Skip to main content
  1. Learn
  2. Project management
  3. Posts
  4. A guide to managing ad-hoc projects

A guide to managing ad-hoc projects

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

December 06, 2023

While ad-hoc requests are fine when your schedule’s looking light, they’re not so fun when deadlines are closing in. It’s easy to wave away unscheduled items in theory, but ad-hoc projects do have their place in the world of project management.

From new trends to global pandemics — things change, and being able to adapt to that effectively is a skill worth having. 

What is ad-hoc work?

An ad-hoc project is a one-time, unique initiative specifically designed to address a particular problem or need that falls outside the realm of regular business activities. These projects emerge suddenly, often in response to an urgent requirement, and are not part of the routine workflow or long-term planning.

Unlike standard projects, ad-hoc projects are characterized by their lack of precedent. 

They’re not recurring or routine but are instead formed out of necessity, often in response to an unforeseen challenge or an exceptional opportunity. This means they call for a different approach. They are usually initiated with a specific goal in mind and are disbanded once you’ve achieved that goal. 

What does an ad-hoc request look like?

Ad-hoc requests: 

  • Demand swift action 
  • Come with tight deadlines 
  • Are high impact
  • Require immediate attention and resources 
  • Lack detailed planning 
  • Often rely on fast decision-making 
  • Are unplanned but require structure 
  • Rely on effective leadership and good communication
  • Have one goal and are disbanded once that goal is met. 

Ad-hoc projects: real-world examples

So, what ad-hoc requests are you likely to encounter in the workplace? They can be roughly categorized into the following six groups. 

1. Crisis management initiatives

Imagine a company facing a natural disaster or a major system failure. Here, an ad-hoc project might involve creating an emergency response team or developing a rapid communication strategy. Remember the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic? Many businesses had to launch ad-hoc projects to adapt to remote working or to repurpose manufacturing for essential supplies.

2. Special client requests

In service industries, ad-hoc projects often stem from unique client demands. Picture a marketing firm tasked with crafting a highly specialized campaign for a niche market. These projects call for innovative thinking to meet specific, sometimes unusual, client needs.

3. Event management

Organizing a one-off event, like a major product launch or a high-profile corporate celebration, is a classic example of an ad-hoc project. These require meticulous planning for a specific, often fleeting goal, demanding intense coordination and a dedicated focus.

4. Technology implementation

With technology evolving at breakneck speed, companies sometimes need to launch ad-hoc projects to upgrade systems or implement new software urgently. These are typically fast-tracked to keep operations running smoothly and securely.

5. Research and development projects

In sectors like tech or pharmaceuticals, a sudden market shift or an unexpected breakthrough can trigger ad-hoc R&D projects. These are aimed at rapidly developing new products or adapting existing ones to seize new opportunities or meet emerging market demands.

6. Sudden regulatory compliance needs

Here’s another scenario: a new regulation is announced, affecting your business directly. An ad-hoc request is issued to quickly assemble a team to understand the new requirements and implement necessary changes. This team’s task is to navigate these new waters, ensuring the company complies with the regulations without disrupting ongoing operations.

The problem with ad-hoc projects 

While ad-hoc projects are essential and unavoidable, they’re not without their challenges. Let’s break down why these projects can be tricky and why keeping an eye on them is crucial.

Resource strain

Ad-hoc projects pop up out of nowhere and demand immediate attention. This can cause resource problems, pulling staff, budget, and materials away from planned projects. It’s a bit like being asked to bake a cake for a surprise guest when you’re already cooking a three-course meal.

Disruption to regular workflows

When an ad-hoc project launches, it can disrupt your team’s regular workflow. Curveballs call for fast adaptation. It can be done, but it can also throw things off rhythm.

Risk of burnout

Continuously addressing urgent ad-hoc requests might lead to team burnout. It’s important to recognize that constantly operating in emergency mode isn’t sustainable. Like running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace, it’s bound to wear people down.

Potential for scope creep

We’ve all pulled at a little thread, only to unravel more than we intended — both literally and metaphorically. Without clear boundaries, ad-hoc projects can grow beyond their initial scope. It’s important to keep a tight rein on the project’s objectives.

Difficulty tracking and measuring success

Due to their unplanned nature, ad-hoc requests tend to be harder to track and measure against success criteria. It’s a bit like trying to navigate without a map — you know your destination, but it’s hard to work out where you’re going and how far you’ve come. 

How to handle ad-hoc project requests

Dealing with ad-hoc project requests can feel like juggling while walking a tightrope. But don’t worry, it’s manageable with the right approach. Here’s a five-step guide to help you keep your balance and your sanity.

1. Assess the request

Before diving into any ad-hoc project, take a moment to assess the request thoroughly. Ask yourself:

  • What’s the goal? Identify the specific objective of the request. Is it to fix an urgent issue, respond to a client’s unique need, or comply with a sudden regulatory change?
  • Is it feasible? Evaluate whether the project is realistic, given your current resources and constraints. Can you realistically bake this surprise cake with the ingredients you have?
  • What’s the impact? Consider the potential impact of the project. Will it disrupt ongoing projects? Could it lead to significant benefits, like a new business opportunity or improved processes?
  • Who’s needed? Determine who in your team has the right skills for this project. You’re looking for your special ops team — those who can jump in and handle this particular challenge effectively.

