How do you manage incoming requests?

One of my reports is relatively new to leading a team of engineers. They are beyond competent and are really excelling, but as time marches on the impact and scope of their product has grown considerably. As more things need to be done, they are starting to feel the burn of requests piling up. He asked me “How do you manage all the incoming requests?” and honestly I didn’t have an answer on the spot. I spent the past few weeks thinking about it and came up with the list below.

  1. Make a top priority for every week.

Sometimes this is a big monthly meeting. Other times it’s a big feature. It’s important to have a goal you are always accomplishing. You can break this down into smaller tasks, but most times a goal at your level will require help from multiple people. Everyone else has their own priorities so you want to leave time to respect their processes and not block you or your goals. Understand that teams can accomplish more than an individual, but require more upfront cost. It’s your job to understand and mitigate that cost. Make a top priority so your team is informed and can operate successfully. Sometimes the priority of a week can to not have any priorities and just see what’s missing on your team.

  1. Utilize the processes around you.

You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t rely on process. Use that as the frontline for any error or argument. Processes are an agreed upon baseline for every member of a team or a project - you should rely on them as such and use them as any necessary resining. These processes might include - project management, error budgets, product prioritization, etc…

  1. Don’t do the heavy lifting.

Be involved in the architecture of features, but not in every piece of the execution. I make this mistake about every 3 months. It’s something I’m still battling and something I fight with. How can you empower and guide the team to make the important decisions will have a tremendous impact on your ability to get large features complete and still be involved in the initial direction. Give people room to champion their own ideas

  1. Use lists.

Seems obvious, but you’ll start missing 1-off requests if you don’t use it. Somethings will only take a few minutes, but you don’t need to stop what you are doing this minute to satisfy someone else. Complete your thoughts or task and then unblock everyone around you. Creating a list allows you to look at all your tasks at once and prioritize them - pick the items that will help your team or unblock others and start there. Lists let you see all your current responsibilities and prioritize appropriately.

Written on November 29, 2019