Time Power: Managing Multitask Jobs

03/03/2023by dang tin0

Managing Multitask Jobs

‘‘America is unique because it offers you an economic ladder to climb. And here’s what’s exciting: It is the bottom of the ladder that’s crowded, not the top.’’ JIM ROHN

All of life is a series of projects. A project is a complex task. It is often called a multitask job. This type of job requires the coordination of the efforts of several people, each of whom is responsible for part of the job, with every part of the job being necessary for successful completion. Your ability to handle these multitask jobs is a critical skill for success.

All achievements of consequence are complex, and they involve the cooperation of many people. An example would be the race to put a man on the moon. Tens of thousands of men and women had to coordinate their activities for its successful accomplishment.

Even simple tasks like planning a party, or producing a brochure or newsletter, require the ability to plan multiple tasks. This type of planning and organizing is one of the core skills of time management. Your ability to put together and work with a team of people on a project is the most important skill for advancement in your work.

The Key Management Skill

A study by Stanford University on the qualities that companies look for in promoting people into the position of chief executive offlcer concluded that the ability to put together a team to ac- complish a task was the single most important identiflable quality of an executive who was destined for the fast track in her career.

Take the example of the spectacular success of a man like Lee Iacocca, who saved Chrysler Corporation from bankruptcy. One of the reasons he was hired into the presidency of Chrysler was because of his ability to bring senior executives together from a variety of different areas to turn the company around. In his flrst thirty-six months at Chrysler, he replaced thirty-flve out of thirty- six senior vice presidents. His ability to assemble this team made all the difference. In his autobiography, he gives full credit to the men and women on those teams who revived the company.
Your ability to put together teams to do multitask jobs or complete complex projects will determine the course of your career as much as any other factor. It will enable you to multiply yourself times the talents and efforts of others, and accomplish vastly more than you ever could on your own.

A Learnable Skill

Fortunately, project management is a learnable skill, like riding a bicycle. It can be divided into a series of steps, each of which you can master, one at a time.

Start with the End in Mind

In managing any project, you begin by deflning the ideal desired result of the project. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? What will the project look like if it is a complete success?
Start by deflning the successful completion of the project, the ideal desired result. Write it down and clarify it on paper. Then, work backward to the beginning of the project. Do this exercise in conjunction with the team members involved whenever possible.

How will you be able to tell if you have completed this project successfully? This step, of thinking through and deflning your ideal end result, is one of the most valuable of all mental and physical planning tools for any project.

Start at the Beginning

Once you are clear about your desired result, you then start from the beginning. Determine what you are going to have to do to get from where you are to the completion of this project, on schedule and on budget. Determine a speciflc deadline or target to aim at. Make sure that it is realistic and achievable.

Assemble the Team

Bring together all the people whose contributions will be necessary for the success of the project. Sometimes you need to assemble the team before you can even decide upon the ideal result and the schedule. Remember that people are everything. Take ample time to think carefully about the people who are going to be the team members. Fully 95 percent of success in everything that you accomplish as a leader will be determined by your ability to select the people who are going to help you to do the work. If you make the mistake of selecting poor team members, you will almost invariably flnd it more difflcult to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.
Jim Collins, in his best-selling book Good to Great, says: ‘‘The key to success is to get the right people on the bus, and get the wrong people off the bus. Then, put the right people in the right seats on the bus.’’
Focus on the people before the task. Remember that because all productivity comes from people, the people are the most important ingredient.

Share the Ownership

Instill ownership of the project in the team members by sharing the job with them. There is a direct relationship between how much a person feels a sense of ownership for the job and how committed he is to making the project a success. One of the key jobs of leadership is to instill this feeling of ownership in each member of the team, so that each person feels personally responsible for the accomplishment of the overall project. You accomplish this by discussing every detail of the project with the people who are expected to carry it out.

