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Effective Delegation and Task Tracking – Starting with a To-Do List

“Effective delegation and task tracking” is an essential skill to ensure Happiness At Work

In addition to client projects, most of the strategic initiatives are also really projects and need to be managed as such. Task identification, assignment, and tracking are fundamental to the success of a project/strategic initiative.

However, many managers struggle with the idea of delegating projects/tasks and thereby remaining in control of the progress. This is a must-learn hard skill for all managers, which seems to be woefully missing – at least in the SMB segment. Lack of systems is a major reason, but lack of awareness seems to be the real cause. I have seen this cause a lot of heart-burn, ill-feeling and “supposed” communication issues, affecting the “Happiness at Work” for the managers in-charge of such projects, their team members and the clients/executives who are sponsors of these projects.

This article explains how a simple To-Do list can get you started in the right direction.

Many managers just talk about what needs to be done.

Whenever there is a project or a special initiative, the Manager in charge of the project explains the tasks to the team. Sometimes there is a periodic (daily/weekly etc.) team meeting where the Manager describes the tasks for each team member. Some team members take notes; others just listen. And then they perform the tasks as best as they can remember and understand them.

Many a time, things fall through the crack because who is supposed to own them has not been clearly specified. “Everybody thought Somebody will do it, but Nobody did it!

At other times, there are quality issues because of poor understanding of exactly what was to be done. The knowledge about work performed in the project is lost when people leave the organization.

A manager may be able to manage one or two simple projects using such informal and verbal instruction only approach. But managing more projects using this approach is certainly challenging, even for the most capable. And certainly not recommended for your most important strategic initiatives!

So the logical next step is to create a written list of tasks for the team.

You can implement a To-Do list in many ways.

I have seen managers routinely using whiteboards or asking their subordinates to use diaries / notebooks for keeping track of tasks. There are many other media such a To-Do list can use. For example,

  • Daily printout for each team member
  • Email to each team member
  • A shared excel sheet with list of tasks for all team members

At a minimum, a To-Do list should capture, for each task, the following:

  • Task Description – Detailed information
  • Assigned To – Person responsible for carrying out the task
  • Task Status – Not Started, Work in Progress, On Hold (Due to some reason explained as a comment), Completed.
  • Target/Due date (optional) – Date by which the task has to be completed.
  • Priority (optional) – Assigning priority to Tasks helps team members schedule their own work in accordance with the project requirements.

Comparative analysis of various approaches:

Notepads and printed lists, though convenient, are not easy to share, and status updates require additional effort from team members. In fact, the dreaded Status Meetings are a result of such methods used for Task Tracking. In addition, copying, carrying forward tasks or reassignment requires additional effort.

A shared Excel sheet frequently serves well for small projects and teams. Each person has a complete visibility, and status updates can occur offline. However, with shared files, there are issues with simultaneous updates, overwriting each other’s changes, etc. Keeping track of history of the updates is also challenging and requires special effort for version control.

Shared Task Tracking System for the team simplifies communication.

Work assignment and progress reporting becomes much simpler with a centralized task tracking system. Such a system can be used to define, assign, and track tasks and helps segregate the functions of Planning (Task Identification), Scheduling (Resource Identification and Task Assignment) and Tracking (Monitoring progress against plan).

And of course, the same techniques/systems are useful for day-to-day task assignments and action items generated from various meetings.

A web based Task Tracking system is ideal when the team members may not be co-located.

It is simple, easy, and increases team effectiveness.

According to Peter Drucker, one of the secrets of being effective is taking responsibility for communication.

“Whenever I, … start to work with an organization, the first thing I hear about are all the personality conflicts. Most of these arise from the fact that people do not know what other people are doing …, or what contribution the other people are concentrating on and what results they expect.” – (Classic Drucker – HBR 2006 – “Managing Oneself”)

A shared To-Do list goes a long way in developing this understanding and increasing the overall effectiveness of the team.

Success begets success.

The list of completed tasks creates a sense of achievement for individuals and the team. And as Zig Ziggler says, action creates motivation, which is not bad for the success of the project and happiness of the team!

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Getting Into The Fast Lane

Getting our career in the fast track could be easy if we can spot suitable opportunities. Here is an interesting example.

Pankaj had been in the IT industry for more than 10 years as a technical professional. He worked on deployment of leading ERP and CRM applications for Fortune 100 clients. However, he was not satisfied with his career growth. Therefore, he changed jobs. In the new job, he was one notch higher, and he got increased salary. This satisfied him for some time.

