How many times have you gotten urgent requests either from a client, coworkers, or your superiors?
How often do these “small” projects and requests interrupt your regular work?
According to a Harvard Business Review article discussing the results of a survey on work interruptions, 15% of respondents said they were interrupted at work more than 20 times a day, while 40% reported more than 10 interruptions per day.
Ad hoc projects and requests can be annoying since they often derail the original project plan. Also, they divert your attention from your main tasks and can adversely affect your productivity.
The aim of this article is to provide advice on how to manage ad hoc projects and requests, but before we can get to the expert tips, we need to:
- Define ad hoc projects and requests,
- Describe their characteristics, and
- Provide examples of such projects and requests.
We‘ll then put expert tips at your disposal to help you tackle these out-of-the-blue tasks and explain the importance of tracking ad hoc projects and requests.
If you are ready, let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
What are ad hoc projects?
Ad hoc is a term of Latin origin meaning “for this” or “for this situation”. It actually refers to something that happens when it is necessary i.e. for a particular purpose.
Projects titled “ad hoc” are both unexpected and unscheduled. They crop up, make a mess, and it is up to you to dampen down the fire.
Ad hoc projects vary in scope from small requests, such as an administrative task, to bigger projects, such as company events organization.
There are various reasons why ad hoc projects and requests emerge, and some are:
- Poor communication,
- Poor planning,
- Specific client or upper management desires,
- Roadblocks identified during any of the project phases,
- Personnel, schedule, or budget changes.
Regardless of the reasons why ad hoc projects turn up in our regular workload, they share similar characteristics that differentiate them from traditional projects. Let’s name a few:
- Focusing on a single goal — unlike traditional projects, ad hoc projects have a central focus of interest.
- Requiring quick completion — ad hoc projects and requests are time-sensitive, and they usually disrupt your current work.
- Going through fewer complexities — since they have shorter time spans, ad hoc projects and requests go through less red tape.
- Using fewer resources — project managers try to localize ad hoc projects and requests and not disturb the whole team or disrupt the project workflow.
- Being reactive — this means that ad hoc projects or requests solve a certain problem or issue that has been identified and demands a prompt reaction.
All these characteristics make ad hoc projects and requests unique. To illustrate these characteristics, we’ll provide some representative examples.
Ad hoc projects and requests examples
Ad hoc projects and requests are more or less present in every industry. They aren’t standard, and they’re definitely not a part of your game plan. Still, life happens, and these projects and requests are almost inevitable.
We bet you can recognize yourself in some of the following examples, each focusing on one of the ad hoc characteristics listed above.
Example #1: Patching a security vulnerability
Your company develops software for clients who want to improve their services and/or products. As a project manager in charge of one of the apps, you follow your carefully laid-out software development plan, and your team members are aligned.
But, during the control phase, some of your coworkers inform you about a possible security breach on the account.
Since you naturally want to protect your company and your clients’ data, you gather a security team to patch a security vulnerability and move the data somewhere safe until they carry out the necessary system improvements.
In this example, the ad hoc request for a security team was to move the data — a single goal to focus on.
Example #2: Unexpected report for a client
Prime examples of ad hoc requests are unexpected and most urgent (read: do or die) reports for clients.
You are in the middle of your marketing campaign working on the design of a newsletter for potential clients. The client who pays for the campaign sends you an email asking for a report on the current state of the campaign. The subject of the email starts with the notorious “urgent” or “needed ASAP”.
Without even considering why they need the report at this very moment, you leave the work on the newsletter and start working on the ad hoc request because the client is important and you want to keep them.
You are going to put all your energy into the report to please the client since this request takes precedence.
Example #3: Secure promotional items for donors at a fundraising event
The organization of a fundraising event is a large project demanding the formation of committees in charge of planning, finding donors, recruiting volunteers, and much more.
You also need teams to deal with catering, decorations, entertainment, and marketing.
Your company gets the opportunity to organize this important event, and there are a lot of tasks you and your team need to fulfill.
The committee in charge of advertising and marketing is doing their best to promote the event by securing marketing materials and invitations.