Develop a Shared Vision

A shared vision is an ideal future picture of success that everyone buys into. How do you develop a shared vision? You sit down with the members of your team and work with them to answer the question, ‘‘What are we trying to accomplish?’’ You encourage everyone to contribute, to visualize, and to imagine the ideal outcome or desired result of the project. Once this vision is clear and shared by everybody, you move on to the development of ‘‘shared plans’’ to achieve the vision.

Create Shared Plans

Shared plans are essential to successful project completion. This step requires that everyone on the team work together to discuss and develop the plans. Plans include the step-by-step activities that will be necessary to complete the project. Everyone knows what has to be done, and even more important, everyone knows what each team member is supposed to do. The more time you spend planning with the members of your team in the early stages, the more committed and creative they will be in accomplishing the task once you get started.

Set Schedules and Deadlines

Once you have a shared vision and shared plans, and everyone knows exactly what is to be done and what the ideal result will look like, the next step is for you to set a deadline for project completion based on the consensus of your team. You may require sub-deadlines as well. Achieving consensus is extremely important in building a peakperforming team. Ask people how long they think it will take to complete each part of the task and to complete the task overall. As the result of discussion and exchange, everyone should agree that the project can and will be completed by a certain time. One of the biggest mistakes in project management occurs when the project leader sets a date or deadline that is arbitrary and with which the team members do not agree. In each case where this happens, problems arise and the deadline is not met. If the deadline is met, the result is often so full of mistakes and problems that it would have been much better to have agreed on a reasonable deadline before you began. Set your deadlines based on the consensus of your team, or even a majority decision, if that works for you. Get everyone to agree on the timing and scheduling for each job or task that they will be expected to contribute to the overall project.

List Everything That Must Be Done

List every task, function, and activity that must be completed, right down to the smallest job. The more that you can break the project down into individual jobs and tasks, the easier it is for you to plan, organize, supervise, delegate, coordinate, and get the project flnished on time.

Identify the Information You Will Require

Identify any additional information that you will need to com- plete the project. List the acquisition of the information as a separate task. Assign it or delegate it speciflcally to one of the team members. Set a deadline. Remember, a decision without a dead- line is merely a meaningless discussion. Nothing gets done.

Identify the Limiting Factor

Determine the limiting step in the completion of the project by answering the question, ‘‘What part of the project—that is, what task or activity—determines the speed at which the project can be completed?’’ In other words, what part of the task is the bot- tleneck that sets the speed for everything else?

For example, when my company decides to do a public semi- nar for 1,000 people, the limiting step that determines every- thing else is flnding and booking a hotel or convention facility in a particular city. Finding and flnalizing the space for the seminar is almost always the most difflcult bottleneck in the whole project. Once we have conflrmed a location, we can then begin mar- keting, sales, advertising, promotion, ticket sales, the shipping of products and materials, stafflng, and everything else.

In every project, there is a bottleneck. There is always one task that determines the schedule for everything else. Start off by identifying your limiting step, and then make alleviating that constraint your top priority. Put your most talented and capable people, and even yourself, to work on that task. Nothing can be done until that job is done flrst.

Organize the Project

Organize the different parts of the project in two ways: sequential tasks and parallel tasks. You organize by sequence when you determine which jobs must be done before other jobs can be done, with each task in order. Sequential organization is necessary where a particular task requires that another task be completed before it can be started. In almost every case, before you do anything, you have to do something else flrst. Organize the tasks sequentially with a logical process of activities from beginning through to the end of the project.

The second way to organize the tasks is through parallel activities. Parallel activities exist when more than one task can be done at the same time. Two or more people can be working on two or three different tasks independently of each other.

A Typical Multitask Job

For example, let us imagine that you are going to be renting and moving to a new building. The limiting factor or constraint is the decision on the space that you are going to rent, the determina- tion of the exact address, and the signing of the necessary rental or lease documents. Once the location has been determined and secured, several other tasks can be done both sequentially and in parallel.

Some sequential tasks are determining the exact requirement for furniture and flxtures in the new offlces, packing up the old offlces, arranging for a moving company to transfer the furniture, and the actual moving in.

