What is workload management?
Workload management definition
Workload management is the efficient distribution of work across a team. The ultimate goal is to maximize the work output produced by the team as a whole, minimizing idle time, duplicate work, and employee morale. When a workload are out of balance, some employees are overwhelmed under an excessive number of assigned tasks, while others are idle, or worse, working on misguided tasks that do not contribute value to the organization or its customers.
How does workload management work in Priority Matrix?
Priority Matrix provides a workload management view that allows managers to effectively distribute task across teammates in order to maximize their performance. In order for this view to be effective, two things are necessary:
- Tasks must be assigned to their correct owner
- Tasks must have an assigned due date
If the above is true, when you open the [workload management view], you will see a week-level chart that displays the number of tasks assigned to each team member. Clicking a cell, a person’s name, or a column header (with a specific date) will pop up a list of items that match that entry. These items can be selected one by one, and if needed, they can be assigned to another person or moved to another date.
The work week as the fundamental workload unit
The workload management view uses the work week as its frame of reference. It can be argued that it sometimes may be better to narrow the focus on a single day, or widen it to encompass a month or a year. The reasons for our choice of using the work week a our reference frame are multiple:
- Most professionals are comfortable estimating the amount of work they do in one day (40 hours being the gold standard in Western countries).
- All weeks are 7 days long, whereas months have slightly different duration. This makes it easier to compare apples to apples across different periods of time.
- A day is too short a time to make it worth the effort to plan in detail. A month, on the other hand, might be more reasonable depending on the context.
Types of workload imbalance
Before deciding how to solve a work imbalance, it’s important to understand the specific type of imbalance, its cause and explanation. Sometimes it’s more effective to solve a systemic issue with an organization, rather than repeatedly balancing a lopsided workload. In other words, sometimes a workload imbalance is a symptom of something deeper, and this is worth investigating.
Too much work for a single person
The first and most obvious case of imbalance is one person having too much work for themselves. This may result in burnout, de-motivation and work fatigue. Additionally, an employee who doesn’t have time to pause and think about what they’re doing is probably not doing their best to “sharpen the saw”, improving their skills.
In Priority Matrix, we spot this by looking at the rightmost column, showing the total amount of work assigned to that person for the given week. If the sum total is high, it will be colored as orange or red, to indicate urgency.
In order to solve this imbalance, we propose the following strategies.
De-prioritizing some tasks
People typically hate dropping work that could be done. But sometimes, it’s best to let go. We can simply clear the task’s due date to eliminate the urgency element. We can also clear the task’s owner, or simply delete it if, upon reevaluation, we decide that it is not an important, feasible or desirable task.
Reassigning tasks to a coworker
Often, someone’s colleague or direct report may be able to pick up the excess work assigned to an overburdened employee. Over time, it’s natural that people settle on performing specific tasks more often than others. Therefore, in a reasonably well-performing team, this problem may resolve itself, eventually, by having teammates evenly distribute their load.
Spacing out tasks over time
If the overload for a particular staff member only occurs during specific periods, we may be experiencing a conflict of priorities. It is necessary to take a step back, decide which of the overbooked tasks should take precedence, and postpone the rest. The Eisenhower method is ideal to think through this type of decision.
Too much work on a day
A common type of workload imbalance occurs when, as a team, there are too many tasks for a particular day, as an aggregate count for the team. This may be due to an external constraint, like an upcoming conference, an official deadline, or a customer request. It could also be due to the seasonality of certain tasks, such as monthly reports, annual staff reviews, etc. Nothing more stressful for an accountant than a 1st day of the month that falls on a Monday!
In Priority Matrix, we spot this by looking at the bottom row of the table, showing the total amount of work scheduled for each given day of a week. If the sum total is high, it will be colored appropriately to indicate urgency.
We propose the following strategies to mitigate this issue.
Postponing or advancing work
If it’s possible to move tasks to a different date, then this should be our first approach. For example, if there is a large amount of tasks to perform on a demo day or trade show, maybe some of those tasks can be scheduled ahead of time so that on d-day we have time to carry on the essential ones. Alternatively, maybe some of the work can be pushed back. In the trade show example, instead of meeting with someone at length, we can collect their contact information and then catch up after the event.
Getting extra hands on board
Sometimes, however, there is a big workload on a given day for a good reason, and we don’t have the ability to move it to a different day one way or another. In that case, depending on the situation, it may be possible to bring in some extra help. This could be by temporarily reassigning team members from other duties, or even by hiring temp workers for specific chores. Effectively hiring help when needed is a really valuable skill, and you would benefit from cultivating it. Make sure to allow time for onboarding these new team members, so that they end up actually helping, and not dragging you down.
Sometimes there is no easy solution
In some unfortunate occasions, you will find that it’s not possible to complete all the work that needs to be done at a certain time. In that case, you should start by taking it as a learning opportunity, trying to figure out what went wrong in planning, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Additionally, your prioritization skills will be of utmost importance. Think hard about what absolutely must be done on time, and what could conceivably be dropped or delayed. Consider your external constraints, in case dropping something would make your reputation suffer, or if it’s something that will only have limited consequences. Remember: “No pain, no gain!”
Tasks being assigned to the wrong person
This type of workload imbalance occurs when the amount of work is reasonable, but the type of work is incorrect for a given person. This problem may not be easily discovered via a workload management tool, but it may represent itself in different ways:
- Work being done more slowly than expected
- Low quality results
- Frustration and lack of confidence among your staff
Often, there’s no substitute for a good one-on-one conversation with your staff and their peers to determine whether a change of role is recommended, or if there are viable avenues for professional growth. Maybe the employee is really motivated to fit in the role, and they just need some training, or perhaps they’re more interested in doing something different, but they’re too timid to bring it up.
Why 40 hours per week?
The Priority Matrix workload management tool assumes a 40h work week, and the color scheme reflects that visually. In modern times, the gold standard for a week’s worth of work has been around 40 hours. This varies wildly across professional fields, geographies and personal circumstances. A new parent may not be able to stay past closing time to finish up a report, whereas a fresh college graduate my be more inclined to burn the midnight oil for a particularly important and exciting project. Regardless, it’s your job as a manager to determine what to expect from each employee, in a reasonable and fair way. There are companies (and countries!) which experiment with different variations, such as 4-day weeks, 35h weeks, or what’s known as a 9/80 schedule (80h over 9 days, meaning every other Friday is free).
All work, no play?
Even if someone’s schedule appears to be reasonable, because they’re never over-scheduled above a typical 40h work week, they may feel overworked, unmotivated, and even burning out. Often, the root cause is that they have no breathing room in their schedule to step back, reflect on how they do work, and figure out better ways to go about it. Professional growth, fresh ideas and business breakthroughs come from just being playful at downtime. This is the reason most academic research institutions offer sabbatical years to their staff members, as an opportunity to go out there, learn something new and come back with renewed enthusiasm. Your business will benefit from giving staff members time to be themselves, on the clock. And they will thank you.
In this article, we discussed the various ways in which a team’s workload may be imbalanced, and we reviewed a few common strategies to mitigate the problem. We also explained how Priority Matrix helps you detect and correct workload imbalances.
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