Disillusionment followed shortly

In the new job, Pankaj found that people who had been working on the project for longer duration and knew the client, got better visibility and treatment. He saw people with fewer technical skills and shorter experience enjoying the same privileges as him. To make things worse, the group head who had hired Pankaj left the organization. Pankaj was not comfortable with the new boss. He was no longer very happy in the new job.

Now, Pankaj became desperate and started to look for another job. I happened to talk with him at this time.

Strengths

Pankaj had good depth of knowledge in some technical areas. He is very methodical, hardworking and happy to learn new technologies. He was trained in a leading Business Intelligence product. He also had good understanding of the business processes of a major ERP application.

New Path

We discussed the possibility of moving into the BI area. The BI market was expected to grow faster than the ERP market and our BI practice was looking for ways to catch up with competition. They were short of experienced and senior resources. Pankaj’s internal move seemed to make perfect sense. His superiors agreed to the move.

New role and responsibilities

Pankaj took the initiative to build BI solutions for specific industry verticals. These pilot solutions became part of the sales process to demonstrate the organizations capabilities in BI space. With his solid technical and business understanding, Pankaj was a natural choice for the presentations.

Early Wins

Soon Pankaj got opportunities to represent the BI Practice in International Conferences and Networking Events. Pankaj’s ability to connect with customers at business level and being able to dig deeper in the technical details when required, won him many more projects.

Success and happiness at work

Today, Pankaj is well known in his organization for his contribution to the growth of the BI practice. He has got a promotion and is back in his hometown. Now he manages teams at two locations. Most importantly, he is happy with his work!

Takeaway

Being focused on opportunities and leveraging on his strengths helped Pankaj to get into the fast lane. If you have the desire, getting out of stagnation at work may not be that difficult. A quality discussion with a mentor is what you may be missing.

Stagnation

Do you feel like you are stuck in the rut?

There comes a time in ones career, where dissatisfaction with the present sets in. It does not seem like we are doing all that we are capable of. We feel unappreciated and underutilized.

Things that used to excite and motivate us a few years ago, like new technologies to work on and travel to other locations now become things to be avoided.

Who can help me here?

When we discuss the situation with peers, everyone appears to be in the same boat. We are lucky if there is a relative or an acquaintance whom we respect and can consult. Not everyone is so fortunate. So then we are left to fend for ourselves. Most of us fight it out. Learn though mistakes, which we later realize could have been easily avoided.

While all this is going on, we feel there is an inner turmoil that can be shared only with the closest person – a soul mate. However, as Dr. Abhay Bang has rightly pointed out in his book, “Maza Sakashatkari Hruthayrog”, the experiences that we feel are most personal to us are actually the most public ones.

This is an endeavor to share such personal experiences and learning.

Where you are going is more important than how fast you are going!

One needs to realize that not all is lost and it is just a temporary phase. It is like getting lost when we are going somewhere. We feel the same frustration and anger, the same helplessness and the desire for someone to point you in the right direction. However, when you do meet someone who can possibly help you with the directions, the first question he asks is, “Where do you want to go?”.

This question applies to our professional life as well as our personal life. For the professional life, it means we need to think about the career path.

Getting ahead in your existing career

If you feel you have done more than what you were given credit for, there is definitely gap in your superior’s assessment of your performance and your own perception. It is important to understand what is causing this perception gap.

Do we know what we need to have to get ahead in career?

Stepping up the career ladder generally means entering an unknown zone, where we may not know what is valued and what is not. What you excelled in as a subordinate, most likely is not what you are expected to do as a boss. That means you are expected to be good at tools, skills and behavior that you may not even have heard of. Do you know what it is? If not, how do we find out?

Getting to know our blind spots

Actively seeking feedback from your superiors, peers and juniors can help understand and remove some of the roadblocks in your progress.

However, as we all know from our personal experience, only a person close to you will tell you if you there is some flaw in your personal appearance such as having bits of food sticking to your nose. Persons who know you but are not close, will not talk about it as it might hurt you or they simply find it below themselves to point out such basic things. Total strangers simply do not care and may have a free laugh at your expense.

Only an unbiased and trusted advisor can truly help you

The point is, you need someone who is interested enough and yet critical enough to help you analyze where you are in your professional life. It may be possible to do this ourselves, but we still need someone to hold the mirror. I hope that WiseBytes can hold such a mirror for you.

Changing career paths

It is a proven fact that people excel at what they like to do most, which brings its own rewards.

Before we embark on an adventurous journey of changing career paths, it is important to take a stock of the situation today. Exploring where we are today, where we would like to be in future, and what can help us reach there are some of the topics we can discuss in the future articles.