Some parallel activities could be arranging for new telephones; ordering new stationery; informing your customers, vendors, and suppliers of the new address; and other activities that can be done independently of each other.

Think on Paper

Create or acquire a simple project management form. Fortu- nately, because of the recognized importance of project manage- ment, there are numerous books, workbooks, planning forms, and computer-based project management systems. They can be used for projects as simple as throwing an offlce birthday party and as complex as the building of a shopping center or football stadium.

The simplest model is something that you can draw by hand and can carry in your mind as a template for any project that you become responsible for in the future. Start with a blank sheet of paper. Graph paper or lined paper is ideal. Down the left-hand side of the paper, you list every single task that has to be accomplished, up to and including the completion of the project, in the order that the tasks have to be done. Across the top of the page, you write the dates of completion for each phase of the project. The times listed across the top may be in days, weeks, months, or even years. You may have one column for each week or one column for each month. If it is a short-term project, you may have a column for each day, with speciflc tasks to be com- pleted every twenty-four hours.

Planning a Party

Imagine that you were going to have a Christmas party at your home. The most important flrst step is to book the caterer for the day that you have planned. Once you have a caterer and a date, you can then proceed through the project to select the menu, conflrm the prices, send out the invitations, and make arrangements for chairs and tables. Conflrming the caterer and the date puts the project into motion.

You make a list down the left-hand column of every step, from determining the date and the caterer all the way through to the flnal detail in setting up the Christmas party. Across the top you may put in weeks and months. Under those weeks and months you create columns. Now you have a picture of the project with the flrst step in the project at the upper left-hand corner and the flnal completion of the project in the lower right-hand corner.

This project planning form gives you a simple picture that you can review and refer to regularly to be sure that each task is completed on schedule. This simple project planning form can be used and reviewed by everyone who is involved in and responsible for any part of organizing the Christmas party. The clarity of this project management process dramatically increases the likelihood that everything will be done on time, with no unexpected delays or glitches.

Developing and using a chart such as this, or any chart that you flnd in any time management system, will save you more time and increase your effectiveness more than you can imagine. This chart will show you where all of the bottlenecks or problems may arise. It will enable you to anticipate problems in advance and to take steps to ensure that those problems don’t occur.

Delegate Responsibilities and Deadlines

Once you have the project planned, the team assembled, and every task delineated and laid out in the order in which it must be completed, you then delegate each task with a speciflc dead- line. Build a ‘‘fudge factor’’ into your schedules and aim for the completion of each task comfortably before the deadline. The more important the flnal date, the more important it is that you build in a cushion of time to ensure that the project is completed on schedule. Most people aim to flnish a project at least 10 per- cent of the time before it is due. If it is a project that takes three weeks and must be completed by, say, Friday, three weeks from today, set a goal to have the entire project complete by Wednesday or even Tuesday of that week. Expect that there will be lastminute mistakes, unexpected setbacks, and unavoidable delays. This is the mark of the superior executive.
Many of history’s great endeavors, battles that determined the fate of empires and other signiflcant turning points, have failed because a single person did not build in that little bit of extra time needed to ensure success. Don’t let this happen to you.

Practice Crisis Anticipation

One of the most important parts of project management is crisis anticipation. This is what you do when you study the overall project and assess the things that can possibly go wrong. Mur- phy’s Laws were developed by people who worked on projects of all kinds. These laws state that ‘‘Whatever can possibly go wrong, will go wrong. And of all the things that possibly can go wrong, the one thing that will go wrong will be the worst possible thing, at the worst possible time, and cause the most amount of money.’’ Another of Murphy’s Laws is that ‘‘Everything takes longer than you expect.’’ Still another is that ‘‘Everything costs more than you budget for.’’ The key to crisis anticipation is to think through, in advance, the different delays and setbacks that can possibly knock the project off schedule. Where could you have an obstacle or setback that would threaten the successful completion of the project? Once you have determined the worst possible thing that can happen, make sure that it doesn’t hap- pen. Address problems before they occur and take steps against them in advance.

