In planning the tasks that make up a project’s definition, you can adopt one of two generally accepted approaches to creating a task list. With the first method, called top down, you create a list of the major tasks or phases of the project that you need to complete
for the project to be a success,
Using the office decentralization project outlined on the first page in 6, “Building a New Project,” as an example, we can include the following major tasks in the portion of the project related to finding a new location and moving into office space there:
• Find suitable lease space
• Design space
• Build out space
• Decorate suite
Accomplishing anyone of these tasks would require a number of additional steps or sub tasks. Any task that has sub tasks related to it is called a summary task. In the top down approach, you list all the summary tasks, and then break down each of these tasks into its logical sub tasks. For example, the sub tasks related to finding suitable lease space include the following:
• Identify space needs
• Contact a realtor to identify potential available properties
• Tour properties
• Make an offer on a property that meets specifications
• Negotiate a lease
• Sign a lease
Even some of these tasks, such as Identify Space Needs, have a series of smaller tasks related to them. To identify space needs, you might do the following:
• Develop a list of potential criteria (based on goals of the decentralization project)
• Solicit input to prioritize criteria
• Finalize a criteria list Therefore, the Identify Space Needs task also becomes a summary task with a list of sub tasks. By listing the major tasks first, you can break down each task into manageable,
bite-sized pieces. You may even look at this list of sub tasks and decide to break them down even further.
At some point, the tasks become too small to be valuable from a ‘tracking and management perspective. Using Solicit Input to Prioritize Criteria as an example, suppose you decide to hold a series of meetings with staff members to get their input by using a multiple voting technique to prioritize the criteria list.
You might list Set Up Meeting Room as one of the sub tasks. Would you also include Arrange Chairs, Set Up Flip Chart, and Buy Markers as sub tasks? If the person to whom you eventually assign this task has never set up a meeting room before, providing this level of specificity might be valuable.
After a time, however, you may find that you are spending more time documenting the status of project tasks than managing the project itself.
You might be better off giving a descriptive in of the task to the person responsible for setting up the meeting room that outline the specification for the room, but keeping the task at the level of Set Up Meeting Room.
In fact, depending on the project and your needs for detail as project manager, even this task may be too specific.
The key is to find a level of detail that shows you are making progress without losing the big picture.
The second method of creating a task list uses a bottom-up approach. In this method, you list all the lower-level tasks of the project, usually organizing them in chronological order. You then insert summary tasks to group related tasks together. The bottom-up approach works best with smaller projects in which you are already familiar with the task details and just want to organize the tasks in some sort of logical order.
Whichever method you use, keep these things in mind:
• Every task should have clear completion criteria. For every task, you should be able to answer the question, “How will I know when this task is completed?”
• Break down tasks that have long duration compared with the total project. This makes it easier to assign resources and estimate completion dates.
• If you are uncertain about how a task will be accomplished, break it down into sub tasks until it becomes clear.
Types of Tasks A project usually consists of four major types of tasks:
• Summary tasks are tasks that contain sub tasks. Microsoft Project automatically summarizes the duration and costs related to sub tasks into the summary task.
• Sub tasks are smaller tasks that roll up into a summary task.
• Recurring tasks are tasks that occur at regular intervals during the course of the project-a project review meeting, for example.
• Milestones are tasks that usually have no duration and mark the completion of a Significant phase of the project.
Move Completed might be an example of a milestone in the office space example used earlier.
When you create a task list, you should consider what type each task is, and be sure to include recurring tasks and milestones to make the list complete.