The best of task management


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Ways to manage and delegate tasks effectively. This is a collection of excerpts from the blog archives 2008 - 2013 presenting top tips and advice from our professional project managers in a "best of" series now available free to download and share.

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The best of task management

  1. 1. The Best of Task ManagementA selection of professional insights from the Blog archive © 2013 All Rights Reserved 1
  2. 2. Since 2008 our project management professionals have been sharing knowledge,experience and learning with online readers via the Project Manager Blog.Their collective wisdom provides a wealth of how to, top tips and best practice advice,for project managers, teams and businesses.To make their writings more accessible we’ve created a series of “Best of” projectmanagement topics available free to download and share.Here is a collection of excerpts and insights from blog posts that discuss ways to manageand delegate tasks effectively.Enjoy!Jason Westland CEOProjectManager.comHow to Get Out of the Task Management Mentality ................................................................................. 3How to Manage Tasks ................................................................................................................................. 6Why Being Just a Task Manager is Bad Project Management .................................................................... 96 Steps to Delegate Tasks Effectively ........................................................................................................ 12How to Delegate Tasks as a Project Manager ........................................................................................... 14How to Manage Your Tasks ....................................................................................................................... 1630 Day Free Software Trial ........................................................................................................................ 17 © 2013 All Rights Reserved 2
  3. 3. How to Get Out of the Task Management MentalityEverybody loves to have a career path. You don’t start at a company in the hopes ofyear’s later doing the exact same thing you were doing on the day you started. No…youstart with a company because you want to grow, expand, push the envelope, bring valueand ultimately move up the ladder. This means more responsibility, more accountabilityand ultimately more money.What steps can you take as a project manager to get to this point of moving up in theorganization? More than anything it has to do with mindset. It has more to do with howyou view yourself and the value you bring to your company as it does the opportunitiesthat will present themselves to you. The following three mentalities are what you needto break free from to move forward:1. The task management mentality2. The 9 – 5 employee mentality3. The “can’t do” mentality1. The Task Management MentalityThe task management mentality focusesonly on the “here and now”. Being at thetop of an organization is all about breakingout of the existing way of doing things andtrying something new. Otherwise, thecompetition will. Below are a couple ofsuggestions for breaking free of the taskmanagement mentality:Look beyond the here and now – You needto see the big picture, not the immediatetask that is at hand. Sure, you may feel that what you are doing is repetitive and thesame every week. You may schedule the same project update meetings, or make surethe latest version of the plan is checked into the document repository, or even ask thesame questions week after week. But, what is this helping move forward? Are you © 2013 All Rights Reserved 3
  4. 4. working on a project that will greatly reduce expenses or allow the sales team to sellmore of your product? That’s what you need to focus on and not just the here and now.Who cares if that’s the way it’s always been done – Think about where we would be ifbrilliant creative minds such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, or Steve Jobswere content with that’s the way it’s always been done. Just because it’s been done acertain way over a long period of time doesn’t mean that it always has to be done thatway. Change the task at hand to be more efficient, productive, or effective. It’s this typeof thinking that is needed as you move up the corporate ladder.2. The 9-5 Employee MentalityI hate to say it, but I’ve worked with ProjectManagers that believe that they are on the clockonly from 9:00-5:00. It’s as if they worksomewhere mining coal and punch in when theyarrive in the morning and punch out when theyleave at the end of the day. And, you will neverfind them “on the clock” at 8:59 and certainlynot 5:01.You may carry some of the bad habits ormentalities from other departments depending upon how you came up through theproject management ranks. Some of these traits may be that you have to take breaks ata certain time of day, or lunch time can never be interruptedor you may not be “on the clock” yet and not able to provideanswers or information until you are.You will never move up within an organization with that typeof attitude. It just won’t happen. Rather, get into an attitudeof flexibility rather than inflexibility. There’s give and take inany and every relationship we have. We’re not saying don’ttake breaks, or lunch, or leave at a reasonable hour…just bereasonable about it. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 4