Develop ‘‘Plan B’’

Develop alternative courses of action. Chancellor Otto von Bis- marck, the great European statesman who assembled the many principalities of Germany into a single state, was famous for his diplomatic skills. No matter what happened, he always seemed to have a detailed backup plan as an alternative. This became known as the ‘‘Bismarck Plan’’ or ‘‘Plan B.’’ You should always have a Plan B as well. You should always imagine that something unexpected will happen, and that you will have to do something completely different from what you set out to do. The more time that you take to develop a fully functioning alternative, the greater strength and resilience you will have, no matter what happens.

Continually Develop Options

In life, you are only as free as your options. You are only as free as your well-developed alternatives. If you do not have options or alternatives already developed, you may flnd yourself trapped into a single course of action. If something goes wrong with that plan or course of action, you can be in serious trouble.

Many of the greatest successes in history were possible be- cause the person in charge took the time to think through what might possibly go wrong and then made provisions against it. When it did go wrong, that leader was ready with a second plan. It is important that you never trust to luck when you plan a project. Hope is not a strategy. Remember the words of Napo- leon. When asked if he believed in luck, he said, ‘‘Yes, I believe in luck. I believe in bad luck. And I believe that I will always have it, so I plan accordingly.’’

Four Problems to Avoid

There are four main problems in project management. Each of them can be avoided by taking the time to think carefully before embarking on a new project.

1. Not Allowing Enough Time. The flrst is not allowing enough time to complete a multitask job. This is the primary reason projects fail and people’s careers get sidetracked or torpedoed. They hope for the best, trust to luck, and don’t allow a sufflcient cushion of time to complete every step of the project. As a result, the project fails.

2. Assuming the Best. The second problem is assuming that everything will work out all right. As author Alex McKenzie said, ‘‘Errant assumptions lie at the root of every failure.’’ Never assume that everything will work out all right. Assume that you are going to have problems. Allow yourself sufflcient time and resources to solve those problems and keep the project on schedule.

3. Rushing at the End. The third problem in project man- agement is when the project team ends up rushing at the end. When you rush to complete a project because you have run out of time or money, you almost invariably make mistakes and do poor quality work that you have to go back and correct later. It actually takes less time to flnish a project correctly if you work at it slowly and steadily, doing it properly in the flrst place.

4. Trying to Do Several Things at Once. The fourth problem in project management is trying to do several things at once, and ending up doing nothing well. You either take on too many responsibilities yourself, or you assign too many responsibilities to other people. In either case, various parts of the project fall through the cracks, and sometimes all the effort is lost. Do things one at a time, and do each thing well before moving to the next task.

Plan Your Projects Visually

One of the most powerful methods for designing and managing a project is called ‘‘storyboarding.’’ The technique was originally developed by the Walt Disney Company to plan cartoons and movies, and it was eventually used in every part of the entertainment business. In storyboarding, you create a visual image of the project, mounted on the wall, so that everyone can see it and comment on it. You begin with a large corkboard. You then get boxes of pins or thumbtacks and stacks of threeby flve-inch and flveby eight-inch index cards. Get several felt pens with different colors. You are then ready to begin.

Across the top of the board, write the major parts of the project in one or two words, on the flveby eight-inch index cards, with the colored felt pens. These are very much like the titles of the chapters of a book, and they are called ‘‘headers.’’ You may have anywhere from three to ten different headers as the main parts of the project.
Under each of the headers, you place the threeby flve-inch index cards. You list an individual step in the completion of the task on each of these cards. When you are flnished, you will have created a visual representation of the entire project, showing what needs to be done and in what order. You can then write the name of the person who is responsible for each of the jobs on the card listing the job.

