Andy Schneider (of the Get-PowerShell Blog) just posted a great blog post about a topic that is often overlooked, but can be a great source of frustration and conflict in the workplace.

This is a question that goes un-asked and un-answered all too often. So often I am in a meeting where Project Manager X asks Engineer Y, “Can you do so and so?” and the engineer says “Absolutely!” and we move on to the next item on the agenda. This is a recipe for disaster. There is no set time that this task is due. There is no promise or commitment.

One of the bigest hurdles I run across in my day job is pinning people down on when they expect certain work items to be done.  The most common response is “When you have time…” or “It’s not a priority…”.  To me, that communicates that the task is not time sensitive and can be put into the pile with the other requests/problems I have to look into.  Currently I have about 80 active items that need some sort of action in my ticketing system, plus the daily requests and fires that come up during the day.  It could be weeks or months before something with a low priority gets action (it is reviewed every week as part of my weekly review).  The requestor, though, might believe that a low priority item should be done by the end of the day or end of the week.  It becomes necessary for me to force the requestor to give me a date as to when their item is needed by; and if I don’t, it can lead to frustration on the part of the requestor and exasperation on my side, when their “low priority” item becomes a fire that needs to be put out.By the project manager not defining when the task is expected to be done and the engineer not commiting to a timeframe, the stage is set for conflict and slipped schedules.I’ve become a fan of agile practices which are growing in popularity in software development cycles, but can be applied to systems and network administration.  These practices encourage frequent communication and status updates, as well as responding quickly to changes in requirements.  None of this is possible if everyone is not clear on what is expected to be done by when.  Communication is the foundation of a smooth running process and “By when?” is a critical component of that communication. Expectations and ability to complete the task by that expected time need to become a required part of any task assignment, and both parties need to use the same, specific terminology and keep the lines of communication open if the schedule changes or the time needed to complete the task changes.


  1. 1
    Andy Schneider
    December 16th, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Hey Steve,

    Thanks for the link! We’ve been using SCRUM for our infrastructure projects lately and it has definitely helped out. There are some hurdles for sure, but the open communication and daily standups are very helpful.


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.