Managing Unplanned Work: A Guide for Product Teams

Mar 19, 2024

One of the biggest challenges for product teams is managing unexpected work, such as bug reports from customers and requests from other departments. These issues vary in scope, priority, and importance, making them difficult to fit into a team's planned work. Additionally, they often come from different sources, making it hard to understand the context and communicate effectively with the creators of these issues.

Some common examples of these issues include:

  • Bug reports from customers

  • Requests from sales, marketing, or other departments

  • Issues filed by colleagues outside of your team, who lack the necessary context to assign or prioritize them

Without a clear process, unplanned work can overwhelm your team, leading to lost issues, cluttered work queues, and distractions from higher priority tasks. To address this challenge, It’s essential to establish a clear process for managing unplanned work by implementing a triage process that centralizes all incoming requests and routes them to the correct team.

Building a triage process

A triage process typically involves three key areas, each of which can be systemized and automated using best practices.

  1. Do we want to do this work?

    • It's important to be definitive about whether the work aligns with the team's goals. If not, the issue should be closed with honest and courteous feedback. Keeping the backlog reflective of intended work is crucial.

  2. How important is it to us (Priority) and when do we want it done (Schedule)?

    • Priority and schedule are closely related concepts in the standard workflow. Understanding the importance and urgency of each issue is essential for effective prioritization.

  3. Who should own it?

    • Assigning ownership ensures accountability. It's crucial not to overload individuals with excessive work and to clearly mark unassigned work for visibility.

Following these best practices helps build an effective triaging process for your team. Integrating Monterey’s triage with existing tools and workflows can further streamline the process.

Best practices for effective triage

1. Lower the friction to file

A good triage process should make it easy for anyone to file new issues without encountering unnecessary barriers. Integration with your team members’ current workflows and commonly used tools can facilitate seamless issue creation.

With Monterey triage, there is no special process to follow when filing issues to another team. Simply create an issue; if you aren't a member of the assigned team, the issue will go to the workspace's Snippets.

2. Route issues to one place

All new issues should be directed to a shared team inbox, separate from active or prioritized work queues. This ensures clarity in prioritization and prevents scope creep.

In Monterey, new issues are assigned a Triage workflow status and all go to the shared team inbox, Snippets. These issues do not show up in the backlog or active issue lists, though you can update view options to include them in issue views.

3. Assign and notify team members

Designating individuals responsible for reviewing and prioritizing new issues ensures timely attention and action. Clear ownership is essential for effective triage.

The assigned team member can monitor the workspace Snippets by looking at the count of issues in the sidebar and sort using advanced filters. They can also configure notifications so they're notified of new issues in triage, and get a notification in their personal inbox and connected tools.

4. Review issues regularly

Establishing standards for reviewing and prioritizing issues, along with clear communication of these standards, ensures a consistent and efficient process. Triage features can facilitate quick actions and communication within the team.

Quick actions and built-in details encourage you to add a note when closing issues or to leave comments when you need more clarity. When merging issues, the links and key details are carried over for you.

Enable support automations

If you use ZendeskIntercom, or Front, we recommend checking out the integration and using it in combination with Triage.

Any customer support-related concerns raised through the integration will be directed to triage, ensuring that an engineer will promptly address the issue. These integrations streamline tracking of key customer issues for the support team and facilitate seamless communication with the engineering team for prompt resolution. It's easy to close the feedback loop with customers, too, since conversations re-open when Monterey issues are closed. Learn more

By implementing a robust Triage process and leveraging its features, product teams can effectively manage unplanned work, maintain clarity in prioritization, and ensure that all incoming requests are addressed in a timely and organized manner. With seamless integrations and clear ownership, triage can become a valuable asset in streamlining workflows and optimizing team productivity.