There is a special set of tasks which we all hate. Tasks that you think are just about closed and have been that way for a few months. They stack up, constantly troubling you, your boss, and your team. They effectively and slowly drain energy and demoralize anyone involved. There are many reasons causing this state, including:
- waiting for deliverables of other parties involved,
- new things popping up all the time,
- a complicated or vague workflow to follow,
- missing time or resources,
- one or several people procrastinating,
- losing task from a radar several times,
- and so on.
Generally speaking, there is a gravity working against task completion.
If a task is so troublesome and lasts for a long time, try to close it in just a few minutes. It seems obvious, but something many people do not even consider whilst it is a very effective way to deal with some percentage of such issues. The first thing to clarify are the consequences. What are the consequences of completing the task and not completing it. If it is open for such a long time, is it still valid? Does the problem still occur and need to be solved? Effort already spent should not be a factor here. If no one really cares about the issue and the result – just close it. Even if it seems like it will be done within just one more day you should already know that this will not be the case.
If there are consequences, reconsider the value that task completion provides. Are there more valuable tasks in progress or in your backlog? If so, is there a chance that those issues will be ever on top of the list? Will the priority ever raise to a reasonable level? If not, you will still have to deal with the consequences before closing. Get in contact with affected people and discuss the current situation. Explain the reality and context and show that keeping the task open will not change much. It is much better to be on the same page, close the issue and move on.
If it is not possible to close the issue (due to valid reasons!), it needs to be handled. First of all define the exact, non modifiable scope of the issue and get it confirmed by all the stakeholders. Whatever new thing pops up, it goes into a new task. The scope is sacred and no one should touch it. After that, prepare a rough plan for issue completion. It shall contain at least a list of steps to perform, including dependencies between them. The essential part is who will perform each step. Do not complicate the plan – keep it simple and attach it to the issue. It will not work for huge tasks or projects however, it will work for sure with suit tasks that are always just about closed.
The next step is commitment and deadlines. Obtain from every party involved their commitment for performing their steps. It should include due dates. If it is not possible to get it and the task has already lasted for months, return to close it, keeping it open does not change much. Either the people affected by the current state issue will have to accept the consequences or ensure commitment from all required participants. If it is not possible to follow one of those ways, you will probably be stuck with the task for another few months.
Even if you have commitment and deadlines, the work is still not done yet. You have to keep “strong management” on the issue. Keep it on the radar, monitor the progress and due dates. Remind yourself of the commitment all the time and agree to no excuses. You want to finish it! Not because you just want it done, but because you have proven that there are valid reasons. Your role is to keep all the people involved motivated and on track to deal with the issue. Do not forget to inform all involved parties about the progress and current status. Simply sending this information and showing the task is monitored and reported will make people more motivated to push it forward.
Last but not least, you have to make a commitment to yourself. Very often the reason why tasks remain just about closed for months is leader procrastination (or simply losing it from the radar). It is the responsibility of the leader to make sure all involved remain motivated and on track. Make a commitment to yourself that you will:
- monitor the progress and positively push people forward,
- remove all obstacles as fast as possible to allow task completion,
- not change the scope and seize temptation to add only that one small improvement,
- will not lose it from your radar.
All of the above might still be not enough. The reality may change. Your fight with procrastination may be lost. Other duties may get their priorities raised and push the task off the radar. Whenever you return to such a task after some time, do not make excuses or judge yourself. Verify what went wrong, eliminate it if possible, and apply the whole procedure once more. Always keep in mind your feelings when you you last were able to close an issue that was hated by all.