Tag Archives: task

How to Detail a Task to Discover its Time Span

I could see that Joel was stressed. This was a big job. Joel had been a successful supervisor, but this assignment as a new manager was different for him.

“It was all about improvisation,” he proclaimed. “Life was exciting. Things were always moving.

“But you asked me to make a list of the most important tasks in my new role, as a manager. I started with my role description. The insight came when I tried to peg the time span associated with each task.

“Here is one,” he continued. “The role description says that I am responsible for making sure we have enough direct labor to meet the production needs for all the cycles during the year.

“At first, I thought it just meant that I should post job vacancies and do some interviews. But when you asked me to attach time span to the task, my head started to spin.

“It was only then, that I realized I needed to research our historical workloads during the three cycles of our year. I had to take a look at our maximum production capacity along with the marketing and sales forecast. I spent the time to lay out all this data for the whole year. I used a line graph to help me visualize it. Then I had to figure out what resources we needed to produce the numbers related to the forecast. The forecast is helpful, but it is often wrong by as much as ten percent.

“All in all, when I looked at my new job, I really have to be planning out 12 months or more, in advance. This is a lot bigger than I thought.”

I smiled at Joel. He was new to the job, but he was beginning to understand the time span related to this new level of work, the time span necessary to be successful as a manager.

How To Measure Time Span in a Role

Marge was frustrated. “I am fed up to here,” she stated flatly. “”I spend more time correcting than I do controlling the work.” She had just paid a visit to the shipping dock. Four orders, mis-packed and two orders with the wrong ship address. Luckily, the errors were discovered before the freight company picked up, but the orders would now be delayed another day.

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“Well, Martin just doesn’t seem to be catching on. He has been here for five weeks, now, and I swear it’s like he is still in his first week. He is supposed to be matching and proofing orders and picking tickets, catching mistakes before they get out the door.”

“When you look at his job, how would you describe the longest task he has to perform, longest in terms of time frame?”

Marge thought for a minute. You could see some insight wave across her face. “He gets an advance report every Monday that looks two weeks out for orders and their target ship date. It’s like a rolling two week calendar. Of course, the orders during this week are much more definite, but we want him to think out two weeks.”

“And how far in the future do you think he is working?”

“Oh, no more than one day. If you ask him about tomorrow, you get that deer in the headlights look.”

“Did you ever think about that when you hired him?” I asked.

“No, he had experience as a packer, but not as a supervisor. I never thought it would be that big of a deal to really control what was happening.”

“Marge, don’t feel bad. Most companies underestimate the time span required for success in the job. And if you key in on time span, you can get much more specific about the level of the person you need. Here is the key question. When you look at the job, how would you describe the longest task the person has to perform, longest task in terms of time frame?”

Without a Deadline

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

What happens if someone isn’t focused on a timeline? We have a number of people who need to be strategic and who need to maintain a number of balls (projects) in the air, but those projects tend to focus on a “perfect outcome” without a time-frame.

One of the biggest mistakes managers make, is assigning tasks without a deadline. Lots of chocolate messes start out this way. All projects have a deadline, whether stated or not.

  • The manager thinks “by Friday,” the team member thinks by “next month.”
  • The manager thinks this task has priority over all other tasks. The team member thinks this task has second priority over all other tasks.
  • The manager expects to see a draft plan by Friday. The team member hasn’t heard from the manager by Thursday, so stops working on the task, thinking it is no longer important.

A task (goal, objective, project) is not a “WHAT.” It’s a “WHAT, BY WHEN.”


Sondra finished her project over the weekend.

“Last week, you assigned this task to Dale, but you ended up doing it,” I observed. I could tell she was very pleased with the project result, but miffed that she spent the weekend working when Dale had all of last week to work on it.

“I thought a lot about what you said about being more explicit about my deadline. Next time, I will try to remember that,” Sondra replied.

“More than that, the target completion time is essential to the task assignment. Dale gets all kinds of assignments. To complete them, he has to use his own discretion, primarily about pace and quality. Most of the decisions he makes are about pace and quality. Without a target completion time, he has no frame of reference in which to make his decisions. His ASAP will ALWAYS be different than your ASAP. ASAP is not a target completion time.”

Sondra smiled. I took a look at her project. It was really very good. She will make her client meeting today and life will go on.

Accounting – What’s the Level of Work?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

We are working on the structure of our accounting department. We have a comprehensive list (spreadsheet) of ALL the tasks that need to be completed from daily transactions, to weekly flash reports, to monthly financial statements, to quarterly reports and annual compilation activities. But all this work keys around, seems to be performed by one individual, the accounting manager. We have two additional people in that department, but we need help figuring how to distribute the work to the right person.

This is an accounting department, but the same principle applies, no matter the discipline. The futile approach would ask “Can this person do this and can that person do that?” The result would be a helter-skelter mish-mash of who would be accountable for what. It might help, but you would remain in a state of disorganization. Especially where you have a spreadsheet of tasks, enough to go around for three people in your accounting department, you need a systematic way of figuring this out. This is not complicated.

You say you have a spreadsheet. As comb through the list of tasks, the central question is to identify the Level of Work. Add a column in your spreadsheet that identifies the Level of Work (LOW) for each task. Your Accounting Manager needs to self perform those tasks at S-III and delegate S-II and S-I tasks.

S-I – Clerical, transactional input from coded paperwork, proofing batch transactions for accuracy, printing reports and schedules. This would include A/P and A/R data entry, timesheet entry, including job cost transaction input for labor and materials. Matching paperwork from work orders and POs to invoices received from vendors. Collecting, sorting and filing required paperwork to support higher level decisions related to disbursements or billing activities. [Scope of task assignments range from (1) day to (1) week to (1) month with no task assignments longer than (3) months].

S-II – Coding paperwork (making decisions) for transactional input, coding job costs of materials and labor including split allocations according to formula or system criteria created by manager. Reconciliation of accounts to workpapers. Second level review of transaction input from S-I activities. Compilation activities of reports and schedules required for routine reports for accuracy, completeness according to a publishing schedule created by manager. [Scope of longest task assignments range from (3) months to (12) months].

S-III – Creation of systems for all accounting functions, including documentation of steps, checks and balances, reconciliation points, review steps, identification of thresholds, risk assessment, and operating parameters. Third level review (signature) of transaction schedules for execution of disbursements (cash), movement of cash and cash management. Forecasting and budgeting. Cross-functional work with departments and divisions to support the financial analysis required for operational decisions (bid profitability, bid qualifying, project budgets, work-in-process, milestone completions, payment apps, collections). [Scope of longest task assignment range from (12) to (24) months].

You can flesh these guidelines out to assist in identifying the Level of Work in each line of your spreadsheet. Once the Level of Work is defined, it is easy to determine what tasks the Accounting Manager must self-perform and what tasks can (should) be delegated to appropriate team members.