In this post I'll talk about a few ways that you can deal with the common influx of requests that come in for a software team.

I used to work for a large company affectionately known at the Borg. I was fortunate to work in a division of the company whose product was a software package. This essentially meant that I worked for a software company.

Borg Cube

My current employer is a mid-sized business, and we're not in the software business at all. My primary job function is writing custom software for certain customers, as well as creating the "glue"; that holds together the software packages that we have purchased.

Luckily, we're a growing company, so we're starting to have a real software development team. With that comes with the pains of getting organized, and making sure we're working on the right projects.

What do you do when the amount of work being requested from management greatly exceeds the amount of work your team can actually get done?

  1. Push back - This doesn't have to be negative. The person requesting a new software project might not understand that you're team is busy. It's common to think of an IT department as overhead. They are usually not factored into the costs of new projects. A good manager will be able to explain the situation, and either delay the request, or drop it completely.
  2. Set up monthly meetings with the key management members - This gives people a forum where they must discuss the work they're asking to be done. At this point, a good percentage of the work could disappear, because no one is willing to try to justify the importance of their project. Some of the projects that would normally be high priority are now not as important when compared relatively to all the work that needs to get done. This also gives management members time to negotiate directly with each other, and you won't be caught in the middle of it.
  3. Create a visible schedule of tasks that need to be done - When a member of management wants their work done, they can look at the schedule and see that they are not alone. If they want something done, they may have to negotiate with someone that is already on the schedule. If they can do that, they probably deserve to be on there.
  4. Associate a cost with all work to complete - For any tasks that take longer than, say, 2 hours, require that the time be charged to a particular task. That time can then be equated with money. Since your time now has a set cost associated with it, people that need your time will have to pay for it. Actually money doesn't have to be exchanged, but just associating costs will put the burden on the person requesting it. If they have to justify $100 worth of time to save $50, they might think twice.

Do you have any other tips for dealing with this situation?