Monday Quickie – When to Let Go of Work
We’ve all experienced it – too much work, not enough time or resources to complete it. Day after day passes the work doesn’t slow down but your time frames become shorter and shorter furthering the stress of the looming workload.
Knowing when to let go and ask for help is a supremely important skill to develop. Too often we don’t ask for help, we bury our heads in the sand thinking if we put in more hours it will magically work itself out.
When we’ve got too much work it often shows up like this…
We can all agree we’ve seen this firsthand and very well may be living it now.
The key question then becomes, “How do we address the ‘too much work, not enough [blank]’ commonality we all share?” as mentioned above.
First, we need to assess the work in question and whether or not it is mandatory to keep close to the chest. Meaning, are we the only ones who can do the work?
If your answer is:
NO – “the work can be done by someone else”; we should begin looking for alternative means for getting the work done via our supply base, strategic partners or find a lacky within the company to dump it on. Don’t pretend like you haven’t done this or at least thought about it. First, review your existing base of suppliers and their capabilities to see where work can be sent out. Second, identify consulting firms which provide outsource services. Many times the word ‘outsourcing’ is used as an all encompassing description for service providers that offer project or work package support, often which can be done onsite with the client just as easily as offsite – which would be the traditional method of outsourcing.
YES – “the work can only be done by me”. I’ll caution you here. Often times our egos tell us that we’re the only ones who can do it. We’re the only ones who can rise to the occasion. We’ve got the legacy information therefore we need to do the work. This often times is not the case, we just haven’t spent enough time or effort understanding what our options are. That and perhaps we’re a little stubborn. If you’ve done some discovery and still came up empty handed believing you’re the only person to do the job(s) then it becomes a process of prioritization. If you have a lot of work you’ll likely not be able to hit all your deliverables and or deadlines so it’s important to prioritize based on stake holder expectations, company critical milestones and your own sanity. If you don’t have any looming deadlines I like to pick off an easy project first to feel good about my ability to finish a task then switch it up and go after a tougher one. This keeps me motivated to do the work even though I know the pile of work in front of me is a tad insurmountable.
A couple months back I was called by a client who had a similar ‘too much work, not enough time’ problem. As I listened to their situation I could literally feel their pain coming through the phone. They were on red alert. Their engineering teams had been working at max capacity for months and only made a small dent in the projects they were working on. As more time passed someone was able to get through to management having a ‘come to Jesus’ conversation. As a result, the company final acquiesced to the fact that their teams couldn’t handle the work and they weren’t going to hit their deadlines.
This is precisely why I got phoned. The call was nothing short of “bail us out, we’re drowning in our own sorrows” type of call. Okay, perhaps my account of the situation is a bit hyperbolic, yet it’s not so far off the reservation. Fact is they had too much work and not enough time OR resources to deal with it and since my company is already an approved supplier it made it easy for their engineering manager to pick up the phone, make one call, and get the help they needed. They were finally at a point where they could let go.
Our team over a two week period worked through 200+ component drawings helping our customer meet their deadline while keeping their team operating at a realistic pace.
When the project was over I asked the customer why they waited so long to ask for help [regardless of the fact they came to us for that help]. Their response was simple and certainly not surprising. “We thought we could handle it but by the time we realized we weren’t going to hit our deadline we were already too deep into the project to turn back. My team was burnt out from the overtime and we just couldn’t ask more from them.”
It was a valuable reminder to say the least. If at all possible, identify sources for support BEFORE you need them. While our client in this particular situation got lucky and was able to depend on a trusted supplier to help them out, often times the outcome of similar situations doesn’t produce the same results.
Next time you’re in over your head will you remember to let go and ask for help?
Key Take Away:
Sometimes the best business decision we can make is deciding what work we want to do [internally] to increase our capacity and efficiencies while outsourcing work to suppliers. In turn, this means we can focus on the mission critical work, that we enjoy and are great at doing, while giving someone else the work and or projects we can’t handle or don’t want to deal with. The key piece is to be able to identify when you need to step aside and ask for help before it’s too late.
Challenge yourself to really look at your work and performance. How does it add up? Are you or your team working effectively? Do you need to pause and consider whether or not it’s time to ask for help? Jot down a list of activities or projects you’re working with and or will be taking on in the near term. Identify which of those projects are mission critical and which are important but able to be done at a later time or by someone else. Establish a support system of suppliers, other departments within the company or external consultants you can call on at a moments notice to help you out of a jam. Get these relationships fully vetted proactively so when you need the help your support system is ready to go. Now – breathe easier and send the Square-1 a thank you note for the advice. Life is better when we’re prepared.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.