Task definitions underpin the entire Project

August 16, 2022
Project Management

Show me a project that lacks task clarity and I’ll show you a failed project.

I have participated in hundreds of “Lessons Learned” project closure sessions. As you might expect, the greatest interest and attendance at these sessions is when a project fails. Everyone wants to know what happened, how to prevent future failure, and for some — who to blame.

In all cases I am able to trace the failure back to a single common root problem — poor task definition.

The management responsible for these failed projects provide long lists of explanations. Frequent among them is insufficient time, budget, or resources. There are plenty reasons, but no justifiable excuses.

I have found that for every failed task, the cost of failure is much greater than the cost of properly defining the task in the first place.

Task definitions underpin the entire project — they define:

  • What is to be done
  • What resources are needed
  • What determines when the task is complete

They also effect key follow-on decisions such as:

  • Who the right resource to work the task is
  • How much time is needed to complete the task
  • What is the task is dependent on

During the planning stage of a project, upper management will typically use a deliverable-oriented work breakdown structure (WBS) to see if the project is justified. Sometimes the smaller sections of the WBS are broken down into individual tasks to improve estimation accuracy. Even if this is done, these task definitions are high level and not sufficient to be use during the execution phase of a project.

When executing and releasing tasks, each single task definition needs to be reviewed and approved by the resource who will work the task. This means that:

  • There is a clear and unique name for the task.
  • There is a clear and complete description of the work to be done.
  • There is a clear and complete definition of what done is (DOD).

With these defined, the resource can properly estimate the work effort needed to complete the task. Now the task is truly ready to be scheduled and released.

Steven Souther
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