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June 11, 2018
Ask ACE

Tips on how to get employees to finish their assignments on time

Jim Milliken can be reached at jim@millikenproject.com.

The Association for Consulting Expertise (ACE) is a non-profit association of independent consultants who value "Success through Collaboration." The public is welcome to attend its regular meetings to share best practices and engage with industry experts. For more information go to www.consultexpertise.com.

Q: How can we get our people to finish assignments and other tasks on time? They make promises and set completion dates, but we have a very bad record for on-time delivery.

ACE Advises: We all are prone to optimistic expectations when we guess at completion dates before we start on the work.

There are all sorts of bad results when we can't get things done on time. Opportunities are lost and other things get bumped back. There's a cascade effect.

But you can't estimate everything very conservatively either, just to be safe. Doing that can be very costly, and it really loads on the risk. A lot of stuff just won't wait around for you.

The way to guard against either tendency is to make planning a regular part of every effort, however small. A small job gets a small plan — but you never just jump in without preparation.

First, specify the steps it will take. If you're not sure, don't guess. Check it out. Then estimate the time each step will require. If you have no idea and can't find out, make a speculative estimate, to be carefully monitored once you get going.

An important part of regular policy for an organization that has had this problem is to make sure the process is documented and retained. What did your plan say, how did it work out, what changes were necessary?

In following those practices, the organization gains two strengths:

First, there's a dependable record for reference when some new activity is to be carried out.

Second, staff members develop the expertise and the habit of thoughtful planning rather than hazardous guesswork.

Plus, you get things done on time.

Jim Milliken can be reached at jim@millikenproject.com.

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