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Five Areas of Effective Task Management

Introduction

All organizations have requirements which prompt the implementation of certain tasks in a bid to improve the overall performance of the organization while at the same time ensuring that the organization is at par with recent developments in the specific area of operation. The overall success of the task in terms of implementing tasks is of critical importance to the overall success of the organization. This prompts the need to adopt prudent task management practices which ensure competent execution of tasks as well as efficiency in the implementation process a factor which leads to optimal performance of the organization. Managing tasks conventionally entails seeing the success of a specific process from its time of inception to the end of its lifecycle. Effectively managing tasks encompasses taking to full consideration the numerous different aspects of each given task. This is because, a task will always have some unique aspects which if not properly identified can be disastrous to the implementation of the main task. These are the specific activities whose order and execution must be guided by some overriding structural steps which give the overall guide to the implementation of the organisational tasks.

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The process of task management encompasses five major areas which must be given adequate attention to ensure a smooth implementation of any given task. The areas include: specifying the task, planning the task, leadership and management, monitoring and coaching and more importantly communication. The execution of all these aspects of task management is greatly instrumental to the success of task implementation in any given task or project. This paper discusses the five areas of effective task management. It gives a comprehensive analysis of these sub-tasks in the context of the implementation of several leadership styles.

Task specification

Before the start of any process of task execution, identification is most critical. Specifying the task incorporates an accurate comprehensive analysis of the task itself. Identifying the task incorporates pointing out the specific tasks to be performed. A crucial component of the process of specifying the task is identifying the true objectives of the task. An honest and accurate account of the objectives of the project to be implemented is paramount. Decisions on design as well as ideas on how to deal with upcoming issues are based on the ability of the objectives developed to match the required performance on the job. Again, the objectives guide the rest of the sub-tasks conducted in the implementing the entire project. Authentic objectives form the firm foundation for effective decision making as well as building relevant courses with appropriate technical as well as non-technical specifications. Without proper definition of objectives, it becomes a problem dealing with upcoming issues during the task implementation process. There exists some crucial attributes critical to the development of authentic objectives. The main aim of the attributes is to guide the process of specifying the task at hand in order to effectively guide the process of task implementation (Overcoming Communication Barriers, Par6).

The first attribute of authentic objectives is the condition statement. The condition statement comprehensively analysis and describes the job in its context. It is supposed to offer a clear simulation of the task at hand so that all the participants in the task implementation get a clear picture of the numerous dynamics prevalent in implementing the complex project. The overall objective acts as the basic guide to the process of decision making in each specific situation. Developing a condition statement involves two major actions.

First is the process of describing the various elements involved in the task development. This involves engaging in an extensive inquiry process to ensure all the elements ranging from the participants, the resources in terms of time and finances, pending disruptions and effects on the normal operations are taken to consideration. The more accurate and comprehensive the description is the more improved will be the task specification process. For each element all the aspects affecting it must be put in adequate consideration. Again an integration of all the elements would greatly help in placing each element in its rightful place within the entire implementation framework.

The second action involves describing the workstations required in terms of their requirements as well as identifying suitable people to occupy those work stations. This entails the breaking down of the entire job task into manageable sub-tasks and developing the requisite requirements for each task in terms of the tools as well as materials required to perform them. This ends with a compilation of the entire task in terms of the tolls and material requirements.

The second critical attribute in developing authentic overall objectives is developing an action statement geared towards the task implementation. The statement is developed using clearly visible action verbs with the ability to define or effectively describe the overall project under implementation. The aim of the use of such a verb is to provide clear instructions on the required actions as well as giving a picture of the desired ending for which the task has been designed.

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Thirdly, developing authentic objectives requires one to come up with a clear standard of performance to be used in evaluating the performance. The standards act as the yardstick for assessing the success of the objectives developed. The actual results on implementation are weighed against the set standard already developed. The success in task performance is dependent on the ability of the delivered results to meet the specifications of the standards (6 key elements for better Task Management, Par4).

