Our team(s) have agreed upon timelines both by the team themselves and the clients, including a bit of extra padding in case of any mistakes.

However, the CEO of the company consistently sends requests down to these teams and wants them done immediately. While the team has no problem to complete them, and understands the hierarchy of the company (CEO request comes from the top), there are questions about how to manage the existing agreed upon timelines for our clients.

Would you consider to push back the client deadline to work immediately on the CEO request? Usually the CEO requests are 1day-1 week tasks.

Would you try and explain to the CEO that their requests must follow the same workflow as a client request?

Would you hire/train more resources to take care of these spontaneous requests?

Is it possible to sit down with the CEO and tell him exactly the same you told us?

If he keeps sending adhoc requests to your teams, you don't have other choice than mark him as a risk and schedule the customer projects accordingly: less resources for the customer and more for the adhoc situations. Be honest with him, and discuss the situation. I don't know him, but based on my experience, CEOs are reasonable persons: if you tell them that their actions may risk customer deliveries they are open for suggestions and change their way of working.

The other way is to understand the circumstances.

  • Why he asks your teams to do these tasks?
  • Are those tasks necessary for the projects?
  • Who funds these tasks?
  • What would happen if you down prioritize these tasks?

+1: no matter what happens, never ever tell the customer about these issues. It is something internal and you and your company may look bad if you tell the customer that you will deliver later because of your CEO.

  • +1 for going directly to the point: be honest to the CEO, he's impacting in the company's overall performance. – Tiago Cardoso May 7 '12 at 13:53

Interference of your planned work is part of the stochastic uncertainty of all project work and should be part of your estimates and targets, to which you alluded with the "extra padding" message. I would not recommend that you tell your CEO his requests will have to be sequenced with all the others. However, if you are able to show that lowering the priority of his request will benefit his company, then by all means do so.

The better way to handle this is to build more uncertainty into your estimates and targets, which means assume your resources are available at a lesser utilization rate than what you first thought. In other words, if you scheduled assuming your resources are productive 75% of the time, reduce that to 50% and schedule accordingly. Or, extend your deadlines further right on your estimate curve. Either approach produces the same result: longer durations.

And, investigate whether additional resources are justfied based on your current op tempo of work.

With your clients, be transparent to the degree possible. Communicate early your risks and your schedule variances, mitigate where you can, set appropriate expectations. If you worked your client appropriately in the beginning, then your client should have already been aware of the risks associated with the chosen deadlines. Nothing is ever 100% certain; as business people they should know this and understand their deadlines had risk.

  • 2
    Assuming the requests coming from the CEO are tech-related, would it be wise to suggest to the CEO to go through Project Management instead of directly to the developers? – Trelo May 6 '12 at 17:26
  • @Trelo Yes, micro-management is a bad practice. – Danny Varod May 6 '12 at 17:59

I would say:

Yes, no problem, we can do those tasks for you :)

Then ask them just to direct such requests through you - or at the very least cc you -

Also, ask them to please answer just one question:-

Which of the current client task(s) / deadline(s) should I adjust in light of this new work?

This puts the emphasis back on them to make a 'real' decision (one that takes into account all factors, not just an immediate desire).

I would not 'just' hire more staff, because they will get new scheduled tasks and the CEO will likely just do the same, interrupting them in the same way. More staff can certainly help, but only in conjunction with other changes, especially things going through you.

Looking at your question and your comment to David, you actually have two issues.

The first issue is the one you asked - 'how to deal with requests from 'on high'. The second is how your team is handling those requests.

For your first question, when the requests come in, you need to evaluate how they impact the existing work, and then bring that to management and ask for them to decide priority. "If we take on this new task, our client's project will slip by x days. Is that acceptable, or can this one wait?"

The second issue - you asked if you should "suggest that the CEO go through PM instead of directly to the developers." This suggests a break in the appropriate chain of command. Yes, the CEO should be going through the PM with new requests, but if he's not, then the developers should be going to the PM and letting them know if a new task was requested.

As David said, let the CEO know how his actions are affecting his company. If he's taking you (the PM) out of the process, then he's not letting you do your job, which in the long run is costing him and the company money. Explain that 'all' requests, internal and external ned to come through the PM so they can be evaluated against the current work in progress. It' sonly in this way can you ensure that the critical things are done on time, and it's the ONLY way to avoid scope creep (which equals lost revenue).

  • 1
    Don't assume the CEO knows that he's messing with client deliverables - he probably doesn't realize it, if nobody's telling him there's a problem. – MattBelanger May 7 '12 at 0:11
  • Yes, that was my point. :) – Trevor K. Nelson May 7 '12 at 15:33

Would you consider to push back the client deadline to work immediately on the CEO request? Usually the CEO requests are 1day-1 week tasks.

This really depends, but in general no I wouldn't. Here is why. Ultimately, your client is the one who generates income for your company. No client, no business. Yes, it's the CEO, but unless there is a specific reason for him bumping client requests, then it needs to go through the proper channels. If you make clients angry by pushing deadlines, then eventually they are going to go someplace else. It makes you and the company look bad by not being able to deliver something you promised.

Would you try and explain to the CEO that their requests must follow the same workflow as a client request?

Yes I would. Now sometimes the CEO just won't listen, but in truth if you phrase it in terms of this is is going to affect the relationship with our clients, then he should understand. Processes exist for a reason, and the CEO should understand and respect that. Now if the CEO complete ignores this idea, then it's time to think about finding a new job. The company won't exist for an extended period of time with a mentality like that.

  • +1 on both counts. If the livelihood of the company is dependent on clients, then the client almost always comes first. Once you have made a commitment to a client, it is paramount to follow through to the best of your ability. Remember, every decision you make either builds customer confidence, or erodes customer confidence. – Dubron May 7 '12 at 18:43

Try showing the CEO a list of all the projects and tasks the teams are working on and ask him to provide guidance on how to prioritize them, including the most recent tasks that he may have requested.

Most CEOs would love for their organization to be able to give them trade-offs involved with decisions. They prefer to decide by data versus hunch. Most organizations lack the Project and Program Management maturity to do this. If you have one of these CEOs, you need to be ready with information. Be organized, and show what the cost of the request is. Be up front to them, and show what damage to the existing projects

If your CEO does not want data then you need to find ways to influence them early on before the decisions get made. Perhaps it's just a more political organization, but you have to deal with it.

In both cases you need to plan for this. If you're spending 10% of your time reacting to CEO requests, you need to save 20% of your capacity, because you never know when the request will come from above. Many times the requests are valid, so it's not reasonable to expect it to never happen.

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