Unplanned Work: How it Keeps You From Your Goals


Organizations of any type, including cities, engage in three types of work: business, internal, and unplanned. Business work is anything the city does that provides value to its customers—the public. This work would include capital projects, providing utilities, offering online bill payments, maintaining parks, and so on. Internal work consists of the workflows and systems for delivering the business work in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

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 For example, to maintain a park, you would create a mowing schedule. You would source the right equipment after determining what and how much is needed. Finally, you would assess how much labor you required to hire and train to maintain the park.

The last type of work, unplanned work, is a beast that can inhibit both business and internal work. Unplanned work includes the issues, incidents, or problems that arise at importune times. For example, if you arrived at the park and your mower broke down, causing you to spend the next several hours troubleshooting it—this is unplanned work.

Let’s count the ways Unplanned Work negatively impacts your organization:

  1. There are only so many working hours in the day. If something unplanned pops up, it’ll replace something else, which causes a ripple effect that disrupts other business and internal work timelines.
  2. Unplanned work does not happen in isolation; it comes from all areas within your organization. This compounding effect causes missed deadlines, missed objectives, and unhappy people.
  3. Regarding unhappy people, too much sustained unplanned work can decrease morale, increase anxiety and stress, and lead to higher staff turnover.
  4. Your customers feel and see the disruption. Unplanned work drives their satisfaction down and their calls to you up, which causes more unplanned work. It’s a negative feedback loop.

Pause for a moment while reading this article and think about all the different types of unplanned work that disrupts your day. How hard does it become to get your essential work done? And if you have a deadline, what kind of stress does this disruption cause you? Ever worked late or come in on the weekend to “catch up” due to unplanned work?

Can you rid yourself of unplanned work? Unfortunately, no. But you can tame it and mitigate its impact. Here are three ways to conquer unplanned work in your city:

Plan for it

Block time in your schedule for both planned and unplanned work. Then stick to it. If you know most of your customer service calls happen between 8 – 9 am and then 1 – 2 pm, adjust your schedule and secure time to handle those calls. Check your email at set times. Designate time to work on your fund accounting tasks, and put a Do Not Disturb on your phone and door. You may be thinking “I can’t do that!” Why not? Others may not like it at first, but you’ll train them to respect your schedule, especially when they see the results that you are achieving. Also, don’t be surprised if they copy it.

Create Lanes

In my experience, creating lanes is the most effective method for overcoming the impact of unplanned work. Unplanned work is reactionary work, so think of it as an inbound lane. Planned work is an outbound lane because it provides value to others. Organizations often have one path to handle both inbound and outbound work. What happens when two cars speed towards each other? You need to create an inbound lane and an outbound lane. For example, you designate someone in Public Works to be “on-call” for a day to handle anything unplanned that arises. Or, someone in the Clerk’s office handles all calls, requests, and walk-ins during the morning. Then you rotate with someone else. Now you have someone that will handle the unplanned work so that others can focus on the planned work and move your city forward!

Use Technology

Modern technology, like cloud software tools, can automate or lift the burden of unplanned work. Do your customer calls typically repeat the same five questions? Create a chatbot on your website that can interact with customers and answer those questions for you. The customer will think they are speaking to a live, responsive person! The bot solves their problem, and they are satisfied. You can offer more self-serve options, like FrontDesk, for your residents where they can access the services they need 24/7, reducing calls and traffic in City Hall.

Creating a system to mitigate unplanned work can seem overwhelming. You have to take a step back, assess, determine a course of action, and then put it into place. That is a lot of upfront work, which can temporarily worsen results. But it is temporary, and you’ll begin to see, and more importantly, feel the results of your efforts.

Start small. Block some of your time or create a lane to handle one type of unplanned work. Build and expand your mitigation efforts from there. Good luck—it works!

At gWorks, we have the software solutions, professional services, and expertise to help you every step of the way. Connect with an expert today to find out how we can help you.

About the Author: Joe Heieck is the President & CEO of gWorks in Omaha, NE. gWorks is the creator of SimpleCity® Cloud Physical Asset Management software, SimpleCity Desktop Fund Accounting Applications, FrontDesk, and related professional services. gWorks is a Partner of the Iowa League of Cities.