In the process of creating authentic it is advisable to develop ingenious ways to simulate the conditions likely to face the task as well as possible performance methods. For instance if a certain project is to take several days, weeks or even months the timeline has to be condensed into a realistic timeframe for the simulation. This is to save on resource use or to ensure the simulation is within reasonable limits.

Adequate task specification must include a host of information about the task to be executed. First is the task name which clearly identifies the task. This is followed by a brief description of the overall project. The description highlights the major issues to be talked and more importantly highlights the expected outcome on implementation of the task. As mentioned above, the inputs required should also be part of the specifications. These include the materials, time human as well as financial inputs required in implementing the task. More importantly, the criteria on which the inputs are to be chosen or applied should also be clarified.

In addition, there should be a detailed analysis of the preconditions to be met in any of the sub-tasks performed so as to ensure consistency ad harmony during project implementation. The output as well as the output criteria should also be specified in the task specification stage. Finally, the post conditions as well as operational attributes must be clearly defined. Post conditions are the extra requirements which should be met in order for effective operationalisation of the set up processes resulting from the implementation of the project. Operational attributes guide on the alterations in the normal processes for effective implementation of the tasks.

Numerous advantages accrue when objectives are clearly and accurately articulated. First, implementers have little to guess on. The clarity level is very high as to clear any uncertainties as far as the task operation is concerned. This not only facilitates the smooth execution of the tasks at hand but also helps save on the training requirements for the project implementers. Secondly, the structure on which to get immediate an accurate feedback is put in place. This means that during task execution, feedback continues to stream in. The effect of these is the fact that alterations will constantly be done as the task progresses leading to better improved outcomes. The objectives also avail an accurate structure for developing, validating as well as testing the performance of all task implementers involved. The effect of these is to build a strong channel to be followed by both the implementers as well as their supervisors hence reducing areas of conflict and improve outcomes (Chaddock, p3).

Lack of properly developed objectives in task specification can lead to disastrous outcomes of the implementation process of the project. First, the implementers would not have a common reference point on which to base their work. This could potentially introduce divergent perceptions on what is to be done and how to do it due to lack of common conceptualization of the tasks intentions as well as execution methods applicable.

Other attributes of task specification are defined by the popular SMART objectives. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and tangible. Specific objectives are those objectives with a good chance of being accomplished. For an objective to be specific, it has to adequately answer several questions. The first question concerns the parties involved. The persons involved have to clearly be described. Secondly, there must be a clear statement of what is to be accomplished. This entails a detailed description of exactly what is to be done. In addition, there should information of where the activities are to take place as well as when they happen. Also, there is the need to identify the requirements and constraints expected during execution as well as the reasons for accomplishing the tasks stipulated.

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The measurable aspect relates to the need to establish a yardstick to assess progress made in attaining the objectives set. This ensures that executors stay on track and more importantly beat targets in terms of time and quality. Attainability is the attribute meant to alleviate frustration. Setting attainable objectives not only boosts the confidence of the implementers but also ensures fair accountability. The objectives also have to be realistic. This attribute requires that the involved executors are able and willing to work towards the attainment of the defined objectives. Finally the objectives have to be tangible. This implies that they can be experienced with at least one of the senses. A tangible goal enables the development of measurable, attainable and realistic objectives.

Task planning

After comprehensively specifying the tasks, it becomes clear on what is required in the task. This gives way for the development of a proper plan which seeks to optimize resource use. This entails an accurate forecast of all the activities to be carried out during task implementation. Again all the aspects of task implementation must be taken to account in developing a plan for the task.

There is the need to efficiently deploy organizations resources for optimal output. The most important elements in this section are budgeting, scheduling as well as aspects of human resource management applicable in implementing the task. Adequate resource planning is a basic prerequisite for effective implementation. It helps avoid unnecessary delays and stoppages hence ensuring a smooth execution of the task.

