Join Chris Croft for an in-depth discussion in this video Deciding how to list tasks, part of Project Management Simplified.
- Step two of the 12-step process is to list the tasks. It's a key part of your planning. If you think about it, you can only lose on this step. It's very easy to forget a task. Particularly when you're planning a project you've never done before, there's going to be something you forget. And you can only lose because you're not going to list tasks that you end up not needing. You're never going to say, "We finished the house early "because we didn't have to do the walls after all," or, "The House was cheaper than we thought "because we didn't have to do a roof." So everything that you've listed, you will have to do.
So we need to put a bit of effort into thinking about these tasks. So how can we do it? Well, there are three ways to list the tasks, and I think of these as being right-brain, left-brain, and someone else's brain. That's how I remember it. The Right-Brain Method is to have a brainstorm of all the tasks you can think of. And remember, just because you're the project manager doesn't mean you have to sit in a room on your own having a rather lonely brainstorm. What you would do is you'd involve your team, you would all get together, and you would just shout out everything that you can think of that could be part of your project.
So that's the first method of brainstorm. If you involve your team, you'll get more ideas and they will also have buy-in to the project. So everybody wins. That's the first thing you should do. The second thing, which I think of as the Left-Brain Method, is to write out a structured tree of tasks. This has a posh name in project management, which is known as a "work breakdown structure" or "WBS." By the way, you might think that project managers have loads of three-letter abbreviations or TLAs that they use, but actually, probably the only one you'll ever see is "WBS," work breakdown structure.
And a work breakdown structure is nothing to be worried about. If you think about it in reverse, all it is actually is a structured breakdown of the work. So it's just a tree diagram of tasks, really. But it's a very good way to list the tasks, because it means that you're not going to forget any. You've got your categories, your subcategories, you might have hardware, software, people, training, whatever, so you break it right down so you make sure you don't miss anything. So that's the second way to list the tasks. And then the third way, do you remember we had right-brain, left-brain, someone else's brain? A third way to list the tasks is to ask other people.
Maybe there's an expert you could ask who you work with, somebody experienced. Maybe you could pay somebody or get a consultant in. Maybe you could do some research, Google it, or whatever. But one way or another, if you can cross-reference your list with somebody else, that's a really good idea just to check. And the reason why this is third is that, ideally, you would take them a nice, neat work breakdown structure for them to have a look at. If you just show them a big random list of tasks, that's no use for them. They need to be able to see something that's nice and neat, and then they can critique it.
They can look and they can say, "Well, I think you've forgotten a branch. "You've forgotten Legal," or something like that, which will be annoying but useful. Okay, so those are the three ways to list the tasks. There's one little extra wrinkle to know about, which is called "Granularity," which is, how detailed should your list go? Clearly, you're not just going to put "build house." Although, if you're a developer who builds loads of houses, you could actually just say, "Build house, "200,000 dollars, six months." But for most of us, we would need to break it down.
Now, you might break it down into foundations, walls, roof, services, let's say, but you might break it down much more. You might break it down into kitchen, bathroom, etc. Or within kitchen, you might even find yourself saying, "I want to have 12 sockets, 10 lights, "underfloor heating, etc." Or even more detailed than that, you might even say, "Drill hole through wall. "Push wire through, join wire on far side." Now, that's probably getting too far down. So the problem is, what level of granularity should you have? And clearly, if you have too high a level of granularity, it's very difficult to estimate the cost and the time.
If it just says "kitchen," we don't know all that's going to cost. Whereas if you go to too low a level of granularity, you start getting bogged down with loads of detail. Your project plan's going to be ridiculously complicated. So there's a judgment. We want to get about the right level of granularity. Personally, I don't like tasks to take more than a week. But you might, perhaps, allow tasks to go up to about a month. If they're well known and they always take, roughly, the same amount of time, then you could let somebody put a plan in for a month.
The difficulty, if you let a task be planned to be a month, is, what are they doing within that month? And if you go and see them after a week, and they say, "Everything's fine," how do you know whether it is? So personally, I like a granularity level of about a week. So that's the listing of tasks. I would strongly recommend using all three methods, because then, you really can be pretty sure that you've got everything listed. And so, for your project, ask yourself, "Have I used all three methods?" and, "Which of these methods do I not normally tend to use?" Which method, perhaps, could you add in to your next project plan?
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- Defining project scope
- Deciding how to list tasks
- Estimating costs and time
- Planning for risk
- Staying on budget