Leadership

Managing Conflicts Between Creative and Reactive Work


Today I sat and

thought. I only had a handful of meetings today, so I actually took

the time to work with my team, get things moving for the week, and

even finish some of my own analysis tasks. It's hard, sometimes, to

cram all of the thinking I have to manage into a day. Which seems, I

suppose, kind of a lame thing to whine about.

However, the idea

does lead me into a far more interesting topic: how creative thought

works in an reaction dedicated environment. Creating actionable

information out of raw operational data takes a lot of sitting and

thinking. It's the kind of task you have to pick up, ponder, put

down, go get some tea, go off, pick back up, ponder, try some things

out, find they don't work, ponder, etc, ad nauseam. Meanwhile an

reactive environment emphasizes rapid response to issues, hopefully

before the escalate into disasters. The tasks come in and go out at

a fearsome rate, usually with hastily constructed workaround wrapped

around them.

Now, I don't know

about anyone else, but I have trouble really digging into a creative

analysis when I have to react to incidents ten or more times a day.

Incident resolution is all about the quick fix; you have to get the

user up and running as fast as humanly possible without breaking

anything else. Creative analysis is about the steady application of

thought to isolate and ferret out the problems causing the issues

uncovered by incidents; it takes huge amounts of time for potentially

very little gain.

In my case,

though, I'm not just worried about my own psychological hang-ups.

I'm pondering how my team works and what I can do to help them

achieve greater throughput. My job isn't just about doing; it's

about making sure my team knows what needs to happen and can actually

do their jobs.

Recently I've

taken on kind of a “sorter” role, as I've mentioned earlier. I

organize the serious issues and dole them out to the appropriate

resources. This approach works reasonably well for keeping the fires

at bay, but does little to further stabilize the environment. To do

that I need to get my team focused in on the problems, working in a

creative rather than reactive mode, and building serious resolutions.

I don't know if I

can do it with my entire team though. Just to start off with, they

worked in a purely reactive environment for years before I arrived.

Reactive activity is addictive; not only does it give you an

adrenalin rush but it also stops you from having to plan out your

next activities. It shortens your time horizon to the next major

disaster and you can just kind of coast from day to day without

really pushing your own limits.

More importantly,

I cannot change the environment. I need to build strength, either in

my team or in another team, to absorb some of the reactive work while

we reach out to resolve problems. Culturally that will pose us with

a major challenge. Politically I don't have the resources to pull it

off. Practically...well, that's a different story. I think I have

the support of my peers in pulling together a much stronger response

than our previous approach.

Unfortunately the

change will not solve my immediate problem. I will still have to

sacrifice some of my team to reactive work every week. There's

enough of it that it could consume two FTEs if I let it. Right now I

divide that into one FTE and two halves, with the remaining halves

devoted to creative activities and project work. That drives the

team members stuck in that half-way role insane, though, and I'm not

sure what to do about it.

I'll probably feel

better once I get my senior resource back. He's off on vacation this

week, after spending the last seven weeks being eaten up by a

project. I need some backup on all of this analysis work. I'm

decent at it most days but it takes too long to get though it all.

We got more done on Friday last week (when he stopped by the office

to idle away the last day before vacation) than I got done all the

previous week.

Which makes me

wonder if I'm pursuing this all wrong. Maybe the answer is not to

worry about shielding the team members but to make sure they work on

creative problems in teams. Hummm...if it works for snipers it might

work for us.

Or not. Something else to ponder, I guess.

2 comments
linpei_zhang
linpei_zhang

Your problem is typical. The more you work on reactive works, the less you can spend time on creative works. The IT Management best practices, ITIL, have some good recommendations for you. You need two processes. One is called "Incident Management" to manage your pressing issues and try to fix them as soon as quickly. The other is called "Problem Management" which focus on finding out the root cause, eliminate the root course and prevent similar problem from happening. For more details, you can look at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITIL

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