The process of planning is full of challenges which result from the fact that the whole plan is based on the current conceptions on how the entire task will appear like. It often difficult to perceive each specific detail of how all the sub-tasks will appear like. What is most clear is the fact that the more detailed and accurate the plan is, the smoother will be the implementation process. Timeliness of the project is based on the ability of the project to proceed as scheduled. It also avoids possible losses resulting from delays. It is true that the plan is always based on estimates developed by experts who draw from their wide knowledge as well as experiences before. However, due to the fact that projects are commonly unique from those done before, the accuracy of the estimates can only be ascertained after completion. The ‘cone of uncertainty’ as developed by Barry Boehm came up with a common conclusion that typically projects deviate from the plans by margins as high as 60%. This means that a project scheduled to take about 5 weeks can end up taking as much as 8 weeks.

The need to plan is compounded by many factors. For business development projects, there may be need to engage in activities such as marketing as well as scheduling product releases as well as conducting internal training prior to the end of the of the project implementation. The planning process also incorporates the identification of all the required characteristics for the task and choosing the most appropriate ones for inclusion while discarding the least applicable.

A well planned task wields numerous advantages. The first is risk reduction. A well developed plan heightens the possibility of succeeding in the task execution mainly by aiding in the identification of the risks inherent in the project. It is possible that before planning, the risks involved could not be fully visible leading to cases of oversimplification. Developing proper plans exposes the risks a fact which may even lead to the cancellation of the entire project due to the new knowledge generated during the planning process. Risk reduction can be achieved by redefining the overall vision of the task or conducting alterations on some of the sub-processes. This is supposed to inherently reduce the risks involved in conducting the specific tasks which reduces the overall risk of failure for the task (Jim, S Great Business Mentoring, Par9).

By definition a successful task fulfils all the specifications stipulated initially, is timely and falls within the budget developed prior to implementation. This definition is faulted by scholars who argue that more often than not, some of the features which appeared good at the start of the project prove not to be as useful as ones thought. This hence enables the revision of the definition of failed scholars to focus more on those which experienced no improvements on the original plan throughout execution. The idea is that task which strictly delivers all the characteristics of the initial plan is not always a success. Discovery of new ideas in the process of executing the task is really what guarantees quality work.

The second characteristic of a well developed plan is that it should support better decision making. The presence of estimates guides the concerned parties on how much commitment in terms of resources should be allocated to the specific sub-tasks. Again it is possible to ensure that one is working on the most viable projects among the many possible ones in solving the defined challenges. The idea of business viability in terms of the cost benefit analysis can be done to a much accurate detail if proper plans have already been established. Beyond this, the plan also gives some direction as to the most important aspect of the project. It could be in terms of finances, human resource requirements as well as the scheduling process. A project which requires a high number of employees who are highly qualified may require disproportionately higher amounts provided to the personnel element than investment in comparison to other elements.

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It is true that most of the decisions made in the planning stage involve trade-offs. The two main elements of trade-off are development time and cost. Urgent tasks may require a higher level of investing in material, tools as well as human resources. The extra resources to be used in speeding up the task ultimately add to the total cost of implementation. In making such decisions, estimates of both costs as well as benefits accruing from the action should be the guide. It is true that the more information one has about a certain situation, the better equipped he/she is in making accurate decisions. Since it is not possible to have the real situation so as to base all the decisions on, the plan together with the task specification offer a viable simulation closely resembling the actual situation on which decisions can be based.

Resource planning also develops trust among the various parties involved. The Implementers have to give some form of proof to parties such as financiers, users as well as those expected to gain from the task. Financier’s become more comfortable knowing the timeline of their investments as well as being able to clearly see the allocation of funds within the various sub-tasks to be performed. In a case where the task to be done is supposed to be transferred to a client, the plan presented to the said client gives offers some level of assurance and proof that the task will be completed in time and will fall within the desired allocations in terms of finances and other materials.

