Flexibility: A nuisance or key to providing good service?

We have all experienced it; we had the day's work planned down to the last minute then something happens to turn it upside down. Do we stick to the plan or should we change them at a moment's notice?

We have all experienced it: we had the day’s work planned down to the last minute then something happens to turn it upside down. Do we stick to the plan or do we change it at a moment’s notice?


Today was a good example. I had planned to do all the city center jobs in the morning and take the quiet jobs in the country in the afternoon. I was just finishing the last of the city jobs when another call came in. It was not on the route I had planned but further away from home. I looked at the call, it was a customer who relied on their machine to get their work done, and it was not working at all. The next person I was due to see was less urgent; it was a printer that was working but making a squeaking noise. Reviewing priorities is, or should be, an ongoing process, stopping only when you are dealing with a particular customer’s problems. In between calls you should be prepared to alter your plans at a moment’s notice.

As it was, the new call was a very simple matter, dealt with in minutes, and I was soon on my way to the squeaky printer, armed with a cleaning rag and a can of silicone spray.

It’s a matter of keeping an eye on the big picture while dealing with the little stuff, of making decisions and not taking too long about it. There are only so many hours in a day, and you need to use them as efficiently as you can. By dealing with calls in strict order, rather than by location, you will lose the battle. In these times of the ten-dollar gallon of diesel (at UK prices), I also need to keep an eye on my mileage and have to avoid doubling back at all costs, even if it means that one job goes out of response time so that you can make it for three others.

I can usually tell how long a job is likely to take, but as anyone who has ever used a screwdriver in anger will know, there are times when that five-minute job will turn into a three-hour marathon. Conversely, when you feel that you need to reserve the entire morning for a job, you can sometimes be out on the road again before the tea is cool enough to drink.

That’s when it is important to build flexibility into your plans. Most days I start out with plan A firmly set in place, but with plan B fairly well formed and plan C out on the drawing board.

The same holds true when you work in-house. The jobs will come in, and you will have allocated a priority to them. While you are dealing with the first high-priority job, it is inevitable that another will pop up, and you will have to decide whether the new job needs to take priority or whether it would be better to complete the first task. Whether we realize it or not, we make this kind of judgement a hundred times each day, and we usually get it right.