How to stop "writing TK" and start working?

    Many of those who work in agencies are familiar with the situation in which the tasks set by the client are less and less precisely formulated, even in cases when it comes to such complex work as software development, launching promotional campaigns, or creating trigger communications.

    Even more rare is the situation in which the client leaves the agency enough time to conduct an exhaustive interview, prepare a quality brief, agree on the necessary documentation, set tasks and calmly get to work.

    A source

    From acquaintances and friends from the industry, I increasingly hear the same story. A company, such as a marketing agency or software developer, wins a tender for a renowned brand for providing services. The management places high hopes on the new contract and, without thinking, casts the agency’s best resources on the project. Of course, for each small company, cooperation with a large brand is a chance to gain a foothold in the market, but when the first euphoria passes, it is time for real work.

    At this time, dreams of a bright future face a tough reality in which client managers demand lightning-fast reactions to each task, time to develop and approve tasks turns out to be an unaffordable luxury, the need to coordinate design materials with annoying hindrance, and the lack of project documentation and adequate deadlines will cause you severe migraine.

    In such conditions, projects are more like a snowball rushing out of the mountain, in which all tasks become urgent and burning, the client is always unhappy, you set the task “on the knee”, and you complete technical tasks in your spare time one month after the project is completed, therefore that the managers promised to provide the client with project documentation. In the end, your team is demotivated and starts to make mistakes.

    What to do to avoid this situation and to ensure a high rate of work?

    Make the production process understandable.

    In order to achieve a well-coordinated team work in difficult situations, when the speed and accuracy of the response to incoming tasks most influence the result and the amount of resources spent on its production, make sure that the whole team knows what it is doing. Everyone involved in the work on a project employee must understand:

    • how the sequence of work is built from the first to the last step;
    • for which he is responsible;
    • how the result of his work affects the result of the work of his colleagues and the project as a whole;
    • what decisions he can or should not take on his own;
    • what they do and what decisions other team members make.

    Guided by ready-made processes, the team will spend a minimum of time on solving the same type of tasks, more accurately represent the final result, respond faster to customer requests. The number of external and internal communications will decrease.

    Specify the finished descriptions in the process of work - they will help to identify hidden “time killers” and become the basis for setting up a project management system or ERP for the project.

    We have no ready-made business processes, what to do?

    If you have a team of people with experience in designing or describing business processes, ask them for help, let them prepare for you as simple as possible documents and a couple of diagrams for them (optional, for complex processes) using any of the appropriate notations. (for example, I am a big fan of BPMN ).

    If there is no such person, guided by the principles of SMART, describe step by step the actions of each employee involved in the performance of specific work. You should have a list of actions from which it is very clear who is responsible for what and what is the result of this stage (for example, a document, code or result of a certain action).

    SMART Principles Explained
    Specific (Конкретность) — Объясняется, что именно необходимо достигнуть. Например, «увеличить чистую прибыль собственного предприятия».

    Measurable (Измеримость) — Объясняется в чем будет измеряться результат. «Сколько вешать в граммах?». Если показатель количественный, то необходимо выявить единицы измерения, если качественный, то необходимо выявить эталон отношения. Например, «увеличить прибыль собственного предприятия на 25%, относительно чистой прибыли текущего года».

    Attainable (Достижимость) — Объясняется за счет чего планируется достигнуть цели. И возможно ли ее достигнуть вообще? Например, «увеличить прибыль собственного предприятия на 25%, относительно чистой прибыли текущего года, за счет снижения себестоимости продукции, автоматизации ресурсоемких операций и сокращения штата занятых на исполнении автоматизируемых операций сотрудников на 80 % от текущего количества». А вот совершить кругосветный круиз на резиновой уточке вряд ли удастся.

    Relevant (Актуальность) — Определение истинности цели. Действительно ли выполнение данной задачи позволит достичь желаемой цели? Необходимо удостовериться, что выполнение данной задачи действительно необходимо. Например, если брать «сокращение штата занятых на исполнении автоматизируемых операций сотрудников на 80 %» в качестве отдельной подзадачи, которая также ставится по SMART, то сотрудников можно не увольнять, а перевести на иные должности, на которых эти сотрудники смогут принести компании доход, а не просто экономию. Если брать страховую компанию, то вместо увольнения, сотрудникам можно предложить продолжить работу в качестве агента, либо не расходовать средства на автоматизацию, а просто увеличить норму выработки.

    Time-bound (Ограниченность во времени) — Определение временного триггера / промежутка по наступлению / окончанию которого должна быть достигнута цель (выполнена задача). Например, «К окончанию второго квартала следующего года увеличить прибыль собственного предприятия на 25 %, относительно чистой прибыли текущего года, за счет снижения себестоимости продукции, автоматизации ресурсоемких операций и сокращения штата занятых на исполнении автоматизируемых операций сотрудников на 80% от текущего количества».

    Here is a simplified example of such a process for preparing an email template for mailing:
    • Not less than 5 working days (the minimum period is 5 days, the recommended period is 10 days) before the start of the advertising campaign. The project manager sends the task for the development of the template and the layout of the email template to the Email marketer;

    An assignment for developing an e-mail template contains: clause 1, clause 2, clause N

    • After receiving the task, the email marketer checks the received layout and the content of the task within 1 working day:
    • If there are errors in the layout or lack of materials, the Email-marketer provides the Project Manager with information about errors and gives recommendations for their elimination;
    • If the check-up of the layout did not reveal any defects, it proceeds to p.3
    • At least 3 days before the planned start of the campaign, the Email-marketer sets up the template for the mailing;
    • At least 2 days before the planned launch of the campaign, the Email-marketer conducts testing

    Standard Test Plan: Clause 1, Clause 2, Clause N

    • Following the results of testing, the Email-marketer transmits to the Project Manager information about the test results and the result of the task.

