Learn about four steps that you can take to determine if a job is a task, that you should simply complete, or a project, which you should plan and manage. Following these steps helps you to prevent jumping ‘feet first’ without planning the work, enabling you to meet any deadlines that you’re given by your customer, adhere to any budgets that you’re given by your customer, produce an end product that meets your customers’ needs, and improve the overall experience of everyone involved in the project.
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Jumping into a project without proper planning can cause a number of problems for the Project Manager to deal with, including:
- The project takes longer than planned
- The project costs more than originally budgeted
- An undesirable end product is produced
- The project participants experience a high level of stress and frustration
Many people are given projects to run, but they’re not explicitly called-out as projects, so they’re often not planned or managed as such.
There are four things that you can do to determine if you’ve been given a task to complete… or a project that should be planned and managed:
- Capture the request, including several of its key attributes
- Ask whether you’re creating some sort of a change
- Ask whether the work involves a large or complex process
- Ask whether you’re work within deadline or cost constraints
This is a structured process that requires you to stop, capture some information, and ask a few questions about a job or work request before starting the work, and there are several things to consider when following this process. However, if you follow these steps, this process should enable you to:
- Meet any deadlines that you’re given by your customer
- Adhere to any budgets that you’re given by your customer
- Produce an end product that meets your customers’ needs
- Improve the overall experience of everyone involved in the project
Related Quotes To Consider:
(The following is the full transcript of this episode of ‘The Project Guide with Tony Zink’, where Project Management author and trainer Tony Zink shares his insights on how to use tools and techniques to get better results on projects.)
Hi, Tony Zink here, Project Management author and Trainer and creator of The Project Manifesto. I show people how to use tools and techniques to get better results on their projects, whether that means saving time, saving money, reducing risks, or providing a more stress-free and pleasant experience for everyone involved in the project. If you’re new here, please consider subscribing or following me on this channel. If you’re not tuning in directly on my website, TonyZink.com, then you can go there to access the video for this episode, the audio podcast for this episode, the entire written transcript, and other goodies too.
Have you ever been given a job to do and that job came with a deadline, but you struggled to meet that deadline? Have you ever been given a job that came with a budget, but you had a hard time staying within that budget? Maybe you’ve had a hard time getting the people or the help that you needed to get a job done because they weren’t available when you needed them. I completely understand. I’ve struggled with things like this in the past and many, many people struggle with these same problems every day. Sometimes these problems appear when you’re given a job to complete, especially if you’re given a deadline or a budget, and you jump in feet first without realizing that it’s a project that you’ve just been given to complete.
Many people are given projects to run every day, but they’re not explicitly called out as projects, therefore they’re typically not planned or managed like projects. Jumping into a project without thinking it through or planning it out is often a recipe for disaster. You wouldn’t build a house without planning it out first, right? Of course not. We all know that’s a good example of a project which should be thought through and planned out before jumping in. In other words, we should apply project management principles to hopefully get a better result, otherwise we’ll end up with a mess on our hands… and it will take longer than planned. It will end up costing more than we originally budgeted for. You may even end up with something you don’t like. Overall, it will end up being a horrible and frustrating experience. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Therefore, it stands to reason that you should apply sound project management principles to get the best results possible. The problem is, so often times people don’t recognize initially that they’ve been given a project to manage and they don’t treat it as such… or manage it as such. I’m going to tell you how to recognize a project when you see one. I’m going to give you four things that you can do to determine whether you’ve been given a project to complete and therefore it’s something that you should plan and track like a project. This isn’t the only way that you can determine whether something’s a project. There are many academics out there that will probably give you more elaborate definitions of a project, but today we’re just going to focus on these four things.
The first thing that I recommend that you do when you’re given a new job to complete is to capture it or document. Ask a few questions about it, such as: What kind of a name can I attach to this? What do I call this? Who is the customer? What’s the main objective? What kind of work am I going to need to do to complete this task? How big is it? Is it bigger than a bread box sort of thing.
Asking questions like this are going to accomplish a couple of different things. First of all, it’s going to help you to better understand the request. Second of all, it’s going to show your requestor, whether it’s your boss or your customer, whoever is asking for this, it’s showing them that you’re taking it seriously and you’re thinking it though before jumping in and just doing it.
If these types of requests are seldom, then I’d recommend that you simply answer these questions and capture this information in a document or spreadsheet. But, if you get requests like this often, then I would recommend that you keep track of them in a worksheet like an Excel spreadsheet or a SharePoint list.
