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How to Improve Your Ability to Define Project Tasks

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How to Improve Your Ability to Define Project Tasks

Breaking down tasks into smaller components is calledWe’ve all been there – the project deadline is looming, and there’s a load of pressure to dive in and get started. But that’s not the best approach for success. Effective project management comes from investing time upfront in meticulously defining all of your project tasks. Successfully moving projects from start to finish line is about ensuring your tasks are manageable, well-structured, and ‘right-sized’. to make agile progress. Breaking down tasks into smaller components is called task decomposition, and it’s at the heart of project management plans.

As a project manager, you’re always on the hunt for new strategies – ones that help you make better use of project management software by improving how you define project tasks with the right scope, specificity, and clarity. That’s because becoming a better project manager isn’t about working longer hours – ready to battle any potential fires on the horizon. It’s about finding ways to work smarter, and understanding how to delegate, oversee, and deliver projects with even greater success

Applying what’s known as work breakdown structure (WBS), This method provides a process for taking a complex, multi-phased project and distilling it into manageable tasks and workflows. The result is that you’re able to move projects across the finish line with improved speed and efficiency. 

But breaking down project tasks into smaller components requires balance. Make tasks too small and you’ll end up micro-managing tasks. On the other end of the spectrum, if tasks are too large, like a startup listing “develop a new company website” as a task, it’s too vague and overreaching to measure and manage.

Building the Right Team for Your Project Scope

Before diving into tips for effectively defining project tasks, one question that often comes up is about team size. Specifically, what is the most effective project team size? The Ringelmann Effect states that as the team size grows, individual members tend to become less productive. While that may seem counterintuitive, research proves the theory. As the group gets larger, individuals can feel that their contributions are less noticeable, so they feel free to put more time into other responsibilities. 

Because of this, the optimal project team size tends to be between four to six individuals. At this size, each member can feel their part is significant and valued – encouraging active participation based on greater accountability. Of course, it’s also important to assess the skills and experience needed for the project and bring in additional members for key activities, if needed.

Now, here are some tips to improve how you define project management tasks:

  1. Leverage experienced team members to identify the right project tasks.
    To help ensure you don’t run into unexpected roadblocks or unpleasant surprises as your project unfolds, gather input from experienced members of your team. Leverage their knowledge and project management skills to break tasks into efficient, manageable chunks, and their firsthand experience to provide accurate estimates for completion timelines that are achievable. 

    Their been-there-done-that insights can also shed light on potential issues you can plan around before they become problems that derail your project milestones and delivery timeline. And they can even help guide you in ensuring that your team isn’t just adequately staffed, but equipped with the right skill sets for the tasks at hand.

    Besides key insights on tasks and timelines, this kind of collaborative approach is important. Involving your team members at this early stage of definition cultivates a greater sense of ownership and buy-in across the team for all stakeholders. 
  2. Determine project tasks based on the amount of time each to take to complete
    When defining project tasks, one key aspect to consider is the time it takes to complete each task. In project management, there’s a helpful rule of thumb known as the 8-80 Rule. It suggests that the individual tasks you define should take no less than 8 hours and no more than 80 hours to complete.

    While looking at your list of tasks and considering the task’s time requirements might not seem relevant at first glance, it can significantly impact the trajectory of your project. That’s because tasks that take less than 8 hours are likely too granular and can make the project management process overly complex by micro-managing items that should be components of one larger task that move forward together. 

    On the other hand, tasks that take longer than 80 hours can be challenging to track and report on in regular status-check meetings. If you’re expected to provide weekly updates on your project, consider breaking tasks down to no more than 40 hours. This way, you’ll have clear action items and completed tasks each week to demonstrate progress. Having too long of a task completion time can also inject higher risk into your project because the time gap between milestones makes it difficult to catch early warning signs that it’s gone off track. 
  3. Identify project tasks by using completion tests.
    To truly define a task, you first need to know your project goals and what task completion success looks like. There should be an objective definition or test that helps you evaluate the task’s status and determine if it’s been successfully completed or not. 

    In practical terms, if a task serves as a dependency to another, identifying the required outcomes or deliverables that must be achieved before the next task can begin will offer a much clearer picture of the task’s scope and completion criteria. 

    For example, if you’re working on the task, “develop prototype,” a completion test would be: is there a fully functioning prototype available for user testing? The start of the next task, “conduct user testing,” depends on having the prototype. However, if identifying a solid completion task is difficult – or doesn’t match the input requirements for the subsequent task – it can be a red flag that tells you to reevaluate your task definition. Your task could be too small, and therefore missing essential components for the next task, or too vaguely defined. These are the types of obstacles that can block project progress.

    Mastering Task Definition for Better Project Management Outcomes

    Effective definition of project tasks is a cornerstone of effective project management. While the process can feel overwhelming in the beginning, using the tips above, plus keeping the 8-80 rule close at hand, will make it much more manageable and optimize time management for your team so your project schedule stays on track.

    The most important tip to remember is that successful project management depends on making sure tasks are well-defined, manageable, and set your team on a path to success. This is true whether you build or buy your software.

    Ready to uplevel your project management skills? Leverage these tips and get started today with Knack’s Project Management Template App.