Learn How to Handle Ad Hoc Projects Effectively

Unexpected projects that crop up requiring immediate attention are the bane of many project managers’ existence.

Known as ad hoc projects, these unplanned requests can wreak havoc on the most meticulous plans and carefully managed schedules.

Though tracking ad hoc work may seem trivial, failing to do so can have serious consequences including inaccurate workload analysis, poor resource management, and lack of insight into your team’s capacity.

In this article, you’ll learn in detail what ad hoc projects are, how to handle them properly to minimize disruptions, and the critical importance of monitoring ad hoc tasks just like any other work.

What Are Ad Hoc Projects?

Ad hoc projects are unplanned, unexpected assignments that arise suddenly outside of normal workstreams. Often prompted by an urgent issue or business need, these one-time tasks don’t go through usual project planning and approval workflows.

Ad hoc projects tend to be reactive rather than proactive and demand immediate attention, disrupting planned projects and resources.

Ad hoc work may be needed to mitigate risks, exploit opportunities, or satisfy important stakeholders. But with little lead time or visibility, ad hoc projects can lack oversight and strain productivity.

Despite being short-term and localized, ad hoc assignments consume considerable time and effort. Without proactive management, they also pose wider business risks.

Learning to handle ad hoc requests smoothly while minimizing impact is an essential project management skill. Tracking this unscheduled work also provides data to improve processes.

Characteristics of Ad Hoc Projects

Ad hoc projects have some distinct characteristics that set them apart from planned, strategic work. Being aware of these traits helps you recognize and manage ad hoc projects appropriately.

Some common characteristics of ad hoc projects include:


Ad hoc projects are by definition unscheduled – they arise reactively from a sudden issue or request. With no prior warning, you cannot prepare teams and resources in advance which makes ad hoc projects disruptive.


Stakeholders often insist ad hoc projects are extremely time-pressured, demanding resources to drop everything to deliver ASAP.

However, this perceived urgency may be exaggerated beyond the real business priority, so clarify the real deadline and push back if necessary.


With little notice and prep time, ad hoc projects bypass normal planning, risk analysis, and resource allocation. This lack of process exposes them to issues. Try to implement at least basic project controls quickly.


Ad hoc projects tend to be one-off, temporary efforts targeting a specific deliverable. This limited scope can mask their impact on wider plans and productivity so make sure to track them.


Ad hoc work is often seen as a casual favor, not a formal project. This means it slips under the radar for governance and monitoring. But track these hidden hours to understand their cost.

What are the Problems with Ad Hoc Projects?

As earlier iterated, ad hoc projects can wreak havoc on carefully laid plans and processes. Understanding the pitfalls of unscheduled work allows you to control the risks and chaos effectively.

Some common problems with ad hoc projects are:


With no warning, ad hoc projects disrupt planned workflows, forcing the reallocation of resources abruptly. This derails focus, stalls other projects, and stresses teams who must juggle priorities.

Poor Planning

The urgent nature of ad hoc projects means they often bypass scoping, requirements gathering, risk analysis, and resource planning. This lack of diligence exposes them to quality, budget, and timeline issues.

Limited Visibility

Because ad hoc tasks go “under the radar”, they reduce leadership visibility into workstreams. With no central tracking, it’s hard to see skills gaps or capacity shortfalls developing.


The constant unexpected demands of ad hoc work sabotage productivity, as resources struggle to stay focused on strategic goals. This causes missed deliverables, attrition, and burnout over time.

Uncontrolled Risk

Skipping project best practices like risk management and contingency budgeting leaves ad hoc efforts vulnerable to problems. The business must absorb any budget/time overruns.

How to Handle Ad Hoc Projects

When faced with an ad hoc project request, you can minimize disruption and risk with some smart management tactics. The key is balancing responsiveness with strategic thinking.

Here are some tips on handling ad hoc projects:

Assess Urgency

Clarify if the request is truly as time-pressured as the stakeholder claims. Compare this against other priorities and push back on unrealistic deadlines if needed.

Analyze Impact

Quickly evaluate how the ad hoc project would impact resource availability and existing deliverables if approved. Then suggest alternatives if the impact is unacceptable.

Apply Project Controls

Rapidly run through project planning basics like scoping, scheduling, risk analysis, and resource allocation. This takes some pressure off, despite the tight timeframe.

Limit Scope Creep

Keep ad hoc project scope minimalist and focused only on must-have items. Say no to scope changes not absolutely critical to address the immediate issue.

Carefully Allocate Resources

Don’t pull your A-players from complex projects. Find people with availability and reassign work thoughtfully. Leverage project management tools to ease reallocation.

Track Progress Closely

Monitor the ad hoc work just like any formal project. This allows you to keep it on track and have data about the hidden hours consumed.

Benefits of Tracking Ad Hoc Projects

At first tracking ad hoc work seems like extra effort for little reward. But maintaining detailed records of these unscheduled projects has tangible benefits including:

Informed Decision-Making

Capturing data on ad hoc projects allows leadership to make smarter resourcing and capacity decisions based on a true picture of work volumes.

Improved Processes

Analyzing the recurring ad hoc projects affecting certain teams can reveal gaps and inefficiencies in planning and risk management processes.

Greater Visibility

Recording ad hoc time demonstrates your team’s commitment and workload, especially when projects go over capacity. This can justify extra hires.

Increased Efficiency

Looking at past ad hoc efforts helps estimate and plan future ill-defined projects faster. Tracking data aids continuous improvement.

Enhanced Reporting

Including ad hoc metrics provides context around delays, budget overruns, missed deliverables, etc caused by constant unexpected work.

You mustn’t view ad hoc tracking as more work – rather view it as an investment in better project control and team collaboration.


Ad hoc projects will continue to disrupt even the most organized teams. But you can reduce their damage by quickly assessing urgency, limiting scope, and tracking the impact on planned work.

With proactive processes for unscheduled requests and vigilant monitoring, you can smooth resource allocation, enhance visibility, and improve forecasting.

Don’t let the unexpected derail productivity – get ad hoc projects under control with Agile management. Then harness the data to boost efficiency across projects through better planning.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified project manager professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced project managers and product developers the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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