A plan also gives a clearer picture of the expectations after the task is complete. It may not be an exact representation of what is to be the final result but it gives a well established set of expectations. It not only gives the expectations in terms of the exact date of completion, the amount of finances, the number of personnel and skills required but also gives insights into how the figures have been arrived at. The break down gives a better view of what is to be done at what stage and the assumptions made in giving the estimates. The idea of giving information without proof points to the fact that one may have just guessed hence the facts may not be reliable.

It is therefore clear that a good plan is one which enhances optimal resource use and is sufficiently reliable so as to enable all the involved stakeholders make informed decisions. The more accurate the plan is, the more reliable it is. The correctness of a plan is mainly based on its ability to relate to the final outcome. It is however true that in the course of the task implementation; the plan should be constantly under review so as to adapt it to the upcoming issues during execution. Therefore, the closer the task is to completion, the more accurate the plan is towards completion.

Agile planning puts to account the efforts put in the planning process as well as the investments done and balances this with the fact that the plan developed will be under constant review. This means that the plan should not be rigid. Hence putting too much effort in developing the initial plan to perfection may not be the prudent thing to do as the differing circumstances to be encountered in the future will definitely necessitate some alterations.

Leadership and Management

The process of implementing task may be a long and complex one. Managing the people involved is usually a challenge. The hiring process should be closely monitored to ensure that the right people are available for implementing the task. The main challenge comes with motivating them to give their very best throughout the task implementation period. Issues of compensation should properly considered so as to support other efforts put in place to motivate the employees to be involved. However the leadership style adopted in implementation is key in determining the level of motivation achieved for the employees.

The leadership styles is basically the manner in which the people charged with the responsibility of executing the task approach the process of giving direction, enforcing implementation and more importantly motivating people. There exist diverse leadership models applicable in the task management process. The three major styles are: Authoritarian or autocratic, participative or democratic and the delegative or free reign approach. It has been observed that the best of leaders use all the three styles at the same time but in different situations. It is however true that any leader will have a dominant style. Bad leaders are those who stick to one style despite the circumstances facing them.

Autocratic type of leadership is mostly characterized by concentration of al, the authority to make decisions on the leader. The team leader constantly issues directives to employees on what is to be done, how it should be done and by when it should be done with little regard to the views of the subordinates. The leadership model is condemned by many who view it as being retrogressive, barbaric and a form of lowering human dignity. True, the style has been wrongly applied by many in authority who yell, use demeaning language issue unwarranted threats and go to the extreme of completing abusing powers bestowed on them. Applying such abusive elements does not reflect the true authoritarian leadership style. It is a different unprofessional and uncouth style of ‘bossing people around’.

True autocratic leadership style simply involves supplying directives to great details regarding the execution of certain tasks. The most appropriate condition allowing for the authoritarian style is when the leader has all the information required in implementing a task or in solving a problem. It is also applicable when there is a shortage of time in implementing the task or resolving the problem and more importantly, the employees are already highly motivated.

In times when all the information is available to the leader, efforts to educate all the employees hence allow them to male independent decisions may be unwarranted. The leader can thus ensure that all instructions are issued like a manual to the implementers. Under such circumstances, employees would hardly feel belittled by the action of the leaders as they too understand their limited knowledge in the particular areas hence require all the help available. Shortage of time prompts the application of the leadership style due to the fact that the style enables faster implementation as well as resolution of problems than any other style. This is because the employee is not expected to engage in intense thought process in coming up with the way forward. All they need is to implement the directives a factor which saves on time leading to successful completion time. The employees however need to be highly motivated as the style may lead to resistance and resentment. However, the application of this leadership style should be restrained to the applicable situations. The great undoing is the fact that the views of the implementers are hardly taken to account. This has the potential to result in the achievement of substandard task and more importantly demoralize employees. The participative and the delegative approaches should be mostly applied in the absence of the described circumstances. They greatly differ from the autocratic style in a host of different ways.

