Imagine this:

All of your servers go down. The impact is tremendous. With a complete outage, your entire business operations come to a screeching halt. The urgency to bring the systems back online becomes palpable, and the focus shifts entirely to resolving the issue.

Every passing moment feels crucial, driving your team to work relentlessly until the infrastructure is restored and fully operational, ensuring minimal disruption to your services and customer satisfaction.

In such critical situations, we naturally treat them as expedites – top priority items that demand immediate attention, even if it means suspending the rest of the work items in progress.

Now, here’s an important question: If your highest paying client makes a request, is this an expedite? If the work is coming in from the person who shouts the loudest, does this classify as an expedite request?

The answer is no, they don’t. Let me explain why.

The Importance of Navigating Urgent Requests

Having expedite work items in your system can be detrimental to your performance. Expedites delay the rest of the work. They put your team under stress, causing multitasking and context switching and therefore decrease their productivity. Ultimately, they jeopardize your ability to make reliable data-driven delivery commitments.

Here is the thing. You should only consider critical business items as expedites, and it’s crucial to minimize the number of expedites in your workflow as much as possible.

Here is how I want you to think about it:

Every time you say yes to something urgent, you’re saying no to something else at the same time. When you prioritize an expedite, you (intentionally or unintentionally) slow down other work items.

If the expedite items constantly take over and borrow time from the rest of the work, it will severely impact the stability of your delivery system. You won’t be able to make reliable forecasts, and your standard items will experience constant delays.

So, if this sounds familiar, and you see yourself having multiple priority levels of expedite tickets, there is a simple strategy you can implement to head your improvement efforts in the right direction.

How to Minimize the Impact of Expedite Work

To mitigate the impact expedites have on your ability to deliver on your commitments, there is only one thing you have to do – reduce them as much as possible.

“Easier said than done, Sonya!” I hear you, and I see where you’re coming from.

Here’s where you get started:

Build your board design in a way that doesn’t give special treatment to expedite work.

For example, if you have an expedite swimlane, deprecate it as early as tomorrow morning! I’ve seen many managers make this mistake, and if not managed properly, expedite work can overpower the standard flow of work altogether.

Kanban board with expedite swimlane

Having an expedite swimlane on your board directly communicates to your team that you have an alternative flow for expedite items. It tells them that it is okay to let work age artificially in your process.

Ideally, it would be best if all our work items had the same level of urgency, and we could process them in the order they come in. But let’s face it, the world isn’t always ideal, and we often need a way to manage urgent requests effectively, or else we risk hurting our business outcomes.

So, try using Classes of Service instead. These classes help us define how urgent each request is and how we should handle them, they come with process policies and they are treated (and visualized) together with the rest of the work items.

process policies

By keeping all of your tickets together, instead of isolating those with the highest priority in a dedicated swimlane, you’ll be able to build a complete picture. You will have visibility on what you say yes and what you say no to, and you give your teams the ability to make more informed decisions.

Development process board design

By all means, don’t isolate your emergency items. What you want to do is keep all your work together. And when you come across an urgent scenario, take a moment to consider how dealing with that request might impact the other work you’ve already committed to.

Remember, when you say yes, you’re saying no to something else. Be mindful of your choices!

Here is your action item: Deprecate the expedite swimlane first thing tomorrow morning! Instead, implement Classes of Service to define urgency levels for requests and manage them together with the rest of the work items. This way, you can avoid the risk of expedite work overpowering the standard flow and improve your ability to handle urgent requests effectively.

So, my friend, thanks for tuning in. I’ll see you next week, same time and place for more managerial goodness. Bye for now!

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