2. Allocate resources wisely

Once you’ve sized up the request, it’s time to play resource Tetris. This step is all about making smart moves with the resources you have at hand. 

  • Prioritize tasks: Look at your current projects and tasks. Which ones can take a backseat? Which ones are untouchable? Prioritization is about finding that sweet spot where you can borrow resources without causing a domino effect of delays.
  • Divide and conquer: Break down the ad-hoc project into manageable tasks. Assign these to team members who have the right skills and the bandwidth to take them on. 
  • Seek additional help if needed: If the project is too big for your current team, don’t shy away from asking for extra hands. This could mean hiring temporary staff, bringing in freelancers, or reallocating staff from other less urgent projects.
  • Monitor resource allocation: Keep a close eye on how resources are being used as the project progresses. 

3. Establish clear goals and deadlines

Setting clear goals and deadlines guides your team every step of the way. This clarity is crucial for ad-hoc projects, which can otherwise spiral into confusion.

  • Define specific objectives: Start by specifying what success looks like for this project. What’s the end goal? It’s important to make sure everyone knows what they’re aiming for.
  • Set realistic deadlines: Ad-hoc projects often require quick turnarounds, but it’s important to set achievable deadlines. Think of it as setting the timer for a race — challenging but not impossible.
  • Plan for checkpoints: Establish regular check-ins or milestones. These act like signposts along the way, helping the team stay on track and adjust course if needed.

4. Monitor progress regularly

Regular monitoring helps you navigate these unpredictable projects smoothly. 

  • Set up regular check-ins: Schedule frequent updates with the team. This doesn’t have to be lengthy meetings. Even quick stand-ups can do the trick. It’s all about staying connected and on top of things.
  • Use project management tools: Leverage tools and software designed for project management. It’s invaluable for tracking tasks, deadlines, and overall progress. It’s like having a dashboard that gives you a quick view of how your car is performing while you’re driving.
  • Be ready to adjust: One of the hallmarks of ad-hoc projects is their fluidity. Be prepared to make changes as you go along. This could mean reallocating resources, tweaking goals, or even redefining the project scope.
  • Communicate openly: Encourage open communication within the team. The more informed everyone is about the project’s progress and any hurdles, the more effectively they can work together to navigate these challenges.

5. Review and learn

Wrapping up an ad-hoc project isn’t just about crossing the finish line. It’s also about looking back to see how you got there. Think of it as a chef tasting a dish after it’s cooked — you want to understand what worked and what could be better.

  • Conduct a project review: Once the project is completed, gather your team for a debrief. Discuss what went well and what didn’t. 
  • Identify lessons learned: Every ad-hoc project, regardless of its outcome, is a learning opportunity. What insights can you gather about resource allocation, team dynamics, or project management practices?
  • Document the process: Keep a record of the steps taken, challenges faced, and solutions found. This documentation is a valuable resource for future ad-hoc projects. 
  • Share feedback across the organization: Don’t keep the learnings to yourself. Share them with other departments or teams. This helps the entire organization grow and improve.

When to push back on ad-hoc projects

While managing ad-hoc projects effectively is important, it’s also crucial to know when to push back. If not kept in check, constantly fielding ad-hoc requests can become exhausting and ultimately unproductive.

  • Evaluate the necessity: Before accepting an ad-hoc project, critically assess its necessity. Is it truly urgent or important? It’s about distinguishing between what’s genuinely critical and what can wait or be integrated into regular workflows.
  • Set boundaries: It’s okay to set limits on how many and what kind of ad-hoc projects your team takes on. You’re like the bouncer deciding which guests to let into an already bustling party.
  • Advocate for planning and processes: Encourage a culture where planning and standard processes are valued by all. This should reduce the frequency of ad-hoc requests. 
  • Communicate the impact: If ad-hoc projects are becoming too frequent or disruptive, communicate this to higher-ups or stakeholders. It’s important they understand the impact on the team’s well-being and overall productivity.

Get project management software on your side

In the whirlwind world of ad-hoc projects, project management software can be your anchor. Here’s how it helps.

  • Streamlining communication: These tools act like a central communication hub, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. No more lost emails or missed messages — it’s all there in one place, like a virtual bulletin board for your team.
  • Organizing tasks and deadlines: Project management software lets you break down projects into manageable tasks, assign them to team members, and set deadlines. Just like having a personal assistant, it keeps track of everything for you, so nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Tracking progress in real-time: With dashboards and progress trackers, you can see at a glance how the project is moving along and make timely adjustments as needed. 
  • Facilitating resource allocation: These tools can help you allocate and monitor resources efficiently, ensuring that you’re using your team’s time and skills wisely. Better still, it does it all for you, so no more head-scratching. 
  • Documenting and storing project information: All documents, notes, and important information can be stored in one place. This makes it easy to find what you need when you need it — no more digging through folders and files.
  • Better decision-making: With all project-related information and progress metrics at your fingertips, you can make informed decisions quickly.

In short, project management software doesn’t just help manage ad-hoc projects. It’s a vital tool in the modern project manager’s arsenal, helping turn chaos into clarity. Try it for free today! 



Subscribe to our newsletter

Learn with Nulab to bring your best ideas to life