The participative approach involves working together. Under this style of leadership, one or more employees are involved in the determining the best way forward when faced by different situations. Deliberations are encouraged to come up with the best solution to solve a problem or to follow in implementing the task at hand. The agreement is not only better refined than if it was developed by the leader in solitude but is also largely acceptable to all the concerned parties. It should be noted that the leader maintains the final authority on the final decision. This is because he is the one charged with the responsibility of implementing the task hence bears the greatest burden of ensuring success in each stage. Using this style gives a great opportunity to the employees concerned to give their views in the implementation process. This way, they feel better appreciated by their seniors a factor which builds on their motivation. Even more important is the fact that they get to participate in making decisions meaning that they not only understand them best but also to a large extent own these decisions. The sense of ownership is critical in creating a drive towards the expected achievements set. The combination of these factors has the potential to propel the implementation process as well as greatly improve the quality of work done.

The style is best applied in cases where the leader has part of the knowledge required to undertake the task while the subordinates have the rest. This is in consideration of the fact the leader does not always have to know everything. Qualified employees should be allowed to utilize their skills at work to improve the situations they face (Workplace Coaching and Mentoring, Par5).

It is therefore clear that adopting this leadership style is not a sign of weakness on the part of the leader but rather a way of improving the environment for better performance. In is also not a style to be used by a leader with the intention of blaming others on everything which goes wrong. The leader must always take to account the fact that they remain in full charge of the teams they head and that they have to take responsibility for the outcomes achieved. Indeed the style has mutual benefit. The employee feels and become part of the team while the organization gains from the skills of employees through their contribution to the making of quality decisions.

The third leadership style applicable in task management is delegative leadership. The style is also called free reign. Under the style, employees are at great liberty to make decisions. The style gives a wide area for employees to maneuver as far as the decision making process is concerned. The leader may just allow the employees to develop their own solutions and implement them without any interference. Under the style, the leader is more of a spectator than a participant. The style is mostly applied in the case of greatly experienced and responsible employees. They must have faced the situation severally in the pasts hence fully equipped with the necessary skills to handle any arising situation. The leader performs what may be seen as a supervisory role by assessing the work delegated to others.

The style is mostly used where the leader scope is wide hence necessitating full delegation. The task handled by each employee is expected to meet certain standards in order to facilitate integration with those handled by others. The concerned implementers must have adequate capacity to accurately understand and analyze situations and more importantly determine the next course of action and how it should follow. Full confidence and trust are the basic prerequisites for the application of this leadership style. The freedom comes with enormous responsibility on the employee.

However it is also true that the amount of motivation this leadership style bestows on employees is simply immense. They feel valued within the organization and are motivated to impress their trusting leadership hence the level of performance is very high. Again, they have a sense of ownership to the jobs they undertake hence feel obligated to execute them to the best possible level of performance. It is a highly risky style of leadership but whose benefits are also high.

As alluded to in the discussion above, the best of leaders in any organizations uses a combination of the three styles of leadership in differing circumstances. Application of the three styles of leadership is mainly dependent on the forces operating between the leader, the subordinates and the circumstance at hand. Autocratic leadership can be applied on people with minimal knowledge to encourage the employee to learn more. Participative style is best applied in a situation where the leader has limited information concerning the task at hand. Finally, delegative style is applicable in areas where trust and confidence exists between the employee and the leadership.

An illustration can be given in the case where the task involves the installation of a computer program in an organization. To start with, the autocratic leadership is most applicable. The application users are provided with in-depth details on how to operate the program and how to respond when faced with different situations expected to arise. After a period of time, they become better accustomed and can be occasionally left alone to work and give feedback to the seniors. On this position, the participative style has already set in. After several years of working using the programs a delegative approach can be used as they are experienced enough to comfortably perform complex tasks with little or no assistance.

Mentoring and Coaching

In most cases, the execution of new tasks introduces significant changes in the area of implementation. Managing change is usually a troublesome affair in most organizations. There are numerous factors which when combined act to vehemently oppose the process of change. The most important among them is lack of adequate information on the extent of change, the scope involved, the outcome as well as the different effects likely to result fro the change process. This necessitates the need to conduct effective mentoring and coaching in the organization being affected.