With this layout, you can move headers and job descriptions around. You can change their order and schedule. You can change the person who is responsible and the deadline.
You can also use storyboarding with a sheet of paper. You can write a series of larger boxes across the top, then write a series of steps for each of those tasks in boxes underneath. The more visual you can make the project, the easier it is for you to see relationships between the various tasks and to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure that you complete the project on time.

Storyboarding Individual Job Descriptions

One way that you can use storyboarding is to pin a series of flveby eight-inch cards across the top of the corkboard and put the names of a team member on that card. Below each person’s name, on threeby flve-inch index cards, write the speciflc tasks that that person will be expected to complete, along with the deadline. This gives everyone a visual representation of their relationship to everyone else on the team, and it makes it clear what is to be done, by whom, and by what time.

Next, you list each person’s tasks in order of priority, from the flrst thing she will be expected to do, to the last thing.
Each time you have a staff meeting, you compare each person’s various tasks and functions as they are represented on the corkboard. With this visual picture, you can revise responsibilities and move the various cards around. This form of visual representation of a project stimulates creativity, and it dramatically increases the clarity of the project to everyone involved in completing it. Planning your project visually increases the likelihood that the project will be completed successfully, on time, and in a quality fashion.

Example of a Multitask Job: Mailing a Newsletter

Here is an example of a multitask job that my company com- pleted using the project management system described in this chapter. In this case, it was a newsletter. We brought together the team that was going to be responsible for the various jobs that had to be done to send out a newsletter successfully. We then listed all the tasks in sequential order, and the time frame, or schedule, within which they would have to be completed.

These were the tasks that we concluded had to be done:

First, we deflned the desired results, the goal that we had for producing and sending the newsletter in the flrst place. We asked ourselves, ‘‘What would be the ideal result?’’ We then used this result as our target or our goal, and everything that we did in the design of the newsletter was aimed at achieving that result.

Second, we determined the market that we were aiming at and arranged to acquire mailing lists for those people and businesses. We immediately realized that arranging for mailing lists was a separate multitask project, so we set this task aside with aseparate project management team responsible for it.

Third, we designed the format and the layout of the newsletter. We determined the advertising copy, the photos we would use, and how it was going to be laid out. We determined the emphasis to be placed on both articles and product sales. We then determined who would be responsible for producing each part.

Fourth, we wrote and assembled the copy and the photographs, and we laid them out in a draft for review and revision.

Fifth, we had the newsletter typeset and laid out professionally, so it had the look and the appeal necessary to achieve the desired sales.

Sixth, we determined the printer for the newsletter. We got three different bids, compared them, and selected the best printer.

Determine Separate Multitask Jobs

Having decided that arranging for the mailing list was a separate multitask project, we broke it down into four steps.

The flrst step was to deflne the market population. Who were we going to send the newsletter to? One thing we needed to do was to contact a list broker. We went through our own mailing lists and the mail- ing lists of others that we work with until we were clear about the size of the market population. The people on these selected lists were the targets of the newsletter.

The second thing we had to do was assemble and acquire all of the names so that we knew the total that we would be mailing to. The third step was to select a mailing house that would handle the envelope stufflng, labeling, and the actual mailing. The fourth and flnal step was to print the list, print the brochures, deliver them all to the mailing house, then have the mailing house send the newsletter out to our selected lists.

This may sound like a simple project. Yet from start to enddeciding on a newsletter, determining the layout and design, selecting the mailing lists and mailing house, getting it printed, and mailing it out—the project took almost four solid months, and it involved the activities of flve different people who invested between 200 and 300 hours. The reason that we were able to do it successfully was because we organized it like a project, step by step, with each responsibility, each task, and each function tying into every other task and function.

Regular Review and Evaluation

The flnal requirement necessary to excel in project management is to schedule regular review sessions to measure progress, solve problems, and reassign responsibilities. This was a key element in getting the newsletter out on time and on budget. In every project, you must inspect what you expect. Once you have decided upon the project team and the project, and you have delegated the different tasks and responsibilities, you must set up a regular schedule to meet, review, and discuss how you are doing. No matter how well you plan at the beginning, you will receive a continuous flow of feedback that will necessitate regular revision of your plan to make the project come out successfully.

