Prioritize the workload and distribute it fairly

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At certain times of the year, the people in the field aren’t working as much as we would like them to be. When things pick up, we find certain people who are doing a lot more than others. This has to be addressed, but we’re not sure how to fix it.

Thoughts of the day… Who is in charge of distributing the workload? What projects can get accomplished in slow times? What’s the reward for showing initiative? Make sure everyone understands what has to happen to make the company productive and profitable.

Decide who should be in charge of spreading the work around. Make sure that person is efficient, has a complete list of work that needs to be done and identifies the priorities when it comes to deciding what gets done now and what can wait.

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When it’s busy, there’s nothing worse than having a crew waiting around for assignments. When it’s slow, sitting around can send the wrong message about how time gets used. Work with the people you want to own productivity in the field, teaching them about what you’ve learned along the way. Make sure they know how to manage people and tasks.

Set a productivity goal that is less than 100 percent, allowing time to catch up and fix things that inevitably go wrong. Make sure to budget in time for vacation, sick and personal days. Decide if you’re going to put in place a policy limiting vacation days during the busiest times.

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Set up a spreadsheet listing all projects. Include internal and external activities. Track due dates, budgeting the amount of time needed to complete projects, and have a column for checking off completed tasks. Make a column for priority, and rate each project.

  1. Top priority, gets reserved for customer-only activities.
  2. Essential and is mostly customer focused.
  3. Good to get done and includes more internal projects including broad-based training and developing new services or products.
  4. Can wait until it’s slow and might not need to get done at all.

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When your company is busy, focus on the top-priority tasks. Do a daily review of open items by due date, add up the available work hours to see if you have enough capacity to meet the due dates. If you’re short of hours and don’t want to hire additional help, renegotiate with customers about delivery date.

Put the items that score a 3 or a 4 on a different list for when things get slower in the field. When it does get slow, assign project managers to be in charge of chipping away on specific parts of the 3s and then the 4s.

Think about how the field may perceive the pressure to get tasks done. Do they know how their efforts are contributing to company profitability? Do they see the big picture of satisfied customers? Do they get recognized for meeting deadlines? Do they know why there’s a shift from working on internal and external projects to just working to meet customer commitments? Do they know when to shift back to working on internal projects? Or do they just see it as a never-ending workload with pressure that never lets up? Talk with the field about what the priorities are and why.

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Be smart about how you tackle each day. Cut really big projects into smaller bites. If possible, do the toughest work in the morning when everyone is fresh and clear-headed. Save the last hour of the day for cleanup. Make sure everyone takes regular breaks during the day to refresh and get perspective.

Use rewards as signals. An extra day off at the end of the busy season can help people to recharge batteries and signal the transition from Priority 1 to 2, or 2 to 3. Recognize the teams that improve the most, as well as those that are the most productive overall. Have a barbecue on a Friday afternoon after an especially productive week. Promote people who pitch in and innovate.

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“Essential Managers: Managing Teams” by Robert Heller.

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