  5. 5. 3. The “Can’t Do” MentalityA “can’t do” attitude is a career-path breaker. One thing that there’s no room inbusiness for is just looking at the problems and what can’t be done and not coming upwith alternatives or solutions. If you’ve had the opportunity to listen to and watch agood salesperson sell, they rarely say “no”. You may have feelings one way or anotherabout their particular style or approach, but you have to appreciate the fact that theyfocus on what “can” be done.You can apply the same principle to the way you manage your projects and will quicklyfind yourself in a better position to move up in the organization. Nobody wants a ‘yes-person that can’t deliver on their promises, but what they do want are people thatcome up with reasonable solutions that can be relied upon and delivered.Do You Play Well with Others?A bit of an extension to getting rid of this “can’t do” mentality reminds me a bit aboutsome recent shopping experiences. I was looking for a particular item in a store and washaving trouble finding it. I asked the person that worked at the store where it was.“Over there,” they said and pointed to the left. They never picked their head up, theydidn’t look at me, and they immediately went right back to what they were doing. Icouldn’t find what I was looking for and left the store.The other store I went to I asked the same question. This time, the employee stoppedwhat they were doing, took me to the item, and asked if there was anything else theycould help me with. What a difference. I have a much better perception of the secondemployee than the first and will always go back to that store.You can be guilty of the same behavior as a project manager. Somebody comes and asksyou if you know where a file is or know who to talk to about the latest on a particularissue. Stop for a moment and give them the time of day. Show them where it is andmaybe even walk them over to the person if need be. Don’t get so wrapped up in whatyou’re doing that you miss the big picture of being a team player and working well withothers around you. Because, playing well with others is also a requirement for movingahead in any organization. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 5
  6. 6. If you are looking to get ahead, focus on getting out of the Task Management mentality,the 9-5 Employee Mentality, and the “Can’t Do” Mentality and you will quickly findyourself playing well with others in the executive suite.How to Manage TasksA big part of being a project manager is the ability to manage tasks. These tasks come inall shapes and sizes. Many tasks and activities have your project plan as the source.These are the things that you have identified that must be complete by someone else inorder for the project to be complete.Other types of tasks are the ones that you personally need to accomplish. Some projectmanagers keep up with these tasks by using daily To-Do lists that never seem to end.Others may scribble tasks on the whiteboard behind their desk and add them to theother two dozen items that have been on the whiteboard so long they are beyond thestage of being erasable.It’s easy to see that without some way of learning how to manage tasks for yourself andothers you could quickly become overwhelmed. The following are some suggestionsthat you can use for task management that may help you at least check off a coupleitems off your list at the end of the day.How to Manage Tasks for YourselfA great place to start managing tasks is with yourself. There are meetings to plan, flightsto book, agendas to put together, and reports to complete. All of these demands arecoming at you fast and furious and other people depend upon these things being donein order for them to move forward.The last thing you want to be on any project or any organization is a bottleneck. So,what sorts of things can help when it comes to learning how to manage tasks that youneed to get done?Your e-mail application is a good place to start. We’ll be focusing on Microsoft Outlook,but the principles would apply to other e-mail applications as well. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 6
  7. 7. Why You Should Capitalize on the Task Functionality in OutlookMost people use their e-mail application for its ability to sendand receive email as well as set up meetings and sync withother people’s schedules. Many people, however, overlook theTask functionality in Outlook.There are a couple of ways to make the most of this feature inOutlook. The first is that if you receive an email that you haveto do something with later, drag it over to the Task Pane in Outlook. This will startcreating your list of To-Do within the application itself, rather than having to write it ona piece of paper or on the whiteboard behind your desk.You also have the ability at this point to move the email out of your Inbox and file itaway wherever you want. This keeps your Inbox uncluttered and still keeps the Task inyour list of things to get done.The next thing you want to do is use the Categorize feature of Outlook. There are sixdefault color-coded categories you can start