I have been in my current position as UX / UI designer at an in-house insurance design agency for just over a year. Prior to my arrival my line manager, who is a designer himself handled this aspect of the agency's work.

People really like my work, mostly on the UI side (As I don't have much time for proper UX work, like testing), I have developed an in-house design system and standardized 10+ products while working closely with developers to ensure good implementation. Clients are universally happy with the work and say their workflows have improved dramatically.

The Issue

However, I find myself becoming overwhelmed by a growing number of stakeholders and requests. Since BAs, Clients, and Developers from past projects require continuous support, I find its becoming harder to concentrate for longer periods of time due to frequent interruptions to deal with 'urgent' issues.

The key issue for me is continuing to deliver high-quality work for a large range of clients, while my schedule keeps getting highjacked by unexpected requests. Since these requests usually come from senior stakeholders, my line manager asks me to address them first, since "They'll only take 15 min". Not really considering switching costs or the fact that these tasks usually take at least 2 hours.

For example

A Project manager may come to me with a request to change an illustration for a login background on our most important project to incorporate elements of the Singapore skyline (since the product is being rolled out there).

The request will usually originate from an off-the-cuff remark from the CEO during one of the weekly demos.

I will usually make the PM aware of the fact that I have a high workload with other deadlines being missed if his request is done first. He will then go to my Line Manager, who will come to me with the request asking to spend 15 min.

After I spend the minimum amount of time necessary to complete the request, my line manager will typically expand the brief or increase the complexity in order to "Push me to do my best work" (even if the original PM and client are happy with the results). After I implement his feedback I am forced to spend an entire afternoon iterating on the design, eventually missing my deadlines.

Attempted solutions

I have raised this issue with my line manager, telling him that I am unable to manage my current workload. His suggested solution was to begin outsourcing some work to our supplier in India. But beyond the fact that the supplier's work is generally of low quality, he has so far not sent through any design briefs to them (as he is too busy) despite numerous reminders and my having done a decent draft brief as well as created an easy to use a template and a guide to the design system.

I have also informed all my other stakeholders of increased workload, and asked them to hold back any unnecessary work.

Final Thoughts

Overall since joining I have noticed that the organization seems much more chaotic compared to my previous employers (generally large tech companies). It seems the leadership is pushing the company to deliver multiple large projects (beyond our capacity) in the hope that one of them will be successful. But of course, the result is software that lacks key features and doesn't meet end-user expectations.

Due to a lack of focus, there is a very reactive culture among BAs and PMs.

My line manager seems to have poor time management skills and is not willing to accept trade-offs.

I am open to any suggestions, as currently, my plan is to quit after the bonus end of the year.

Apologies for the long post, but I felt the detail was necessary.

  • 2
    You already plan to quit - what other outcome are you trying to achieve? – HorusKol Oct 7 '19 at 2:34

Helpful in these situation can be a visual task tracking tool, ticket system, Jira, spreadsheet, etc.

Log every task together with a resource estimate and the deadline. Make sure you review this with your manager frequently, at least once a week. This tool should make it easy to highlight resource shortcoming. If you have 20 hours of work left to do until Friday and there are only 10 work hours left, something's got to give. Ask your manager for prioritization and making the call. "I have A,B,C & D on my plate and that's too much for this deadline. Please pick 3 out of the 4 for me to work on"

There is a typically a bit of learning curve: you may get push back against your estimates. Just keep logging the actual hours spent and compare against your estimate and that of your manager. Resolve any discrepancy on a case by case basis based on actual data and what happened. Scope creep is fairly typically: "Yes, it only takes 15 minutes to pop in a new background picture, but having it reviewed, iterated multiple times, edited and aligned with the stakeholders took another 4 hours. How would you like me to handle this in the future"

You may also get push back against making decisions. Things like "I'm sure you can do it all", "They are all equally important" . In the case you need to be firm and make the decisions yourself with your manager in the loop. "I don't see any viable way to get A,B,C and D done this week, so I will drop B for now and will inform the client accordingly. Let me know if you want me to do something else". Keep repeating, "Sorry, I can't do all of these tasks, something's got to give".

  • 3
    +1. But maybe instead of asking "which three of these four?" you should ask "which one of these should I work on first?" That lets your manager make a simpler choice. Rest assured that manager of yours is under just as much pressure from the front office to overperform as you are. – O. Jones Oct 7 '19 at 11:18
  • If all tasks are equally important, then you can do any of them first. – gnasher729 Oct 7 '19 at 13:41
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    Thanks for a solid suggestion, but I already track my tasks on a Trello board with tags for time estimates and priority and the usual Kanban. The problem is he always says he's too busy to catch-up. I also track my time in 25 Min increments in case I am challenged on – Lukas_T Oct 7 '19 at 13:45
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    If he flat-out refuses to look at your time tracking tool there is very little you can do. – Borgh Oct 7 '19 at 13:54
  • +1. Inability to prioritize is a sign of poor leadership. Imagine a computer that can't prioritize between multiple tasks and what would happen. – Time4Tea Oct 7 '19 at 14:25

The fact is that the “fifteen minute” task is in reality two hours, which then gets prolonged to one or two days by your manager. That is the problem that needs to be fixed, and not by you, but by the manager.

You should know who is waiting for what. So when your line manager comes to you again with pointless work, get the name of the first person whose job will be delayed and ask your line manager if they want to tell the person or if you should talk to them.

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