Based on thousands of projects done with Konsus, we have analyzed those that have gone particularly well and identified common characteristics. Read these two versions of a request for help, then proceed to discover what we found.
Version A: Wrong
Please polish this PowerPoint presentation.
Version B: Right
See attached PowerPoint presentation and our company template. I need you to professionally format the presentation and make it consistent with our company template.
No need to spend time creating fancy graphics. Would be great to have it back by 9:00 AM Central European Time Thursday, i.e. 48 hours from now. Please do not spend more than 8 hours on this task in total.
I am a pretty busy guy so I wont have time for any reviews or questions, so please just proceed after best ability. I trust you guys.
The best projects almost always follow these six rules:
Why do the instructions in Version B allow for faster, better results than Version A?
“I need you to professionally format the presentation and make it consistent with our company template.”
It could hardly be any clearer. All style elements are defined in the original company template, and “professionally format” is a clearly understood term in the PowerPoint design world.
In fact, according to our analysis, the vast majority of cases where clients were not completely happy, is due to misunderstandings and unclear directions.
“...no need to spend time creating fancy graphics...”
The more degrees of freedom, the more easily the solution can diverge from your intention. It is also inefficient, because you are forcing someone else to use cognitive load to make decisions you are better equipped at making.
“Please do not spend more than 8 hours on this task in total.”
The Economist coined the term Parkinson’s Law in this seminal 1955 article about workplace effectiveness:
"It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and dispatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street.
“The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.”
While work is elastic in its demands on time, there is obviously some quality trade-off. It does not make sense to say "Please make me a website in 30 minutes."
At Konsus, we have made rigorous forecasts for how much time each task should take based on data from thousands of projects. We give quotes based on this data.
“Would be great to have it back by 9:00 AM Central European Time Thursday, i.e. 48 hours from now.”
The importance of including deadlines is a pretty obvious rule, especially to those who have participated in any form of group work.
However, many projects still get submitted with deadlines such as "ASAP" and "EOD" (slang for end of day, and deliciously ambiguous – end of day US West Coast?). Mentioning the time zone and exact time the project is needed is critical to ensuring expectations are met.
“I am a pretty busy guy so I wont have time for any reviews or questions, so please just proceed. I trust you guys.”
This person could have just as easily written "Please send me a version halfway so I can monitor progress" or "I would love to do a quick call and give some input, please email me an invite" or some other indication for how he or she wants the project to run.
At Konsus, if no process is specified, we default to sending a review halfway.
In most other contexts, however, the default will be to just send something over at the end of the deadline. Combined with an unclear statement of work, this is a recipe for disaster.
“Too long; didn’t read”
TL;DR is typically used as a reply on internet forums when people make obnoxiously long and detailed posts. It is also frequently used in large, dysfunctional and politicized organizations. If you give extremely detailed instructions, there is lower chance that you will be blamed if something goes wrong.
But try sending a 200-page document to a carpenter. He is positively certain to miss something. How do you ensure that he does not miss the important stuff? How do you even ensure the document is internally consistent? How do you get leverage on this expertise?
In sum, you have wasted a lot of time trying to make instructions and only made the instructions more confusing if you are too verbose. Keep it simple, but include the details.
At Konsus we have trained our project managers to understand these rules and know the right questions to ask if you miss any of these points.
Next time you work with a freelancer on any labor platform, use these rules and you’ll be amazed at the results!
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