Managing Projects and Tasks as a Manager with GTD

One thing that I struggled 6 years ago as far as GTD is concerned is the move from an IC (Individual Contributor) to a manager role.

The book describes the high-level concept: a task for you is a project for one of your reports. Or a tactic for you is probably a whole strategy that needs to be broken down to become a set of actionable tactics for your reports. That’s the theory. How do I work this out?

I’m going to first start with my constrains when I first had to implement this:

  • I have both "stuff" I need to do (projects or simple tasks) and "stuff" my team needs to do
  • I want to be sure I don’t micro-manage them BUT… (empowerment)
  • I also want to be sure that balls don’t get dropped (ensure accountability)
  • And I don’t want to end up with hundreds of projects either
  • Finally, many don’t have immediate next actions, especially on my side, and what I need is really a mechanism not to forget to check the project is moving forward, every now and then
  • Oh, and yes, it has to be simple enough to manage.

Given all this I think I finally converged to a pretty interesting approach. I’d be curious to hear other’s view on this.

Actions:

  • I’m using the "1:1 – Mike" and the likes to monitor who’s doing what (vs. me having to actually do something on it)
  • If some project is run in parallel by several team members, for instance if all need to come with their next year marketing plan or something like this, then, instead of creating n tasks 1:1 (n = number of people having to deliver this), I have an "@1:1 – All the team" and I use the task not field to take notes (or a link to a OneNote page if this is more complex than a few lines)

Projects:

I really don’t like to have tasks without any projects associated with them. Therefore, I have created "misc" projects. This is a good way for me, during my weekly review to ensure I did not leave any item alone: no "no project" item = I’m good.

Here are few "misc" projects I use:

  • Misc (actually the name is "_misc", this way it shows up at the top of the project list in Outlook. It’s easier to manage)
  • Admin-IT: approve a purchase order or invoice, update my computer, add a software, respond to an internal satisfaction survey…
  • Team misc projects  (the team member’s various small projects)
  • Team Management misc projects
  • etc…

This way single task projects (be them actual single task projects or complex ones delegated to my team) are still somewhat organized and therefore easier to manage weekly.

The next step with this approach is to find a way to oversee projects advancement without having to monitor them in details. In my line of work, we often have many small to large projects running in parallel and GTD is a great way to ensure none fall through the cracks.

When an item comes up I look at putting it in 4 major categories:

  • A project I need to drive personally, often outside of direct team involvement such as hiring for a new position in my team I will need to take care of: write job description, contact HR, screen resumes, etc.. You get the idea. This can also encompass "special projects" of any kinds I might have to drive or be part of: a division’s strategic initiative, etc.
    In this case I will -assuming there is more than 1 step to complete the project- create a project on its own. I will just assign a "misc" project and create the task for me to tackle if it’s a simple set of few consecutive (i.e. non parallel) tasks. This is the regular GTD project concept for which next action could be @plan (i.t. figure out what to do, what the steps will be…), @desk, @read…
  • A project I need to drive with my team such as yearly marketing plans, etc. I will there too create a project or just put in into my "team management misc projects" depending on the complexity, but will then often have an action: 1:1 – All the team to start with. specific sub-tasks/projects may then end-up as several 1:1 – X, being delegated to my team.
    In the "build next year plan" example, 1:1 – X (X being Mike, Paul, Sarah,… whoever in the team is concerned) could be 1:1 – Mike: Get market assessment and key goals for next years. Same for Paul, Sarah…
  • A third type of projects are projects driven by one of more of my team members that I want to be kept abreast of without personally managing the "how" (the steps). This way I’ll probably use a project like "Team Misc projects", and let the action at 1:1- X, using this as a reminder during our 1:1 to ensure I get updates regularly on these projects’ statuses.
  • Finally, a last type of "projects" is random ideas that I would have without being sure these are actually important ones. I’d just classify them as "misc", action being "1:1 – X", provide the input to X at our next (or whenever appropriate) 1:1 and then just close the item. X will then bring it back to the discussion if he or she decides to do anything with it and when he or she will.

Note the difference, a crucial one as a manager, between this last point and the one before. The former is really for ideas that could be interesting but that I’m letting full freedom to my team to decide whether they think it’s worth is or not. i.e. I let them choose the "if" and "when" we do it, on top of the "how".

In the latter, the "if" is not an option. We have to do it and I need to ensure it will happen. The "when" could be negotiable. The "How" is completely left to them, with more or less guidance on my side depending on their own assessment there.

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