The Blessing and Curse of the Long-Duration Task

From the Eye on the Workforce Blog
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Workforce management is a key part of project success, but project managers often find it difficult to get trustworthy information on what really works. From interpersonal interactions to big workforce issues we'll look the latest research and proven techniques to find the most effective solutions for your projects.

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Ah, the luxury of having an active task with an end date that is far away. You can concentrate on the tasks that are more urgent, making sure the team focuses on getting those done on time. There will be plenty of time to bring attention to that non-urgent task later.

That is, until the day when you think, "Is that task due already? Last check it was only 25% done and now there is only 10% time remaining!"

A long-duration task could be a task that takes many weeks to complete in a project where tasks typically last a week or two. There's been no mistake. It has been scheduled that way. A long design task, for example, to complete a single critical, difficult display for stakeholders. Or a long development task that takes the effort of many specialists who are working part time on the project, increasing the duration, but not the total effort. The key characteristic is that the task has been set a long duration by the team or owner (or you!) and now it is in progress in your project along with many other tasks that have due dates much sooner.

Consider this situation an opportunity, a way to exhibit your more advanced execution skills and maintain focus on active tasks with long durations. Build or strengthen this habit by using certain tactics and staying "above the fray" in your meetings

Stay Above the Fray . . . Inexperienced practitioners can wait too long to start checking on tasks that start weeks or months before they end. You can probably remember meetings where you allowed task reviews in meetings to be all about the urgent. That's what people want to talk about. But long-duration tasks have long durations for a reason. Effort needs to be expended the whole time. If inadequate effort is expended because of overconfidence, distractions or too much time allocated to urgent tasks, then the group completing the task will have lost the opportunity to do needed work.

  • Start checking status on long-duration tasks soon after the start date occurs. This forms a habit and expectation in the meeting. All tasks are "weighed" the same.

Use Effective Task Management Tactics . . . Manage long-duration activities to set up task owners and yourself for success. If you wait until too close to the end of the task to start checking in, then you lose the opportunity to intervene.

  • Your agenda for routine project team meeting should include Tasks In Progress. In case you can't get to all long-duration active tasks in one meeting, make sure you get a status in the next meeting. Build the habit and expectation.
  • Obtain status simply by requesting percent complete. You can gather other information as appropriate for your project and time limitations. You may need to help those reporting to be concise.
  • As soon as percent complete drops behind pragmatic expectations, ask questions about whether there are problems. If the report is that time can be made up, check on that over time. Be respectful and positive, but skeptical and careful. Call a risk a risk.
  • Provide positive reinforcement when tasks are completed. Workers will appreciate positive experiences from the usual grind of routine task management.
  • Consider whether a long-duration task would benefit from being broken into smaller chunks that allow better monitoring of progress. This could be as simple as splitting creation of a large document into a task for "Complete review draft" followed by a task for "Incorporate feedback, complete document and submit for final approval". Work with the owner to come up with ideas.
  • When you see long-duration tasks, be proactive about asking the owner or team about expected obstacles to completion. Make a note of these and ask about them during the task status updates.

A big part of keeping project execution on track is keeping long-duration tasks on track. The ability to get these type of tasks completed is a routinely useful skill that you can improve to increase your success and that of the teams who make up your project workforce. And if those who can possibly pay you the big bucks happen to notice, all the better.

Posted on: February 20, 2019 10:47 PM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Big tasks ie having long duration provide an opportunity to make some R & D before making the concrete plan of execution in the beginning.
This opportunity if utilized may contribute to improve future or present processes, the way the task is carried out in the current scene.
It is psychologically relaxing the task owner during initial period.

Other better way of taking the advantage of far end date is we complete more important tasks having nearing end dates.

To keep track of long tasks, as mentioned by Joe is dividing the task into small countable or measurable tasks with optional end dates so that at the end, there is no surprise at the real end date.

Generally such type of long tasks I observed in documentation, preparing Help library & other organizational process tasks.

Joe, Thanks for sharing the information.

Nice. Thanks for sharing

Thank you Joe for sharing. Being proactive and discipline are important traits to track and execute project with long-duration tasks.

Thank you for the excellent reminders and tips.

Good Information

Fantastic tips, sometimes the ‘circle’ goes round intentionally as defensive tactics from the top but perhaps very much depends on PMs skills to manage ‘signals’ to manage actions. Thanks for the share!

Very interesting. Thank you!

Thanks Sharing

Organization and discipline solve this issues. Thanks for sharing.

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