Successful Project Management

There are several factors that make project management successful. The flrst and most important of these is good communications among the various team members who are responsible for various parts of the project.

Clarity Is Essential

The flrst necessity for good communication is clarity. This means that you say exactly what you mean. You explain what you want done clearly and unambiguously. You never assume understanding. You never assume that people understand clearly what is said or what is expected of them. You always ask for feedback and double-check with your team members. Ask team members to explain what you have just said, in their own words. Encourage questions and open discussion. Encourage people to challenge and disagree. The more involved and active people are in discussing the project as it evolves, the more com- mitted they will be to making it successful when it is underway. The more the job is discussed, the clearer it becomes to everyone.

Consistency Is Important

The next part of good communication is consistency. The team leader must be patient, optimistic, determined, and persevering. Being a good project leader requires that you have, or develop, the best qualities of leadership and managerial excellence. You must keep cool when things go wrong. You must continually remind yourself that if you don’t stay on top of project tasks, they probably won’t get done. If the project is important enough, you must accept complete responsibility for inspecting what you expect. Don’t assume that everything is going according to plan, unless you have taken the time to check on it yourself.

Deal with Conflict and Poor Performance

Another part of good communication as a team leader is that you must deal with conflict and poor performance in a direct, straightforward manner. If a person does not do the job he has committed to do, you cannot ignore it. You cannot pretend that it is not happening. You cannot hope it will go away. The best bosses are very demanding when it comes to both deadlines and quality work. You must be the same. Encourage everyone to openly discuss the project and the progress that you are making. If necessary, be prepared to reassign jobs and tasks. Give differ- ent jobs to different people. If one person is overloaded and another person seems underworked, be prepared to reassign the tasks so that everybody feels they can achieve their jobs in an excellent fashion.

Develop the Courage of Your Convictions

The fourth quality of good communicators, and the great quality of leadership, is courage. As Winston Churchill said, ‘‘Courage is rightly considered the foremost of the virtues, for upon it, all others depend.’’ The most important type of courage is for you to take full responsibility for the results and to resolve to persist until the task is satisfactorily completed.

You Can Learn Any Skill

It is not easy to begin to use a systematic project management system if you have not done it in the past. But the development of project management skills will save you more time and do as much (or more) to advance your career than almost any other skill you can develop. You can use this project management skill at home. You can use it in planning vacations. You can use it in starting and building companies and organizations. You can use it to start your own business, become a successful salesperson, move onto the fast track in your life, and in many other ways.
Your ability to plan, organize, manage, and complete projects is central to your success and vital to your realizing your full potential in life, work, and leadership. Fortunately, project management is a learnable skill that you can master with practice and determination. There are no limits.

‘‘If you only care enough for a result, you will almost certainly attain it. Only you must then really wish these things, and wish them exclusively, and not wish at the same time a hundred other incompatible things.’’

Action Exercises

1. You only learn by doing. Select a project, business or personal, that can have a positive effect on your life if completed successfully, and apply the methods taught in this chapter to complete it.

2. Begin each project by deflning the ideal or perfect result you desire from accomplishing it successfully.

3. Make a list of every ingredient and step that you will have to include or take to complete the project in an excellent fashion.

4. Draw up a project planning form. Organize every task and activity that will have to be done, in order of sequence, from flrst to flnal job.

5. Assemble the people whose help and cooperation you will need to complete this project. Discuss the project in detail with them, and get each of them to commit to complete their individual tasks by a certain time.

6. Practice crisis anticipation and determine the setbacks or difflculties that could occur to delay successful completion of the project; look for ways to solve these problems before they occur.

7. Accept complete responsibility for the completion of projects that are vital to your future success, and that of your organization. Resolve to become absolutely excel- lent at project management for the rest of your career.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *