By When ?

This is a question that goes un-asked and un-answered all too often. So often I am in a meeting where Project Manager X asks Engineer Y, “Can you do so and so?” and the engineer says “Absolutely!” and we move on to the next item on the agenda. This is a recipe for disaster. There is no set time that this task is due. There is no promise or commitment. More than likely, the PM has an idea in his or her head as to when this task should be complete and so does the engineer, but it has not been discussed and agreed upon by the two parties. This can lead to dissatisfaction for the PM and frustration for the engineer.

An example of this is the other day I got an Instant Message from someone asking me “Do you have the room numbers for our new MDF  IDF’s in our new building?” I had  a feeling the information was buried in my email but I was working on something and didn’t want to go digging through my inbox right at that moment. But something triggered in me to ask him, “When do you need this information?” It was a good thing I did because he was on a call and was going to need the information in the next 5 minutes. I was originally planning on getting around to it in the next hour or so. Obviously, my priorities got shifted around a bit and I got him the info he needed, but I wouldn’t have done any of this unless I had asked, “By when?”

As an engineer, I will be the first to admit we are pretty bad at estimating and making promises about when we can have something complete. Quite honestly, if an engineer I have not worked with before tells me he or she can complete task XYZ in 2 days, I assume 4 and promise completion to my manager accordingly. I pretty much automatically double any estimate an engineer makes.

Being able to make and deliver on commitments consistently is absolutely necessary to succeed. As Systems Administrators/Engineers, it can be difficult at times to make commitments,because we never know what kind of fire we are going to have to put out next.

Because of this, as I plan and commit to my project work, I tell my PM that I can work 4 hours a day on a project, because I know there will be 4 or 5 hours of email, people asking me other questions, and just dealing with all the other kind of general distractions that come my way.

Do you find yourself in this kind of situation or see it elsewhere in your company? How do you deal with the craziness of constant fire fighting and also make and fulfill on promises consistently?

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