Not all tasks in the project are equal in the managerial attention that should be given to them.
It is very important to visit from time to time special tasks, which differ from others in their priority, cost or progress in the project:
A project consists of many interdependent tasks that have different priorities. These priorities stem from the customer’s needs and the professional and managerial definition of the project’s team.
Priorities may be assigned to tasks according to the priority levels in MS-Project software, ranging from 0 to 1000; the higher the value assigned to the task, the higher its priority in the project. It is recommended that you prioritize your tasks using a ranking scale of only a few levels, such as 250, 500, 750 and 1000. Be aware that priority 1000 in MS-Project software is a priority level with a special meaning in the resource leveling process. Tasks assigned this priority will not be delayed by the system.
Alternatively, you can set priority in any other scale that reflects a clear distinction of task priorities, provided it is a consensual basis for communication with the parties involved during the project’s task prioritization process.
When controlling tasks, it is essential to address the priorities that were set for them and to ensure that higher priority tasks receive priority in resource allocation and gain the managerial attention of all parties involved in the project.
Expensive tasks are ones that use up a considerable portion of the project budget, usually due to the cost of the resources assigned to these tasks.
In order to ensure that expensive tasks begin on time, give sufficient notice ahead of the expected start date of these tasks and verify that the resources needed are ready and available. This advance notice should be given on two or three different dates before the task is scheduled to begin, for example, two weeks, one week, and two days ahead of time. Progress on these tasks should be tracked and tightly controlled so that expensive delays can be avoided.
The project manager must maintain tight control of these expensive tasks and report on the progress made on these tasks to all project stakeholders—if only because of the high costs involved. For that reason, it is a good idea to note expensive tasks explicitly in the appropriate field in the database and then use a filter to obtain the full list of such tasks when needed.
Quite often, work on a task progresses just fine right up to the home stretch, when the task gets stuck, all work stops and all the progress achieved up to that point is wasted over delays caused by many different factors.
The project manager did not pay enough attention to the task since work on it had been satisfactory up to that point. With so little work remaining on the task, the project manager will sometimes not consider the resulting delay to be important enough to merit special attention.
These “almost done” tasks that may stall the project, eat away at the project buffer and cause deviations from project parameters—before anyone notices anything is wrong.
As a result, any such tasks must be identified early on and receive the necessary managerial and professional attention in order to guarantee their completion on schedule.
Work on the various tasks must be documented on an ongoing basis and those tasks where no real progress has been reported for a while should be identified. Identify “stuck” tasks as early as possible to avoid losing momentum while working on them, thus preventing a domino effect—where delay in the completion of one task may cause a delay in the entire project.
Additional resources should be assigned to these tasks in order to ensure they are completed on time. These resources should do everything in their power to make certain that progress is being made—even at the cost of a temporary but deliberate delay in other tasks.
There are several ways to identify and track “stuck” tasks:
- Generate a list of all expected completion dates and update these on a weekly basis. Plot these data points and create a graph that displays task completion trends. Tasks that display a continuous delay trend will be displayed as a line trending up instead of a straight, horizontal line that represents tasks that are on time. Lines with upward trends represent “stuck” tasks.
- Each week, a count of all the tasks on which work has begun but not been completed should be made in order to identify whether this number is increasing or decreasing. Whenever this count shows a significant increase in the number of incomplete tasks, these tasks should be analyzed in order to identify the ones that are still being worked on even though they should have already been completed. These are the tasks that require the team’s attention. Several project management approaches, including the Kanban Approach and Agile Methodology, recommend completing the work on existing tasks before work is begun on new tasks, thus reducing the number of tasks in progress to a reasonable and manageable number.
- The actual percentage of work completed on each task should be compared to the percentage that should have been completed according to the baseline plan. Tasks that are not progressing according to plan should be identified.