Is there a name, a study, a blog post about the management failure to give clear priorities and objectives?

I experience this every day. My boss gives me long term deadline that I discuss with him. We agree to it. They are correct deadlines. Then during development he comes with many other new super urgent requests that interfere with main development.

At the end I'm late on all my deliverables. I cannot reach my deadlines.

  • There isn’t really a single word for that. As written, your post looks more like a rant than a clearly answerable question. What is your role? Other than expressing your (probably justified) frustration, what aspect of this are you hoping to resolve?
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 17:48
  • @ToddA.Jacobs - I think he's looking for Change Management. Commented May 10, 2020 at 11:38
  • ?SNAFU? Reality? The world we live in? An opportunity to begin job search? If management wants to allocate their development resources to ensure that nothing ever gets done, that is their privilege. The PM's job is to estimate the impact of each change on schedule, cost, and quality.
    – MCW
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 11:08

6 Answers 6


Management by surprise.

One thing you might try is each time your boss comes in with new urgent tasks you ask him: "Which of the tasks we have already agreed on should I drop in exchange for the new one?"


  • Even though this is not the most ideal solution, it's still a good starting point.
    – Adriano
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 7:41
  • @Adriano: What is the most ideal solution then?
    – kritzel_sw
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 8:25
  • @kritzel_sw institutional change Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 0:35

By this brief description, it sounds like you company is busy, has a strong client base and healthy demand; it sounds like your company is staffed lean and mean; and deadlines are not a critical success factor, i.e., your clients are still providing a healthy demand despite their work being delayed. Perhaps your company is bringing in a healthy profit, as well. If my assumptions are correct, then I would label your scenario as "normal."

Every now and again, you get a product or a company or an individual with such a unique value proposition that customers are willing to stand in a line in the rain to get. Bringing in additional talent can certainly drive revenues up but there is a point where additional talent no longer yields that growth; it is the point of diminishing returns. Perhaps your leadership has determined that is where your talent utilization is and made a decision to maintain current levels of talent and allow deadlines to slide as there is little to no downside to client relations and satisfaction.

I am making huge assumptions here but wanted to bring another point of view or another possibility in the mix of answers.


Disclaimer: This comes from my experience on the financial sector. It may or may not be applied to other areas, as some expressions are very common on specific industries but not used in others.

Fire-fighting management.

As described by this hbr.org article, firefighting is the working "model" where

Managers and engineers rush from task to task, not completing one before another interrupts them. Serious problem-solving efforts degenerate into quick-and-dirty patching. Productivity suffers. Managing becomes a constant juggling act of deciding where to allocate overworked people and which incipient crisis to ignore for the moment.


I found "state of perpetual emergency" used in multiple contexts to describe this. An article that I recommend that describes this in the context of software development is "Catch the Pig!". https://pragprog.com/magazines/2011-05/catch-the-pig

Ask: "Do you think that there will be a day any time soon that is less busy than today" to get work done? So: "Shall we do the right thing today or never?"


Change Management seems to be the concept you're looking for.

In short: There needs to be some clearly defined procedure for requesting a change in priorities or objectives.

Since your resources seem to be static (i.e. there's one of you, and you only have 8 or 9 or 24 hours a day) and your deadline seems to be static, then for every added request there needs to be something that gets removed - or delayed - since you're dealing with a zero-sum game.

Normally change management is used when dealing with 3rd parties (other teams or contractors) but the principals apply to any change requested by anybody, including your boss.

I've blogged about how there are no "small changes" to a project. The same principals apply to your workload; besides the added workload, there's an overhead involved when changing priorities and objectives.

My suggestion? Keep an easy-to-understand list of your schedule, so that when you are asked to modify it you can quickly show the consequences; a tool that displays a GANTT chart may be the easiest.


"In all my career, it has always been that way." Furthermore, I consider it to be perfectly normal! Here's where I think it's coming from:

"Surrounding the IT operation, there is a business." Sometimes a real business gets to plan, sometimes it has to respond quickly to an opportunity, and sometimes it is required to react. "That's business."

When your boss comes to you with a new urgent request, that request is urgent, and it's probably most-urgent to another stakeholder within the business ... and, it is that business which, ultimately, all of you are tasked to serve. The apparent-cacophony with which these requests sometimes come flying in is, as I just said, "normal!" (After all, you can never truthfully say that the IT business is boring ...)

Therefore, from day to day you will be dealing with competing priorities, "many balls in the air at once," the constant necessity to table work on a project-in-progress to deal with some new fire (or, something that might "close a business deal"), and to be able to do that nimbly.

"Many programmer-types" ... (and I can say this honestly because I [also ...] am *one) ... prefer to have their heads-down on one thing and to concentrate [exclusively] on that one thing. "Well, if that's you right now ... change."

Devise an accurate system whereby you can track the expected and actual progress of all of these requests, and to "simply, report" how the prioritized incoming-request stream inevitably delays each one. The most important thing for you and your management, and for his or her management, and for the various stakeholders that have an interest in everything that you are doing, is simply that "they always know." If they are always timely informed, they can be adaptable, and so can you. Of course it is your manager that primarily bears the responsibility of "dealing with the up-streams," but the timely information with which to do that comes (partially) from you.

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