Handling Complex Projects

The first chapter of Genesis shows several principles that can help us manage complex projects.

Break the Project into Manageable Tasks

You’ve probably heard the saying:

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time!

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In Genesis, God broke down the project of creating the entire universe into small, manageable tasks: making light, making the sea and the sky, and so on.

Keep Your Tasks Small

To keep them manageable, God made all His tasks take less than a day to complete.

When we’re breaking our projects down to size, we should aim to do the same. If a task takes longer than a day, we should break it down even more.

Finish One Task at a Time

God finished each task before moving on to the next one.

There are several benefits of following this pattern:

  • We can rely on the output of previous tasks when we start on the next
  • We don’t have to remember where we’ve got to
  • It avoids tying up tools, space and materials that could be needed on other tasks
  • Unfinished tasks have consumed resource, but have produced no value.

Do First Things First

God sequenced His tasks so that completing each one prepared the way for the next. For example, He made the sky before He populated it with birds, and He made the oceans before He populated them with fish. The process wouldn’t have worked if He had done things the other way around.

In most projects, there are tasks that need to be completed before we can work on other tasks. We need to identify the things that need to be done first, and make sure that they’re given priority.

Time-Box Each Task

God set a fixed, maximum amount of time for each of his tasks: 1 day.

The idea of “timeboxing” was developed by James Martin. When you work on a timeboxed task, you work on it for a fixed amount of time, and once the time us up stop and assess whether you’ve reached your planned goals.

People sometimes confuse timeboxing with time-blocking. The difference is that someone following the blocking approach will reserve a fixed amount of time for an activity, whereas the person timeboxing both reserves the time, and then stops work once they reach the limit.

There are several benefits of time-boxing:

  • It encourages us to assess our progress regularly
  • It discourages perfectionism and “gold-plating” (adding features to our products that are nice but unnecessary)
  • It improves predictability, because we know a task won’t take longer than the specified maximum amount of time, or if it does, then we can review the impact on the entire project.
  • It helps us stay focussed

Group Similar Tasks

God created the sea and the sky on the same day. He created animals and man on the same day.

Buying provisions may require a visit to the local shops. Rather than visit the shops before each meal, it is more efficient to plan a menu for the week, and then visit the shops once to buy provisions for the week. By combining all our shopping trips into one big trip, we save the time and costs associated with travelling to the shops more frequently.

In his book, “Getting Things Done”, David Allen recommends grouping tasks by “context”. A context occurs where the same resources are used to complete several tasks.

There are different varieties of context, including:

  • Places, e.g. the shops, office or your home
  • People, e.g. your spouse, boss, kids, etc.
  • Tools, e.g. your car, ‘phone, computer, toolkit

Grouping by context isn’t just about physical resources, but can also be about non-physical resources. Grouping tasks that require a similar mind-set can be useful, as it saves the mental gymnastics associated with switching mental context.

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  • Image courtesy Ross Sneddon via Unsplash

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