Break It Into Manageable Parts

Every problem can be broken into multiple tasks.

While some tasks can be done in your head,like cooking an egg or making the bed, more complex problems, especially those never attempted before, are best solved after writing the tasks down.


Break Problem Apart

Create a Schedule of Tasks to Solve The Problem

Task Descriptions Need to be Precise

The task description describes the outcome, the inputs and the known process. The outcome must be exact and measurable. For example cook the egg "until the white is no longer transparent" is more measurable than "cook until done".


The order sequence required. Tasks can be performed in sequence and/or in parallel. For example, the sequence of frying an egg - get the pan is out, heat it up, and crack the egg open into the pan.


Sequence versus Parallel


Dependencies indicate what tasks have to be done before another can commence. Some tasks can be done side-by-side (parallel) and may share the same previous task. This is closely aligned with the order.


Naturally someone (or a team, or something) needs to perform the tasks. Indicate who.


Finally to coordinate timing the tasks time length must be included. The pan needs to be taken out of the cupboard - today! Not next week, and preferrably 5 minutes before the egg is fried.

Task Size Granularity and Grouping

Granularity determines how small the tasks are, and is important so that people and resources can be assigned assigned to the task without overlap with others which causes confusion and conflict. Only break down the tasks as much as necessary to prevent overlap or the schedule with become too complicated and inefficient. Granularity also makes tasks portable. Imagine a person assigned to a task becomes sick, then it will be much easier to assign another person that if a number of people were assigned. In business granularity also makes permance reporting far more flexible and accurate.


Grouping makes it easier to read the schedule. With granularity comes more tasks. To make it easier to read certain tasks can be grouped together in a heading and all the details of its tasks can be summarised. This way the task list on large schedules can be scanned quickly and more easily managed.


For example;

  • Preparing the pan (heading);

    • getting the pan out (task);
    • turning on the heat (task);
    • placing the pan on the heat (task);
    • oiling up the pan (task);
  • Getting egg into pan (heading);
    • cracking the egg (task);
    • splitting the shell (task);
    • pouring into the pan (task);
  • Cooking the egg (heading);
    • etc.
Task Size


How granular and grouped the schedule becomes is really up to you.

Defining Tasks and Working with Others

I find the best way to know how much information someone requires to successfully complete the task is to ask them. We're all different so work with the person until you are both comfortable and sure each of you understands the task. Over time you will get more experienced and be able to anticipate a person's needs - just don't ever assume as that often leads to problems.


If you are the coordinator then make sure the others report back their progress in a manner that is clear and concise and importantly indicates whether the outcome was successful or not as defined by the task description. The task may be partially complete, just take note of the incomplete or unsuccessful task as a learning experience and then work out how to tackle it again to succeed.

Defining the Task and Schedule Scope

A task's scope defines the boundaries of that task. For example getting the pan out of the cupboard would be scoped to your kitchen and not the neighbour's kitchen. It would also specify the pan type and maybe even a description so as not to retrieve a pressure cooker.


The list of tasks defines the schedule's scope along with a brief summary. A schedule (by its very nature) helps prevent scope creep which is the habit of people going off track and asking or doing more than required, for example "I'll make some toast too". This wastes time and the finite energy that can be applied to the task. The egg may get burned while the person is preparing the toast. Stay focused and on target as scope creep tends to distract so much that tasks are rarely fully successful without a certain amount of self-discipline.