with. You can rename these and add asmany as you like. Six is probably a good number of categories to start with otherwise itcan quickly become unmanageable.You may have a different category for each of your projects, or you may categorizethings that you can only do while you are at your desk, or things that you can perhapswhile you are on the road (like catch up on phone calls that need to be made).Whatever task management system you develop in Outlook is dependent upon yourspecific needs, but it’s something you will find is easier than keeping your to-do list onpaper and rewriting it every couple of days. Plus, you can drag these tasks that need tobe completed, onto your calendar and block off time to get them done.One trick of learning how to manage tasks is to understand that it takes time tocomplete them. Project managers get so busy that their calendar books up with meetingafter meeting – a scenario that leaves no time to get other work done.When you plan out your week, be sure to drag these tasks onto your calendar for thehour or so that you will need in order to get them done. You’ll be very pleased at what adifference this makes compared to checking things off of your list. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 7
  8. 8. How to Manage Tasks for OthersOnce you’ve figured out how to keep yourself and your tasks organized, it’s time tomove on to helping others do the same. Some project managers may reason “I did mypart and put the project plan together. Can’t they just follow that and know what tasksthey need to do next?” Newsflash…a lot of people don’t read, can’t read, or won’t reada project plan. Yes, it’s hard to believe that as a project manager with all the preparationyou put into it, but many times project plans go unread and unused.You have two choices at this point. You can become incensed and furious that nobodyrespects your plan enough to read it…or, you can change your strategy and help peopleunderstand what tasks are next for them to accomplish. Your job is not to be a baby-sitter, but you can add a lot of value as a project manager to the team if you help themin the area of knowing what to do next. Break the plan into bite-sized chunks and tasksand be sure to be mindful of the following principles of task management:Communicate Clearly – Be crystal clear when it comes to assigning tasks to somebodyelse. What exactly are you asking them to do? Do they understand what the expectedfinal deliverable? There are numerous methods of making sure they understand. One ofthe more insulting ones that I’ve seen used in the past is having someone repeat back toyou what you just said. How condescending. Treat your team with the respect theydeserve and you’ll find that communication is that much easier. You’ll know if someoneunderstands what they need to do or if it needs further explanation.Provide Context – A good thing to do when if you want to know how to manage tasks isto provide the context around that task that has been assigned. They may know “what”they need to do, but may not know “why”. This is important to getting things donebecause, if they run into a problem or situation that slows things down and you can’t befound, they can make the decision because they understand the bigger picture andcontext.Determine Standards – When it comes to assigning tasks, you must also make sure theyunderstand what the desired outcome looks like from a quality perspective. You couldsay ‘build a house’ and then be terribly disappointed when you see they built a strawhouse rather than the brick house you imagined. Be very clear as to what standards youexpect the task at hand to meet. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 8
  9. 9. Empower Them to Get the Task Done – Responsibility without authority is a frustratingexperience for anyone, especially good resources on your team. Make sure that theyhave the commensurate authority they’ll need to get the task that you have assignedthem, done. Otherwise, they may end up throwing their hands in the air and giving up.Give Support – Make sure the person you have assigned the task to, knows that if theydo get stuck, or if they do have a question, to come back to you sooner rather thanlater. They need to feel comfortable with the support you will provide them and notcriticize them for asking questions or assistance in getting “un-stuck”.Get Commitment – Finally, you’ll want their buy-in and commitment that they will getthe task, assignment, or activity done – and how soon. As much as possible, let them setthe date, but hold them accountable to making that happen.It’s important to remember that your job as a project manager is not to look overeveryone’s shoulders to make sure that they’re getting their work done. Rather, youneed to learn how to manage tasks and let good people do good work. By following theguidelines above you’ll find that you’ll be able to manage tasks not only for yourself, butothers as well.Why Being Just a Task Manager is Bad Project ManagementUnfortunately, some project managers take the position that it’s not their job to fix theproblems of the company but rather just continue to force work through the old systemin the hopes of it getting better some day. They choose to live with a broken processand dysfunctional people and systems rather than take a little time out of their scheduleto make things better. Below are three reasons why some may feel this way and whythis line of thinking is flawed:1. I’m Just a Project Manager andthat’s Not My JobTalk about making your blood boil. Some projectmanagers feel as if their job is to sit behind thecomputer and forward emails to those on theirproject with their nominal value-add statement of“FYI”. That brings no value! They would rather sit © 2013 All Rights Reserved 9
