Thursday, July 25, 2013
Managing Tasks, Projects and Expectations
Have you ever said to yourself; “if I want it done correctly, I should just do it myself” or some version of that statement? Are you guilty of not delegating tasks or projects because you think you are the ONLY person that can accomplish the task how you want it done? Have you gotten upset because a task you delegated wasn’t done the way you expected? Maybe you need to rethink how you delegate tasks and projects and manage the expectations that accompany tasks.
The difference between a task and a project.
Task: A single action item.
Project: A series of tasks with start and end dates.
Use One System
You need a good “system” in order to delegate effectively. There are lots of different systems you can implement and use, but the key is…you’ve got to “use it.” And, the person you are delegating to needs to understand the system and know how to use it as well or there is no point in having the system in the first place. Resist the urge to have too many systems in place; this will just make things more complicated and confusing. Standardize on one system whenever possible.
When delegating a task or a project; consider the following
- Have you communicated your expectations?
- Have you established a completion date?
- Have you provided clear instructions?
- Have you given the person you’re delegating to the proper tools to do the job?
- Have you set aside the appropriate amount of time to answer questions as they arise by the person working on the project or task?
- Does the employee have a job description that accurately reflects the work they are expected to do?
If you can’t answer “YES” to these questions; then it's likely you may not enjoy the outcome and you will be disappointed.
There are no Crystal Balls
Over the years as I’ve worked with CEO’s, VP’s, entrepreneurs, managers and supervisors. I’ve discovered that many think their employees or co-workers are mind-readers and have crystal balls. I’ve yet to find a crystal ball that works – if you know of one; be sure to let me know! The point I’m trying to make is that you can’t expect perfection. It's difficult to get things done in the most efficient manner possible, if you leave too much room for interpretation.
Systems to Help Manage Tasks and Projects
As mentioned previously, one system is best. Before you settle on a system, it’s a good idea to think about how you and others work and collaborate. Is everyone in the office that you delegate to in the office every day or do people work remotely? This will help you determine if you need to use a cloud-based (Internet) solution vs. a software-based solution.
Microsoft Outlook Tasks
I am a fan of Tasks in Outlook for managing and delegating tasks. Before you cringe; consider that Microsoft Outlook is still the most commonly used e-mail tool in the workplace. Perhaps the reason you aren’t using Tasks in Outlook is because you’ve never given it try and haven’t set up a good system to manage tasks and projects this way. The key to effectively using Tasks is to use Categories in conjunction with tasks and projects. For example, you can create a category by the person’s name that you assign tasks to or you could create a category for a project and assign individual tasks to that project category. You can see in the picture below how I’ve created custom categories that all begin with the word “Tasks” and then broken them down by type of project or individual.
This allows me to then view my Tasks by Category and look at only the ones I want to see; for example those that relate to a specific project or those that I have delegated to another individual.
Remember the Milk
Remember the Milk is a cloud-based task management solution. You can get a free version or upgrade to the Pro version for $25/year. With RTM you can create your own custom lists; by “project type,” by “person name” or by “position.” For example, in the screen shot above, you can see where I’ve created a list for projects assigned to Christina, our Client Services Assistant. This is a list I can then share with her that she has access to on her computer by having RTM open in her browser. I also have several lists that are based on projects; such as: Marketing, Relocations, Future Projects and so on. Christina can see my other lists, or just the ones I choose to share and I can even share these lists with multiple people.
With either Outlook or RTM, you can use the “notes” area to include task/project notes (i.e. your expectations) so that expectations are managed and met.
While “Tasks” in Outlook and RTM are designed more for managing Tasks; you can certainly use these tools to manage small projects if you set the system/structure to reflects your needs.
Want to know more about Remember the MilK? Read my blog article titled "Printable To-Do Lists to Get Organized" posted here.
Action Method by Behance
Action Method is an online (cloud-based) application that can also be accessed on an iPhone or iPad which individuals or teams use to manage projects. Action Method also has a paper component ; should you desire. With this tool, it all starts with action steps; also known as tasks. This tool makes is easy to manage projects and reorder action steps; just by dragging and dropping. You can view action items by project or due date.
Projects and tasks are not created equally. Sometimes you work on a project by yourself and other times in a collaborative nature with team members. This tool supports both approaches, as its Delegate feature allows you to assign an action step to another individual; assuming that person is also using Action Method. If you delegate an action step to someone, they have the option to accept or reject it. You will be able to see in your list that it has been delegated and to whom. A handy little feature called “Nag” is used to remind someone that you’ve not heard from them regarding an action step that you assigned to them.
When you’ve completed an action step, you check a box and a notification appears in the Action Method inbox of the individual you allocated it. While nobody likes to be nagged, the good news is that there’s also an “Appreciate” feature that will let you send kudos for a job well done.
There are several other features a well; such as:
- The ability to track the amount of time an action step takes
- References: notes, links or files related to a particular action step
- Backburners: perfect for ideas that aren’t quite ready to become action steps; so you leave them on the backburner to be revised at a later date.
- Discussions: instead of participating in a lengthy e-mail exchange, you can start a discussion inside Action Method and invite others to participate. This allows you to see all discussion in one place vs. multiple e-mails.
There are two plans available. The “Introductory” plan is free; but allows you to create only 50 action steps. The “Premium” plan is $9/month and you can create unlimited action steps as well as upload files and attachments that you can share with other or include in the discussions; otherwise, you’re left to enter text or add a link to a shared document.
Even if you do not use one of the systems described here; I hope that you received some useful tips you can apply when managing task, projects and expectations.