliability behind “I’ll get XYZ to you on ABC date” is that I probably won’t get it.

Snarling at any individual already overloaded and not delivering is comparable to screaming a kid to hurry up and finish a stressful test, and then being confused when they start sobbing or make mistakes or experience emotional unsafety … OR, all of those. Yet, how many times have we sent that lovely little passive aggressive nasty gram?

Be clear on what you need and WHY you need it by XYZ date.

I am finding that ambiguous “here’s this file” is exhausting. So what? Do you want my feedback? What kind of feedback? There are so many interpretations. However, taking the time to be specific, such as “would you please verify that this file presents the model correctly that you discussed in today’s meeting” will get much faster service.

If it is time-consuming or will involve more people, explaining why you need it returned will help give the context for them to prioritize well. Let’s just throw away “sometime this week” entirely, but even “I need this by Friday” doesn’t particularly motivate. However, “I’ve been asked by the VP to present this model on Monday and I really want to make sure that I have a firm grasp on it over the weekend” actually gets me excited about delivering it as soon as possible.

It’s rarely … and I mean RARELY, the person.

So let’s not get mad at the person. Any time you pass judgment on somebody else, think of three times where you did the same thing. Seriously.

Something I’ve been working on is focusing on the issue, not the person. Frankly, their overwhelmed WIP is none of my business. What I need done and what I need their help on IS my business. So if being frank about what you need and why isn’t getting you the results you need, simply have a conversation. I’m finding that these conversations have results that aren’t exactly what I had requested, but serve me much better. Why? In my opinion, it is because I’m collaborating on an issue rather than growling about a task.

So yes, we will be blocked by other people’s overwhelmed WIP often. However, being human will clear your blocked tasks more quickly than passive deadline threats and even get you better outcomes.

Crossposted at LinkedIn.

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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.