  10. 10. there and wallow in the misery of systems and processes that are broken rather than dosomething about it.If it is negatively impacting or affecting you in a bad way, then it IS your job. If it gets inthe way of you and your team getting something done, or causes delays and costoverruns on your project, or introduces disappointment to your clients…then it IS yourjob. If deliverable after deliverable is falling behind on your task managementsoftware then it is up to you to do something about it! Never get caught in the trap ofjust thinking you are a task manager and you don’t have ownership of the process.2. I Don’t Have the Necessary InfluenceThis is another self-defeatist attitude that should be removed from our vocabulary asproject managers. This feeling of inadequacy may be a result of the “I’m just a ProjectManager” mentality and is a career-killer. Being a great project manager is nothing butInfluence! Rarely will you have people that report directly to you within a matrixedorganization. Rather, you will need to get your work done through other people in otherdepartments managed by other managers. How? By influence. At the very least, youshould be able to influence your actions and maybe the person next to you. That’s all ittakes to get a movement started.Talk about what’s broken. Discuss what prevents things frommoving forward. Ask yourself and those immediately aroundyou what you can do to improve the process and thesituation. Make some minor adjustments and start talkingup the positive results. Get more people involved and makean even bigger impact. Track metrics such as the amount oftime saved, or an increase in ROI, or the ability to reducerework and get those numbers out to everyone. In no time, you’ll have people payingattention and jumping on board to improve the process.3. Why Bother? It Won’t Make a Difference AnywayIf you start going down this slippery slope, you need to check yourself fast! Youreffectiveness as a project manager will quickly become marginalized. It means you’vegiven up. You have a couple of choices at this point: © 2013 All Rights Reserved 10
  11. 11. Go somewhere else – Be careful with this one. If you findyourself in a similar situation, attitude, and low level ofeffectiveness time and again then the problem is you. Youmay be what is broken and not necessarily the places youwork.Change your attitude – You can spend the next couple ofdays being miserable and feeling helpless, but, next Mondaymorning wake up and come in with a new attitude. Makesuch a drastic shift that your co-workers won’t recognize you. Realize that improvingprocesses and systems that are broken IS your job, you have the necessary influence toget it done, and it WILL make a difference.This is how easy it would be to start to make things better. Find a simple process that isbroken. Get all the people in the room that are involved in that process, are recipientsof what the process delivers or provide input into that process. Ask everyone to talkabout it from beginning to end.Put it up on the white board and document who does what and when do they do it.Document how long something takes. Identify how long a deliverable sits somewhereidly before it is picked up by the next group to be worked on. Document this in whateverform of project and task management software you use to get a visual representation ofwhat the current process looks like.Then, identify those areas that are troublesome. You’ll come up with problems such aspeople not knowing when something was done, things taking too long in onedepartment, double work being done on a deliverable, inadequate quality which willlends itself to rework and other “a-ha” moments Finally, ask everyone what the newprocess should look like. Let everyone state their opinion. The process may be totallyrevamped or just tweaked a bit. Regardless, everyone has provided their input and hasownership of the new process, and thus, some level of accountability.Put a simple flowchart or swim lane diagram together and implement the new process.Once implemented, you will start seeing how much time is saved. Communicate this outto the team, communicate this to the functional managers and most importantly startgoing up the executive chain about what the team has done and the cost savings /revenue generating / time reducing results that have been realized. Following the above © 2013 All Rights Reserved 11
