Systems Leadership defines a Task as:
“An assignment to achieve a specific output within a given time, with given resources and within specified limits.”
In simpler terms a task is a one-off defined piece of work.
A well-developed task assignment provides clarity around expectations and sets the limits of discretion (the boundaries); the path chosen to reach the objective is up to the individual.
A quote I came across on Twitter articulated the need to allow people discretion when it comes to how the work will be performed.
“Hiring smart people is pointless if they aren’t allowed to make any decisions”
If there is no judgment required what so ever, then a computer is the ideal candidate for performing the task. Furthermore, if no judgment is required it is likely to be a pretty boring mindless task. Dr Deming teaches us that if we want someone to do a good job, then we need to give them a good job to do.
Since the Manager sets the boundaries (not to say this cannot be done collaboratively), the Manager is ultimately accountable for the performance. The Manager is the one controlling the resources available, the utilisation of these and makes judgements regarding what tasks to assign to which individuals etc.
There is in the agile community (or at least the one I am connected with) much talk about self-organisation and some are questioning of the role of Management altogether. The models provided here are still applicable as a leader can emerge rather than be appointed and whichever way people decide to work together, clarity about is to be achieved. So, even if teams can self-organise and choose tasks, some constraints are required is essential.
This was the first Task Assignment model I came across and I stick with it both because I have not come across a better model nor have I developed a better model myself. I must admit that before this model I had never really given Task Assignments much thought. I do know how important it is to cover off on all elements of the model. When I was around 10 years old my mother gave me some money to go to the shop and get milk. In today’s money it might be the equivalent to $20. Failing to provide specific instructions in terms of quantity I happily purchased $20 worth of milk and dragged home some 15 litres of milk to a very surprised mum.
CPQQRT might not roll off the tip of your tongue but it is a great mnemonic for understanding and clarifying the required elements of a task, both for the person assigning the task and the person it is assigned to. The task at this point is in the Mind of the Manager and the model is a tool to support the communication of this to someone else. If the Manager cannot write down or articulate what they want from the task – then how can anyone else be expected to deliver on it?
Just as I described in the decision making model, Context aims at setting the scene and provide clarity about what brought about the task, linkages to other tasks, and anything that could in any substantive way influence what we are trying to achieve. Depending on the size of the task at hand the context could vary in length and detail. Sometimes there is already shared understanding of the context but it is a good habit to always check this by assuming it is not.
This is the reason for the work – not the work itself. It clarifies why we are we doing this and what do we hope to achieve by doing so? A common mistake is to confuse the Purpose with the Output.
This can be tricky for more complex tasks but it refers to the output in numbers and answers the question: how many? Quantity can be specified or scoped, i.e. no variation from what is set out or quantity can be within a prescribed range.
Answers the question: What will the output be like? The quality of the output can also be specified or scoped. Quality can also be described in more general terms e.g. within industry, safety, or environmental standards. Quality can also have a relationship (social) angle as in: achieve xyz and establish a working relationship with stakeholder ABC.
Clarifies what I have available to complete the task. These can amongst other things be:
- People (internal)
- External support (if applicable)
- Manager’s availability
- Central support (e.g. a Project Office)
The time element refers to the latest required completion time. There is nothing preventing the task from being completed at an earlier time. Your obligation as task assignee is to inform the manager as soon as you realise that the time cannot be met, not at or after the deadline has passed.
Remember that Systems Leadership is about clarity, a Time element that says ASAP is NEVER clear enough.
All the basic elements of a task assignment are now covered, however, as a Manager I need to consider the social process holding them all together.
Before assigning a Task I have to decide and plan:
- Who I am going to assign the task to?
- How I will communicate it?
- When will I communicate it?
- How does it fit in with other priorities?
- How will I monitor progress, regular meetings, milestone reports etc?
Once the Task is assigned (and accepted) I have to fulfil my obligation as a Manager to:
- Be disciplined in monitoring results and progress
- Have continual performance conversations
- Communicate changes in context
- Be adaptable to changes to plans
- Be aware of how the team is working together
For additional information on this topic please read Phillip Bartlett’s paper Task Assignment as a social process.
I will cover more on Work as a Social Process in the next post.