Project task lists are vital to success. They provide guidance on what each team member should be working on and they help PMs confirm that the project is progressing according to plan. But putting together a useful task list is more complex than simply writing down the activities that come to mind.
One mistake PMs sometimes make is to include project tasks that are too big. They may consolidate numerous small tasks into one larger line item because it seems easy or because they assume that batching the activities will be more efficient. Big tasks also sometimes sprout when the planning function isn’t given adequate attention, resulting in a project plan with too little detail.
If you’re still finding a lot of big project tasks on your list, consider these 4 reasons to swap them out for sequences that are more digestible.
1 – Big tasks overwhelm people.
While some team members will be able to successfully navigate large activities, others could run into problems simply trying figure out how to get started. They may either fall victim to analysis paralysis—essentially stopping any forward progress until they identify a jumping-off point—or they might push the big task off until they feel they have enough time to tackle it. This usually produces delays, followed by diminished quality as team members frantically try to catch up.
2 – Big tasks can be harder to track and monitor.
Estimating how long a big task will take can be very difficult. Determining how much work is still left to do once the activity has started is even more challenging. Without a good gauge of where the task’s progress stands, the team is unlikely to spot potential delays until the last minute, when the problem suddenly becomes an emergency.
3 – A failure within a big task is more difficult to unravel and fix.
If you continue to maintain large tasks within a project, realize that any problems that arise will likely be tough to identify, track to their source, and address. Where did the activity begin to go off the rails? When did it stray from the planned timeline? Getting to the root of the issue could consume valuable time and resource, and returning big tasks to a successful path is particularly challenging.
4 – Big tasks are less efficient in the long run.
You miss valuable opportunities to save time and money when you’re burdened with big tasks. Where can individual activities be executed simultaneously? Is it possible to consolidate separate tasks into a single time window so vendor scheduling can be made more efficient and cost effective? Without a good level of detail into all of the small tasks that invariably make up big tasks, any attempt at efficiency will be time consuming and difficult.
What can PMs do about big tasks?
The answer is simple, though not always quick or easy: Break them into smaller tasks. While basic at its core, this can also be a challenge for teams that don’t have a solid methodology in place to plan, estimate, track, and control project tasks. The last thing you want is to replace one large task with a slew of smaller activities that aren’t well defined or distinct enough to solve the big-task problems.
If you’re having trouble deconstructing your large activities—or if your team has difficulties identifying the smaller tasks that should replace them—guidance from an experienced project management consultant will help. They can work with your team to achieve the level of detail that’s appropriate for your project and counsel you on managing and controlling the resulting task list.