  12. 12. steps will move you from being just a task manager to taking your project managercareer to the next level.6 Steps to Delegate Tasks EffectivelyDo you have trouble delegating tasks to people on your team? There are a number ofreasons why people have a hard time delegating tasks to others: They are Control Freaks – Some believe that if to give someone else just the slightest amount of responsibility or authority would undermine her position. They feel if everyone around them is of sub-par intelligence and wouldn’t be able to complete tasks at their level of expertise. This results in not letting go of anything, ever. They Don’t Know How to Delegate – They may have attempted to delegate in the past and weren’t pleased with the results. The people they delegated did what they were told, but it wasn’t what needed to be done. Directions, timelines, quality levels, or other criteria were lost in the translation. They are Unsure of Themselves – Some people may not fully understand the task at hand themselves and are reluctant to pass it on to other people. This would mean they would need to explain in great detail what needs to be done, and they just don’t have that level of comfort.Why It’s Critical for a Project Manager to DelegateYou need to rid yourself of any hesitation relative to delegating tasks if you are a projectmanager. Delegation is a core part of what you do, and you should do it well.Technically, what you own or are responsible for on each project is the project plan,including communications, risk, expense, and procurement plans. You are notresponsible for doing the actual work. As a matter of fact, that flies in the face of stayingoff of the critical path. The only way to accomplish this is through delegation. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 12
  13. 13. 6 Steps to Delegate Tasks EffectivelyBelow are six steps you can follow to delegate tasks effectively: Be Precise – You need to be extremely precise, thorough, and comprehensive about communicating what you are asking somebody else to do. You need to remove any ambiguity or questions in your mind before you bring someone else into the picture. Passing along ambiguity to someone else is like a copy of a copy of a copy. Someone will take the ambiguity you passed along to them, make it just a little bit fuzzier, and then pass that on to the next person. The directions you gave could be almost unrecognizable by the time you see them implemented in the final project. Choose the Right Person – You need to make sure you are matching the task with the right person. Consider the person’s skill level and knowledge relative to the task. Will they be able to accomplish the work with minimal instruction from you or will they need additional hand-holding? It’s not a problem to delegate to a newer person, just be aware of the fact that they may take a bit longer to get something done. They may have a false start or two that a more experienced person would not have. Have a Clear Hand-off – Once you’ve established the task and chosen the person, you need to make sure there is an event that marks the hand-off. The best way to do this is with a face-to-face meeting if possible. Explain what you need to have accomplished. Make sure your project team member has a grasp of all the details necessary to complete the task. Include due dates, milestones, resources that are available, who can assist and other relevant information about the activity. It’s also good practice to put what you discussed at this hand-off meeting in writing. Make Yourself Available – The biggest service you can provide after delegating is to make yourself available. Make sure they know that if they have ANY questions about what they are doing they can come and ask you anytime. You’ll be glad to answer them and would prefer they come to you sooner rather than later, in case you need to clarify any misunderstandings that may have occurred during the hand-off. Follow Up – You’ll want to follow up even if the person doesn’t come to you with any questions, and not in the spirit of “I don’t trust you,” but as if to say, “Is there © 2013 All Rights Reserved 13
  14. 14. anything you need from me to finish this task?” They may not need a thing from you and that’s great. It just lets them know you are concerned about their success. Plus, it gives you a reality check as to how well they understood your directions. Resolve Issues Quickly – If the task you delegated is not on the right track, get involved as early as you see it, and often. Point out where the confusion may be coming from and jump in to help fix the issue quickly. Helping resolve the issue quickly may just be a matter of pointing them in the right direction, or letting them know what they need to do next. Regardless, you are preventing them from spinning their wheels unnecessarily and setting their selves up for disappointment later.Knowing how to delegate effectively would have helped Lisa and her staff. It may be toolate for her, but it’s not too late for you. Learn to let go. Implement these six stepstoday, and you will experience what smoother projects and a happier staff is like.How to Delegate Tasks as a Project ManagerTo understand why some Project Managers end up in the unenviable position of doingway too much work themselves, we have to understand how they get into that position.Some find it hard to delegate tasks for a number of reasons. The following are a few ofthese reasons:It May Not be Your Style to DelegateIt may not be your style to ask other people to dowork. They may have been a person that was anextremely effective organizer. Or, they may havebeen highly proficient in a particularly technicalaspect of their job. These two skills sets wouldlend themselves to being a Project Manager. Theymay have also found that they were the onlyperson for the job and they jumped into do thebest they could do.Regardless, they may not be the type of person that is used to telling others what to doand delegating tasks. This may be compounded by the admittedly noble, yet somewhatnaïve view that they won’t ask someone to do something they won’t do themselves. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 14
