Ad-Hoc Projects

Project managers taking in an ad-hoc project request at a desk with a laptop

Why are work teams with proven project management principles at their fingertips, persistently overwhelmed by poorly planned projects and unplanned tasks? Why does today's average office worker spend just 46 percent of each day performing their primary job duties? Often, the culprit is ad-hoc requests.

Because ad-hoc projects often happen outside of standard processes, they can quietly erode team productivity without anyone noticing—and the effects can be disastrous.

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What are ad-hoc projects?

An ad-hoc project is used to describe work that has been formed or used for a special and immediate purpose, without previous planning. Mid-project and ad-hoc requests can come from unexpected reports, project and product updates, last-minute reviews, quick emails—even coworkers walking over to your desk.

"Ad hoc" is a Latin phrase that literally translates to "for this" or "for this situation." In other words, it refers to things that are specific, non-generalizable, non-repeatable.

Why track ad-hoc projects?

As long as you're efficiently executing on projects, what's the big deal about leaving those ad-hoc projects untracked? Isn't it more effort than it's worth to log a random ad-hoc project into your system?

There are actually wide-ranging benefits to finally shining a spotlight on all the extra ad-hoc tasks your team completes. Once project managers start logging everything into a comprehensive work management system, they'll be able to:

Most people have major improvements to make in how they clarify, manage, and renegotiate their total inventory of projects and actions. If you let yourself get caught up in the urgencies of the moment, without feeling comfortable about what you're not dealing with, the result is frustration and anxiety.

What's the best way to track ad-hoc projects?

The market is glutted with task-tracking systems that make it easy to monitor these kinds of unpredictable, unplanned ad-hoc projects. And there are hundreds of project management solutions designed to help teams organize and execute complex, planned projects.

But there are very few systems like Workfront that can integrate both, enabling teams to track comprehensive projects alongside these random "surprise" ad-hoc requests.

A comprehensive work management solution is the best way to go. But even if you don't have one in place yet, the four core principles that follow will supercharge your team's productivity, no matter what system you use.

1. Stop accepting “under-the-table” ad-hoc requests

No more "quick favors." No more drive-by ad-hoc requests. Think of tasks the way you think of financial transactions—nothing is allowed to happen off the books. Every single task must be documented and accounted for and submitted with a project request form

2. Standardize your request management processes

Rather than accepting work requests via email, voicemail, sticky note, hallway conversation, or hastily jotted down meeting notes, start managing the chaos of incoming projects, big and small, by following request management best practices and creating a project intake process.

Steps include:

  1. Creating a centralized request hub
  2. Managing and prioritizing all requests
  3. Standardizing your request template (using a creative brief or similar form)
  4. Defining project requirements and clarifying expectations

3. Create ad-hoc project blocks

Encourage each team member to regularly block out time to tackle ad-hoc work. If those one-off ad-hoc requests can be gathered together and turned into a planned combined task, they won't feel like a dozen little interruptions.

Managers who have several team members with similar or overlapping job descriptions could even designate a different person each day to be available to capture, prioritize, and complete ad-hoc requests, freeing up other team members to focus more time on their top priorities.

4. Make every task visible

If all you've been tracking so far are larger projects, the managers and executives above you may have the impression that these large projects are all you ever do—and that they seem to take a lot longer than they should.

Once you start logging smaller requests into your work queue, a much truer and more accurate picture of your team's daily contributions will take shape. Whether you do this with a work management solution or a burndown chart that's hanging on the wall (in Agile project management), make sure it catches the attention of the powers that be.

Both you and your boss should have complete visibility into what your team is working on now, where current projects stand, and how much bandwidth is left over.

Making ad-hoc projects visible

The more you can make plans that reflect what's really happening with your team—by making invisible work visible, creating a centralized request queue, and blocking out time for clusters of ad-hoc projects—the more flexibility you'll have to make adjustments and course corrections when things inevitably begin to go awry.