Ad-Hoc Projects

Project managers taking in an ad-hoc project request at a desk with a laptop
Ad-hoc projects and requests mean different things to different teams, but every project manager needs a strategy for dealing with them. Small tasks can stack up, creating more work for your people and potentially throwing the entire project off course.

Why are 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.

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What are ad-hoc projects?

The meaning of an ad-hoc project is 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 and 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. Ad hoc work might be a side project your line manager asks you to run, alongside your main focus area or a series of small distractions.

If people in the office occasionally ask you to drop what you’re doing to help with administrative tasks or pricing, these are ad-hoc requests. Common ad-hoc work examples include:

Why track ad-hoc projects?

As long as you're efficiently executing 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 project managers 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 can happen if ad-hoc requests are untracked?

When each ad-hoc request remains untracked, it’s easy for time and money to be lost and become untraceable. If you’re wondering why a portion of the personnel budget allocated to your main project seems to have disappeared, a stack of ad hoc task requests could be the culprit.

Without tracking, an ad hoc project request can suck time and energy away from what’s important, meaning your core efforts are side-lined.

Reporting on ad-hoc projects can be so important to facilitate:

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. A successful planning phase helps you to define scope, so use these earlier decisions to decide what to track.

Several project management solutions are designed to help teams organize and execute complex 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. 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.

Every single task must be documented and accounted for and submitted with a project request form. Each individual ad-hoc request stacks up to paint a picture of inefficiencies, so standing firm can reap rewards.

Ad-hoc project managers often find they’re called in to save the day when an issue arises that doesn’t quite fit into standard business procedures. When you are, you should:

2. Standardize your request management processes.

Rather than accepting work requests via email, voicemail, sticky note or hallway conversation, manage the chaos of incoming projects more effectively. Start following request management best practices and create 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. This then frees 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 get the impression 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 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 when things inevitably begin to go awry.

So-called ‘under the table’ ad hoc projects can threaten your bottom line and impact team cohesion. When things are visible, they’re more likely to seem fair. Key stakeholders can also scrutinize your plans, reducing the risk of oversights.

Using smart ad-hoc collaboration.

Collaboration is key to successful ad-hoc work. Coworkers want to know when the agenda shifts, and you also need razor-sharp processes to make communication slick and effective, once work is underway.

In person, you might pull the team into a meeting room for an afternoon. For remote teams, the software you’re using can make a big difference. With Workfront, multiple players can view data at the same time for optimal teamwork, helping manage priorities.

Report on the success of your ad-hoc project.

When a project takes off at lightning speed, it can be easy to forego the formalities. Ad-hoc projects rely heavily on reporting, however. This step allows you to measure success, learn lessons and justify your efforts to those higher up the chain.

Pull data seamlessly from your project management software to create an easily digestible log of key tasks and headline numbers. Pair with a written ad-hoc project summary and your case will be backed up even further.

Frequently asked questions.

What is the definition of an ad-hoc project?

An ad-hoc project is a term that covers work that is unplanned and potentially has a very tight deadline for completion. These are tasks that can arise during a project and happen unexpectedly.

The immediacy of these tasks, coupled with their last-minute arrival can cause disruption to teams and projects if not managed correctly.

What is an ad-hoc manager?

An ad-hoc manager is someone assigned to manage ad-hoc tasks when they happen. This person might not work on a specific project on an ongoing basis but can offer help to team members when they are coping with last-minute requests.

Having an effective ad-hoc manager can help workers focus on their assigned projects and keep on track with ongoing project work.

What are some ad-hoc work examples?

Examples of ad-hoc work will depend on your particular industry. However, you might consider any tasks outside of your usual focus or project work to be ‘ad-hoc’.

Administrative tasks, unplanned projects, meetings and catch-ups could all fall under the definition of ad-hoc work.