Then, on the day of the event, the committee members realize they haven’t secured promotional items for the donors.
With such a short time to secure what they need, the manager of the committee needs to decide how to solve the burning issue. It is hardly possible to go through all the red tape and get approvals.
The ad hoc task will be assigned to 1 or 2 team members who will check if there are any spare promotional items and, if not, will procure them however they can.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
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Example #4: Securing a missing permit for a renovation
A family has hired your construction company to renovate their home. The project manager needs to gather a team of architects, contractors, and construction workers to deal with the renovation.
The family wanted to repaint the house, repave the driveway, and install floor coverings. As the team started work, the family asked for the installation of an underground sprinkler system.
So, all of a sudden, the manager gets an ad hoc project to carry out. However, there is a catch — the installation requires a plumbing permit.
The manager will appoint a contractor to obtain the plumbing permit and change the renovation plan until the permit is obtained.
In this example, the manager knows who should get this ad hoc task, and the rest of the team is not disturbed by these new events.
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
The easiest way to track your construction activities is to use the right software. Here’s a Plaky template that can help you keep your project on time and budget:
Example #5: A PR campaign as a response to a client’s tarnished reputation
A website selling products online has experienced a service outage due to high demand for products on sale.
Many customers failed to receive a purchase confirmation, which caused public outrage, and the social media were full of negative comments.
The company owning the website immediately gathered their PR team to take control of the situation back.
The goal of these examples was to show the characteristics of ad hoc projects/requests in practice.
Moving on, let’s look at the benefits of tracking ad hoc projects and requests and explain why this should be highly regarded by project managers.
Why is it important to track ad hoc projects and requests?
Ad hoc projects and requests are often seen as simple tasks, and the fact they aren’t part of a regular schedule usually leaves them under the radar.
Large projects are tracked and controlled from beginning to end, and you might think there shouldn’t be any fuss over some ad hoc task as long as the major project is on the right track.
However, if you have ever wondered why there are delays in the project delivery and why the project suffered extra costs, ad hoc projects could be the culprit.
To illustrate the importance of tracking ad hoc projects and requests, we’ll list a few benefits in support of keeping close tabs on such tasks.
Benefit #1: Improved progress tracking
Adding ad hoc projects and requests onto the task list is time-consuming. But, if an ad hoc project and/or request is the reason you have to drop a primary task, you should definitely record it.
Tracking ad hoc tasks helps you get the whole picture by showing you how these tasks affect the project budget and schedule. You can clearly see how much time you spend on each task and monitor the project’s progress.
Tracking ad hoc projects and requests allows project managers to make better decisions when they allocate tasks and determine deadlines.
Benefit #2: Improved resource management
Every team leader and project manager must have a firm grasp of the current state of project resources.
By tracking the time your team members spend working on ad hoc projects, you can manage your human resources better, request team expansion, and even postpone some less important project tasks on your list.
Also, by tracking ad hoc projects and requests, you can identify if there are any extra costs and if there is a need for budget adjustments.
Benefit #3: Better insight into work patterns
By tracking ad hoc tasks, you can spot recurring ones.
For instance, if you notice that your team members have to deal with unnecessary administrative tasks every now and then, you can make changes in the work organization and reduce the amount of time they spend on such tasks.
When you determine the amount of time necessary to invest in ad hoc projects and requests, you’ll be able to plan more efficiently in the future and delegate other tasks accordingly.
What’s the best way to track ad hoc projects and requests?
The market offers the full gamut of task management software solutions that help you manage projects and tasks smoothly and efficiently.
These platforms enable task management, team collaboration, and progress tracking. Some of them offer administrative functions such as permission control, grouping similar tasks, and choosing who can see what.
All of this and more can be accomplished using free task management software such as Plaky.
Plaky is a cloud-based tool that can act as a centralized hub for all your project work. It supports unlimited users, workspaces, and projects.
You can easily add an item for each ad hoc task and create a dedicated space for your ad hoc projects.
The information you need to create an ad hoc task is usually the following:
- Task description,
- The assignee,
- The resources that should be used,
- The person you report to, and
- Due date.
