Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 32;   August 7, 2002: Should I Keep Bailing or Start Plugging the Leaks?

Should I Keep Bailing or Start Plugging the Leaks?

by

When we're flooded with problems, and the rowboat is taking on water, we tend to bail with buckets, rather than take time out to plug the leaks. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.

Yesterday I went to buy fruit at my local market. Picking out some nice peaches, I noticed that the cherry boxes were empty. So I walked over to a man in a white shirt, who was feverishly stacking lettuce, and asked about the cherries. He had on a nametag that read "Stan."

When you rank problems
according to total cost,
think short term
and long term
"I'll go look, be right back, sir," he said, and disappeared through the swinging doors at the back of the store. Stan is always helpful.

Meanwhile I went looking for grapes. They were low, too, as were the nectarines. Unusual, I thought. I moved on, and got lost in thought picking out sweet corn.

A few minutes later, Stan returned and called to me: "Got the cherries, sir."

"Thanks, Stan," I said, as I met him at the cherries. "A little behind today, eh?" I asked.

"Yeah, the morning guy no-showed, and I just can't catch up."

As we chatted, a woman approached and asked about the grapes.

"I'll go look, be right back, ma'am," he said to her, and left again through the swinging doors.

A wrecked boatNow I understood: Stan was behind because he had been spending too much time with singleton service requests, and not enough time on catching up. I didn't blame him — he was probably following instructions — but it's a heck of a way to run a produce department.

And that's how many of us deal with similar situations. When we're flooded with problems, and the rowboat is taking on water, we tend to bail with buckets rather than take time out to plug the leaks. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.

Understand present value
Rank problems according to total cost — the short-term cost plus the present value of the long-term cost. Giving too much weight to short-term cost can keep you from finding a more effective approach. In the produce department, making a single trip to deal with several stockouts at once could have helped Stan catch up.
Manage the escalation process
Why are you flooded? Are problems coming to you when they ought to be dealt with elsewhere? Monitor escalations to ensure that they happen only when they should.
Detect before affect
Measure the incidence, resolution, and escalation rates at all levels that deal with problem triage. This alerts everyone in the escalation chain as a pulse of problems moves along. It helps them plan, and prevents the false starts that happen when they have to drop one problem to solve another.

Sometimes the feeling of being flooded is a problem in itself, because we can't think clearly under pressure. Accept that in a flood, you're bound to get a little wet, and focus on clearing the flood as best you can. Go to top Top  Next issue: It Might Be Legal, but It's Unethical  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrentutRTDzpnyXcmsBoner@ChacLSYzpYOFWMmwyLEyoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A pattern that isn't a patternCoincidences Do Happen
When we notice similarities between events, or possible patterns of events, we often attribute meaning to them beyond what we can prove. Sometimes we guess right, and sometimes not. How can we improve our guesses?
A phoenixFilms Not About Project Teams: II
Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
An anxious dogInner Babble
It goes by various names — self-talk, inner dialog, or internal conversation. Because it is so often disorganized and illogical, I like to call it inner babble. But whatever you call it, it's often misleading, distracting, and unhelpful. How can you recognize inner babble?
Vortex cores about an F18 fighter jetGuidelines for Sharing "Resources"
Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
The Challenge vs. Skill diagram, showing the "Flow" regionTop 30 Indicators That You Might Be Bored at Work
Most of the time, when we're bored at work, we know we are. But sometimes, we're bored and we just don't realize it. Here are some indicators of boredom that might escape some people's notice.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

British mathematician Christopher Zeeman in 2009Coming October 18: Missing the Obvious: II
With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on October 18.
Five almondsAnd on October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenoAuCOOpIrPAGdmrrner@ChacZhbKCWdQtUCzPvTgoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.