Too many times we dive into tasks that are actually rather large without really thinking through how we can best get from point A to point B. Our first thought is, “This can be that hard...” so we just jump right in. Reality – sometimes days or weeks later – tells us that was a bad choice to make. Has this ever happened to you? Have you taken on a task or managed a large customer project thinking you could "wing it" only to find you should have done more "planning" before you ever started ‘working’?
The idea I’m discussing is the concept of breaking big tasks or projects into more manageable detailed tasks in order to keep your self on task, on time, on track and on budget. Otherwise disorganization can takeover as well as frustration. And that can be not just your frustration but the frustration of your co-workers, employees, and unfortunately your customer.
Lets consider the typical project or work task. Is time unlimited? Are timeframes open ended? Have you ever heard a customer, "Take as long as you need" when discussing the effort to complete something you’ve promised to do for them? I don’t think I’ve ever heard those words. In fact, depending on what business you’re in, they likely wanted it yesterday even though they just came to you today or you just finalized the contract today. Watch out, because those are the customers that may never be satisfied, but that is a topic for another article.
I’m a small business owner - and entrepreneur like most or all of our readers here. But at the core of that I am a project manager as well – a task manager to some degree. So I tend to try to look at big tasks as projects – and how can we break this work into smaller, meaningful, and manageable tasks that we can accomplish along the way to the final finished task. Because, believe me, you’ll want those small victories, those smaller completed tasks to not only guide you on the path to finishing the overall work but also as accomplishments to motivate you to keep going and keep focused on the end goals of this work or project.
How do you do that? Well, it’s easier than you think. I’m used to using something detailed for big projects like Microsoft Project, but that’s overkill for what we need to manage our tasks on projects for our customers as small business owners. A simple spreadsheet will usually do the trick. Look at the overall project – maybe it’s something like create a business plan for a client. That’s one task that may take you say, 40 hours, to complete for your client. But it’s not one task. In reality it’s a series of smaller tasks that you can track. What goes into creating the business plan? Well, likely tasks such as…
- Interview the business owner
- Create a company description
- Describe the product or service
- Gather info for a market analysis
- Document a management strategy with dates and milestones and budget information (likely will need much more interviewing of the business owner)
- Consider the web strategy for the business
- Define the company’s management team and roles
- Create a profit / loss project
There’s probably more to it than this, but each of these are significant tasks within the creation of a business plan. And each of these would also have a likely review and approval process with your client that you’re putting the business plan together for.
You can see quickly how if you don’t create a work breakdown structure with smaller tasks you can easily flounder and get off track while you’re trying to accomplish the only real goal you do have documented…the creation of a business plan. Breaking that work – and estimating an effort and due date for those broken down tasks – helps to keep you more focused and on track and definitely forces you to use your time more wisely on the projects you take on for your customers.