All of this is simple to do through Plaky. Also, with Plaky, you can share updates with your team members and directly communicate with them. They get notified about new tasks, updates on current tasks, and when they are tagged using the @mention feature.
You can use either Kanban or Table views to track project progress and changes using Plaky’s activity log at either the item or board level.
You can integrate Plaky with Clockify, a world-renowned time tracking tool. Since ad hoc projects are usually time-sensitive, you can track the time it takes to complete them.
Ad hoc projects and requests often come out of the blue and mostly when you least need them. After all, who doesn’t like to finish their job duties on time and go home?
But, the best way to learn how to manage ad hoc projects and requests is to listen to professionals and take something out of their box of tricks.
We reached out to Timea Gardinovački and Zoran Vizmeg — Project Managers at Pumble and Clockify respectively — to offer first-hand tricks of the trade for smoothly dealing with ad hoc projects and requests.
Tip #1: Keep calm and evaluate the ad hoc project
It’s easy to make mistakes when you need to act fast. That’s why Timea highlights the importance of not panicking when you face an unexpected task:
“The first and most important thing is that when we get an ad hoc project, we keep calm and evaluate it. Even though the nature of ad hoc projects is that they need to be done fast (now, yesterday), we need to make sure that we fully understand them. As Project Manager, I am responsible for my team’s workload and availability, so it is crucial that I understand what the scope of the ad hoc project is so I can rearrange the team’s current workload and assign the right people to it.”
Tip #2: Communicate the ad hoc project with your team
It is vital to keep your team updated on all the changes. As long as everyone is on the same page, you can expect a positive result. Timea is sure that open communication is the key to solving ad hoc tasks.
“This is not an easy task, as you need to juggle a lot of things. It is of great importance to communicate with the team about the ad hoc project and inform them that there will be some rearranging happening because of it. Of course, having a great and reliable team helps a lot, but we still need to make sure they are all clear on what is going on and what is expected.”
💡 Plaky Pro Tip
If you want to learn more about why communication is important for your project team, check out this guide:
Tip #3: Create a small temporary team
If your team often faces ad hoc projects and requests, it is good to think about forming a dedicated team to tackle such tasks. This is exactly what our colleague Zoran recommends. His tip sheds some light on the way that the team behind Clockify stays ahead of unexpected issues.
“If an ad hoc project comes pretty often — which is the case in our environment — it is necessary to create a solution for that. Recently, we have created a small temporary team that contains 8 developers and 2 project managers. That team acts when an ad hoc task pops up. The team’s obligation is to find a quick technical solution for the requested task, allocate resources, and act immediately, and their first priority is to work on ad hoc projects. If there are no ad hoc projects, the team’s obligation is to handle technical debt, which is a lower-priority task in this case.”
Tip #4: Celebrate the completion of an ad hoc project with your team
After so much effort put in to finish the ad hoc project, marking the completion of it may have a restorative effect on the team. This tip is an important step in Timea’s team management:
“Every ad hoc project brings a certain level of additional stress to the team, so, in my opinion, it is crucial to give credit to the people working on it, show your appreciation and, of course, be there for your team, even if it is just for a ‘venting session‘.”
Conclusion: Manage your ad hoc projects the way you manage traditional ones
Managing projects is challenging — sometimes requiring you to completely reorganize your project plan.
You need to have your finger on the pulse of the project to be able to make the right changes and adjustments.
This is much easier if you regard ad hoc projects in the same way as traditional ones. Try to follow the same pattern when planning even though ad hoc projects demand faster solutions.
If you allow some buffer time in your regular projects, it might be a good idea to apply that to ad hoc projects and requests.
All in all, you shouldn’t forget to track ad hoc tasks as tracking helps you with future project planning in many ways. Make use of the tips we have shared and try to find a long-term solution for handling these unforeseen tasks.
✉️ What’s your experience with ad hoc projects and requests? Do you have any interesting examples or some handy tips to share? If you have any comments on this topic, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may include them in some of our future posts. If you know anyone who would find this text interesting, please share with them.