Improve Project Management with focus on important tasks
Project teams suffer from the issue of focusing on urgent things that might not be necessarily important. From my own experience and talking to other project managers this problem was evident but the fix is not easy. We are building a simple project management tool that addresses this issue and helps project teams focus on what is important even with the distractions of the urgent. But I struggled on how to explain the problem and the solution. Then I came across an idea from Steven Covey’s best seller Seven Habis Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book he talks about the importance of time management in personal life. And voila, it is very much applicable to project management to understand how to make project execution more effective.
All projects are executed through tasks and every task has a level of urgency and importance. A brief explanation of urgent and important from project management standpoint is helpful.
Urgent: Any task that needs to be done right away. These are the ones that are right at your face, screaming “now”. Problem of the day, squeaky wheels, the naggers are examples of what leads to urgent tasks.
Important: These are tasks that contribute to the vision and strategic needs. These help to achieve the goals and objectives. Planning, Risk mitigation, Validating assumptions, meeting deliverables etc are examples of important tasks.
The definitions are intuitive and easy to grasp but in reality it is easy to confuse where a task falls. For example all urgent tasks can seem important because it is urgent – Joe the sales man is screaming for help as his shipment has not left the dock (the squeaky wheel). He has texted, emailed and called.. It certainly is important to Joe but is it important to you? Probably not. Can you delegate it? The situation probably happened because an important task was not done to set up a reliable process. It is easy to get caught in the whirlwind of urgent activities and lose sight of what is important.
Task Decision Matrix
Steven Covey explains that everything we do falls into one of the quadrants of importance and urgency.
Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important
These are crisis, problems and critical deadlines. Quadrant 1 tasks get the first priority. This can be meeting customer deadlines, investor presentations or contract negotiations.
Quadrant 2: Not urgent and Important
These tasks help achieve your goals and strategic needs. They are important but don’t have a deadline. Typical tasks include planning, risk mitigation, validating value proposition, verifying the business model assumptions.
Quadrant 3: Urgent and not important
These tasks are distractions and day to day fire-fighting activities, these usually include helping other people out. Covey calls this the feel good quadrant. It is not necessarily bad but it keeps you from doing other important things.
Quadrant 4: Not urgent and not important
These tasks are interruptions and completely non value added. Internet browsing, engaging in trivia, water cooler talks are some bad examples I can think of.
Quadrant 2 tasks are the Secret to achieving excellence in execution
Stephen Covey says most people spend time in quadrant 1 and 3. If most of the time is spent in Q1 it leads to burn out and which leads to moving to Q4 to get a break. Many people spend time in Q3 without realization; they perceive that it is a Q1 task. The urge to think that everything urgent is important takes over. To be effective, teams need to spend time in Q2. This is where foundation to greatness is achieved. Long term goals and strategic needs are achieved by working on Q2 tasks. Q2 tasks are proactive while Q1 tasks are reactive. Spending more time in Q2 y will lead to less time required in Q1. For example if production risks are mitigated (Q2 task) there would not be a looming delivery deadline (Q1 task). If a value proposition is validated (Q2 task), there will not be a last minute change product scope (Q1 task). If a particular product design feature is evaluated (Q2 task) then a change in specification before launch (Q1 task) could be avoided.
Consider team A and team B shown in figure below. Team A spends most of the time Q1 and Q3. Team B spends most of the time in Q2 and little in Q1. Both teams are busy, but which team do you think has a better chance to succeed? Team is bound to get better results faster because of focus on delivering strategic needs. By spending more time in Q2 they did the following;
- Identify and mitigate project risks
- Define and prioritize assumptions underlying the business model
- Validate the assumptions systematically by talking to actual users / customers
- Identify all product requirements and evaluate them for effort, value and feasibility
- Validate the value story with minimum viable product testing
- Track the budget proactively.
- Effectively execute the marketing plan
Automating Q2 Activities
I mentioned an automated tool for strategic project management. Entroids.com is the only project management tool that enables a team to plan Q2 activities and identify the tasks required to meet strategic needs of a team. The platform provides means to manage day to day activities required to accomplish the tasks. Thus all day to day activities can be aligned to strategic needs in an effortless manner. By enabling the team to monitor and track Q2 activities, Entroids will ensure better results faster. Be sure to sign up now for free limited beta access at http://entroids.com. The blog page has many articles on project management that will interest you.