The second thing that I recommend that you do is ask yourself if you’re creating some sort of a change. By definition, or at least in part, the definition of a project is: A controlled process for implementing some sort of a change. So, it stands to reason that you should ask, are you creating some sort of change based on this job that you’ve been asked to perform.
Changes come in many different forms. One example is you’re creating something brand new. Another way of thinking of this is you’re going from nothing to something. Examples of this might include building a new house on an empty lot or a piece of land. Or, designing a new vehicle. Or, creating a new online ordering form for your website.
Another type of a change that you could possibly be implementing is making a change to something that’s already in use or already existing. So, another way of thinking of would be you’re going from something to something. One example of that could be you’re remodeling an existing home. Or, another example might be you’re making modifications or repairs to a car after an accident. Another example could be you’re making changes to an online order form that already exists on your website.
A third scenario might include removing, destroying or decommissioning something that exists. In this case, you’re going from something to nothing, a third type of a change. Examples of this might include, tearing down a house to make room for something else. Or, decommissioning an outdated computer system. Or, maybe ending production of an outdated product.
The third thing that I’d recommend that you do to help you determine if you’ve just been given a task or a project is ask yourself does it involve a large or complex process. Now, technically speaking, you could argue that creating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a project, it takes a predefined amount of time, there’s some sort of a cost to it, you’re creating something unique and so forth. However, it probably doesn’t make sense to invest a bunch of time and money planning and managing and coordinating something like that because of its size and complexity.
However, if the job that you’ve been given is complex, then it probably does require some more careful coordination and management to get the optimal outcome. You’ll want to establish some rules around what qualifies as being large or complex. Such as, if there are three or more key deliverables. Or, it requires more than 40 hours of work effort. Or, there are more than three participants.
The fourth thing that I would recommend that you do is ask yourself if you’re being asked to work within any time or cost constraints. In other words, if you’re being asked to finish this work by a certain deadline or if you’re being asked to complete this work within a certain budget. Then, chances are, it’s probably going to be a good idea to apply project management principles in order to help you meet that deadline or stay within that budget. Part of the whole point of project management is to help you to balance the competing forces of scope, time and cost.
One example might be you’re being asked to launch an automotive assembly line and start producing cars before a publicized product launch date that’s been created by the marketing team. Or, perhaps you’re being asked to build a new house and the house needs to be completed by a certain date in order to line up with the family’s closing date on their existing house. And, it has to stay within a particular budget that lines up with their pre-approved mortgage amount.
Now, if you’re given a deadline, in other words, if you’re given a time constraint that you need to work within, I highly recommend you use one of a number of different project scheduling tools that are available out there to help you to get this done a little more quickly and a little more easily.
These tools can make it easier for you to break down the work into smaller pieces that are easier to plan and estimate and track. They allow you to easily identify the activities that are required and see and schedule those activities so that they occur by the established deadline date.
If you’re given a budget that you need to stay within, I’d also recommend that you consider using one of these more sophisticated project scheduling tools that allow you to break down the work into pieces that are easier to estimate from a cost perspective and assign various types of resources, such as personnel, materials or equipment and establish or associate costs with those resources and manage those costs against the budget that you’ve been given.
So, to wrap up, if you do these four things every time you’re given a job to complete, then you should have an easier time determining if you’ve just been given a task to complete… or if you’ve been given a project to complete. If it is a project, then I highly recommend that you stop and take a more careful and thoughtful approach to planning out that work and then doing it in accordance with project management principles. This is one of the most fundamental tenets, if you will, of project management – planning work before you do it.
The main point here, though, is once you’ve recognized that you’ve been given work to complete and that work is a project, then you can apply project management tools and techniques to get optimal outcomes. And, you’ll have a much better chance of hitting your deadlines, staying within your budgets, getting the end product that you’re expecting and delivering a much more pleasant experience for everyone involved in the project.
Thanks for tuning in and spending this time with me. I hope that you enjoyed these tips and you found them useful. I’d like to take a quick moment though and remind you of two things.
Number one, if you’re not tuning in directly on my website, then you can visit my site at TonyZink.com. Watch the video for this episode, read the entire written transcript, download the audio podcast and access other goodies too.
The second thing is, please post your thoughts in the comments section. Do you have any tips, recommendations or thoughts that you’d like to share? How do you handle situations like this? Some of the best questions and tips come from folks like you, the project management community. The people who are out there in the trenches every day working on projects. So, definitely connect with everybody in the Comments section.
Until I see you next time, go back out there and keep building great things.