  15. 15. If the above describes you…then get over it…and fast! You need to become verycomfortable and confident with telling others what to do. They expect that from you asa Project Manager. They are looking for someone to let them know what they did right,what they did wrong, and what is next on the schedule to bring this project tocompletion.You Can Do it Better YourselfThis is a very slippery slope to start going down, especially when you are proficient atwhatever it is that you are delegating for someone else to accomplish. You may havedone that other person’s job for years and know how to do it inside and out. This poorsoul has only been doing it for a year and certainly doesn’t understand the intricaciesand nuances of that particular task the way you do!So…you ask them to move out of the way soyou can take their place and just do ityourself. This is not an effective way todelegate tasks as a Project Manager. Why?Four words…It Does Not Scale. Are yougoing to do this task for this person everytime? Are you going to do this task for thenext person that needs to do it along withdoing the first person’s task as well? You cansee how quickly this will get out of controland distract you from your job of managingthe project.Sure, you probably can do it better yourself. But, ask yourself, does it HAVE to be donethat particular way? Is the end result just as acceptable if someone else does it a slightlydifferent way? I’m sure you already know the answer to these questions.More often than not, how a task is performed is a matter of personal preference asmuch as it’s a matter of HAVING to do it a particular way. Give your resources somebreathing room to do it their way. Allow them to make mistakes and learn from them.Will this take a longer time in the short-term? You better believe it. But the exponentialreturn on this investment in the future will make this decision a no-brainer. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 15
  16. 16. You Can do it Faster YourselfThis is a variation on the theme above of being able to do it better yourself, but with aslight twist. It’s going to take 5 days to train a new person on a particular task that youknow will only take 2 days to complete. There’s never enough time put into theschedule for training, so you fall into the trap of doing it yourself…over and over again.At some point you need to stand up and say that it’s not going to be done this wayanymore and the time spent on training will pay off substantial dividends in the future.How to Delegate Tasks as a Project ManagerOnce you have overcome your concerns of delegating tasks to others, you will soon findthat your effectiveness as a Project Manager skyrockets. Be very clear in yourexpectations. Let others know that you are going to operate in a particular way when itcomes to delegating tasks. You will do everything you can to clear obstacles out of theway or make their job as easy as possible, but ultimately it comes down to themfinishing the task that they have been assigned. Help them pick the ball up again if theyhave dropped it, but don’t take the ball from them and run with it. Help them come upwith a plan of action for getting the job done.This may require pulling in other resources, creative scheduling or a combination ofboth. This way they will realize it is ultimately theirs to complete and not somethingthey can quickly (and many times unnecessarily) turn over to you to do. Finally, rewardthose who see a task from beginning to end with minimal intervention from you.How to Manage Your TasksProject management is all about making sure that the right tasks happen at the righttime. Director, Jennifer Whitt, shares six things to help projectmanagers manage their own tasks 1. Establishing systems 2. Performing sanity checks 3. Estimate realistically and baseline promptly. 4. Escalating timely and that’s really calling out for help. 5. Requesting support. 6. Identifying resources © 2013 All Rights Reserved 16
  17. 17. 30 Day Free Software TrialThere are two key differences between and its competitors.The first is that we give you all of the features you need to plan, track and report onprojects efficiently. The second key difference is that our competitors charge a highupfront price as well as annual maintenance fees for new releases.Here at we offer you all of the features you need to manageprojects, at a small monthly price of just $25 per user. That simple! When you sign up, you also get for free: Unlimited Projects 3 Gigs of Document Storage Client Login Free Upgrade to New ReleasesTake Action, Sign-Up for a 30 Day Free Trial Today! Take a Free Trial Create your own Projects Sign up to boost your project successAny questions? Email andone of our friendly support staff will be happy to help. Wealso recommend a visit our resource library if you wouldlike access to further:-  project management tips  video tutorials  project management templates © 2013 All Rights Reserved 17