Before adding more work, ask what people are working on

I was recently handed the "gift" of a very aggressive deadline. It happens, you don't set the date - it gets set for you. (Ironically, Johanna Rothman just wrote a short bit on that topic on her blog.)

When aggressive deadlines get set for you, if you're like most managers, you start to ask questions to see how realistic the dates are and you try figure out what exactly you can and can't get done in that time frame. When I do that, I ask my team to help. I often pull people in early, and ask them to start looking into what testing we need to do, what environments we'll need, what data, what... you get the idea.

An important question I ask before I start to pile on more work (because any time I ask a question, I'm likely asking for more work), is what they are currently working on. Sometimes I'm surprised by the answer. I have a fairly self-organizing team, and they juggle a lot between themselves without checking with me first. So by asking first, I can keep myself from becoming my own biggest problem.

Before adding more work, ask what people are working on. Then, if they have too much, work with them to prioritize what needs to be done first, and what can fall off their plate.