Mentoring is a lengthy relationship between a less skilled individual and a more skilled person established with the intention of transferring knowledge and skills through a variety of avenues. The mentor may formerly have meetings with the learner where he/ she explain the experiences underwent and the correct route to follow when faced with different experiences. The learner is also expected top continually observe the mentors reaction to circumstances in a bid to learn from them. Coaching on the other hand occurs when a learner engages in a formal or informal relationship with a more knowledgeable person with the sole aim of learning certain skills (Darryl, Par5).

Mentoring is focused on the individual growth in a wider spectrum unlike coaching which is focused on the performance in relation to a certain event just like in sports. This implies that mentorship has no one specific agenda, it is aimed at wide spread and wholesome growth of the individual. Coaching on the other hand has its agenda on improving the understanding or performance of a person in a certain field.

In addition, mentorship is largely self selecting in the sense that it is the individual who chooses the best person to consider a mentor. Coaching on the other hand is handed down by the occupation one pursues.

As can be seen, mentorship is more in-depth than coaching. It is therefore true that in the context of task management, coaching is the most applicable. This is because it may not be possible to make all the employees involved in certain task to choose a specific person as the mentor.

The basic techniques applicable for the mentor include integrity, straight forwardness and above all consistency so as not to clear any possibilities of ambiguity in handling situations.

Coaching on the other hand seek to achieve objectives such as skill building, behavioral change, performance enhancement and self development. The coaches must first of all be well equipped with the relevant skills of impacting knowledge so as to facilitate genuine and lasting behavioral changes. Several techniques are applied in the coaching process. Unlike mentoring coaching id time bound as it is expected to last for a given time (Types of Leadership Styles, 8).

First, the coach should employ evidence based approach. In addition to employing demonstrative techniques for the learner to grasp important concepts, evidence offers the best avenue for proper internalization of concepts involving applications. Secondly the coach must seek to understand the employee as much as possible so as to accurately establish the prevailing weaknesses and engage in corrective action as opposed to undertaking a complete session which may not be necessary.

Secondly, focus should be on improving the knowledge of the learner on areas that cause resistance to change. Once the anxiety settles, focus can shift to other details concerning the task.

Communication

Communication is key to the success in task management. If avenues for communication are not open for all concerned parties, relay of information from the seniors to the implementers is hampered a factor which can be extremely detrimental to the success of any task. Again, the employees may find it difficult contributing to the decision making process as suggested in the participative model of leadership.

One major barrier to communication is the culture in the organization. The culture filters what information is shared within the organization. The selectiveness can result in a situation where helpful information is not shared among concerned parties. Secondly, inter-departmental factors are key determining the free flow of information. Different departments may interpret certain information differently due to their different orientations creating some form of conflict within the organization. Thirdly, there exists a myriad of interpersonal considerations to be made in the process of communication. Different individuals have different preferences as well as different ways of viewing and interpreting instructions.

Solving these barriers begins with developing a suitable culture which encourages smooth flow of any material information. Also, the entire workforce should be educated on the basic framework on which to interpret relevant information in the workplace.

Works Cited

6 key elements for better Task Management. 2005. Web.

Chaddock, Russell. US High School Dropout Rate: High, but How High?.The Christian Science Monitor. 2006.

Darryl, Perdol, Presenting Authentic Objectives. 2009. Web.

Jim, Samuel. Great Business Mentoring. Six Powerful Techniques to Bring Out People’s Genius Within. 2009. Web.

Overcoming Communication Barriers. Business performance. 2009. Web.

Types of Leadership Styles. 2009. Web.

Workplace Coaching and Mentoring. Exploring the Key Differences To Maximise Personal Development. 2008.

Workplace Coaching and Mentoring: Exploring the Key Differences To Maximise Personal Development. 2009. Web.

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