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The State of Unplanned Work: Key Findings

It’s a new world order: Skynet has taken over.

Just kidding. But it sometimes feels that way, doesn’t it? In the words of Marc Andreessen, software is eating the world, and technology problems are now business problems. This means developers are now the architects of the digital experience and, by extension, the customer experience—and when said developers are unable to innovate quickly, companies are more exposed to competitive threats.

The solution, however, isn’t as easy as simply innovating faster. Developers are facing an increase in the frequency of technology problems that create fire drills and outages—a phenomenon also known as unplanned work—in addition to other challenges that are growing in complexity and scope, leaving little time for innovation.

But just how much is unplanned work increasing and how does it impact teams? It’s not too hard to see why the rise in unplanned work makes it more difficult for companies to deliver on heightened customer expectations, potentially resulting in severe reputational damage and risk. And with respect to company culture, unplanned work is a major cause of responder burnout.

To find out the impact unplanned work is having on teams, we surveyed 500+ executives, managers, and front-line responders around the globe to get their thoughts on unplanned work—and the results were eye-opening. See below for some trends we discovered.

It’s getting harder to deliver consistent, great customer experiences
  • Almost all (96%) respondents indicated they experience numerous hurdles to delivering good customer service, including increasingly complex IT environments, hiring and retaining skilled talent, and departmental silos.
  • More than half of companies (51%) find out about customer-impacting technology issues from customers
Tech problems are growing in volume and scale, creating more unplanned work
  • Costs of technology problems are rising—several PagerDuty customers report losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute of downtime
  • Nearly half (48%) of companies experience major technology issues each month or more often
Most tech teams are underprepared to face the rise of unplanned work
  • Companies lack mature response, with 66% notifying everyone on relevant teams, but only 48% referring to a response plan
  • Ninety percent of companies have little to no automation for technology issue resolution
Unplanned work hurts culture and retention
  • More than 1 in 3 employees have considered leaving their jobs due to unplanned work
  • There’s a strong disparity between individuals and companies regarding acceptable levels of unplanned work, which can indicate cultural and retention issues

Those are pretty shocking numbers, but don’t worry, it’s not all bad news out there. There is a solution: (thoughtful) automation can measurably mitigate the impact of unplanned work and is correlated with high-performing teams.

Our research found that companies that leverage automation see significant business benefits: they spend 20% less time on unplanned work, experience 20% higher employee retention, and experience 26% fewer stress and work-life balance issues.

Additionally, companies that make use of more automation also tend to have more mature, healthy cultures, with decreased expectations around unplanned work for employees. For instance, 43.9% of teams who selected that their company’s response processes are “Mostly Automated” view less than 10% of resources spent on unplanned work as unacceptable—a huge contrast from less automated companies, the majority of whom saw 10-75+% of time spent on unplanned work as acceptable.

Curious to learn more? Check out the full report for more trends, and take the first step toward operational maturity by considering the impacts that excessive unplanned work may be having on your teams.