    One has to be prepared for the fact that not all processes, especially those associated with intellectual work or creative tasks, can be described in a similar way, but, in my experience, only 5–10% of the work does not lend itself or is more difficult to describe.

    The most important criterion at this stage is the availability of ready-made documents for perception, because you have to introduce all the team members to them, answer questions, and this should take a minimum of time. And avoid unnecessary detail!

    It's too late for us to change anything

    It doesn’t matter which of the stages you are in right now, whether you are standing in front of the line beyond which “hit and run” begins, or have already crossed this line. The deeper you dive into the project, the more you know about the features of working with the client, the systems and software used, the specifics of the tasks being solved. One by one, describe the processes and gradually integrate them into the team. For a couple of weeks, guided by the principle of "sufficiency", you can easily cope with the description of 10-15 processes, paying 1-1.5 hours a day to this task.

    Use project management system

    Basecamp , Jira , Slack , and [ your favorite project management system ]. Use any system that you like or best suits the nature of your work. The main advantage of the successful application of EMS (PMs) is to improve management efficiency and track the status of tasks, as well as to accelerate the exchange of important information between team members.

    I will say a few words about the above services.


    Basecamp is better suited for task-oriented teams for managers and marketers, has an extremely democratic cost and is well suited for sharing tasks and information with the client, and the functionality is as simple as possible to understand.



    Jira is more suitable for developers, out of the box supports many sample templates for organizing projects. Here, for you, both Kanban boards, and Scrum Product Backlog, and task management, and if the standard options do not suit you, then Jira offers many options for fine-tuning processes and work space. But I advise you to be careful, the system has a high threshold of entry and can make life difficult for an inexperienced team. At the same time, the price policy of Atlassian is not the most democratic, but you can try it for free.


    Read more about the popular features of project documentation management systems in my article “ Trends in document management and data storage for 2019 ”.


    If your work is built mainly on continuous personal and team communications, then Slack will be a good help to collect all internal chats and personal correspondence in one place. In addition to this, Slack has some possibilities for organizing task tracking, creating to-do sheets. At the same time, the system has rich possibilities for integration with different services, there is a high probability that you will find a favorite task tracker or other tool among them. Prices for using the service strongly depend on the number of people in your team - from zero to several hundred dollars a month.


    Write exhaustive briefs

    Register and agree with the client exhaustive briefs, even if you meet frontal resistance. If possible, even try to go a little beyond the brief, in order to squeeze as much information from the client as to what result he expects to receive and, very importantly, how he will use this result.

    For example, developing a campaign in which a consumer leaves personal data on a landing page, and then falls into the chain of trigger communications, you can easily miss the data that the client planned to use to segment the campaign audience in the following communications, but forgot to tell you about it. Such data can be user actions on the site, recipient interactions with letters and customer promotion along a trigger chain. Although the most common mistake often becomes a lost Google Analytics counter or DoubleClick, which is remembered by the end of the campaign.
    One more important point in preparing the brief is that a quality brief can be turned into a functional task with less effort!

    Standardize project content requirements.

    If possible, try to standardize the requirements for individual project elements and keep them always at hand.

    For example, if in projects you collect the same personal data, formulate the rules for validation and validation of this data set in order not to invent them again each time. You can do the same with the description of the functional tasks.

    It is possible that some parts of the requirements that you are trying to re-invent already exist, you just do not know about it. Often, approaches to controlling the quality and composition of the collected data are already described in the CRM strategy, governed by the features of the software used (for example, CRM on the client side, which has an API), and security requirements and technologies used have long been invented by the global IT client. Unfortunately, this is often remembered, or accidentally found out a couple of years after starting work with a client.

    Replace the terms of reference with the functional

    What is the difference between technical specifications and functional?

    The technical task answers in detail the question “how to make” and requires an exhaustive amount of ready materials for the preparation of the document, and, consequently, the labor costs for its preparation directly depend on the complexity of the project. In most cases, your colleagues (for example, developers) do not need such task detailing to do their work.

    The functional task is limited to the answer to the question “what to do / what we are doing” and can be performed in a completely different form, to be a combination of different materials (text, graphic, ready-made documentation, design of layouts and others). Usually, the minimum required description of the task fits into 2-3 pages versus 15-20 sheets of the executed technical task.
    If your projects have a lot of diverse functionality, use modern tools, for example, the Scrum Product Backlog will help you quickly document new product / project / service requirements and effectively manage them.
    At the same time, the format of the functional task describes exactly what you are doing and leaves your colleagues room to maneuver in achieving the task, and its preparation takes much less time. You will save 60-80% of the time to prepare the task, and even up to 99% on simple projects (it remains to change the title of the document).

    upd: Comments put on the following illustration. The diagram conventionally displayed as the transition of the content of documents from one to another will help save time and cost. Try to remember that experts of different levels always participate in the preparation of documentation; if the mathematics converges, it is better to spend on the preparation of documentation, first 8 hours of the manager, and only then 4 hours of the system architect.

    Practice shows that in 99.9% of cases there are no specialists on the client side who can objectively evaluate the quality and content of the technical task.
    Therefore, if the technical task does not have a direct need, discard it.
    If you do not plan to coordinate the technical task with the client before the start of work, refuse it.

    Enter executive documentation

    In fact, this point is a logical continuation of the previous thought. Each time, when closing a project, do a little work on combining the brief (s), functional tasks (if there were more than one iterations), accumulated tasks for development, incoming and outgoing documentation.

    Almost every project management system or ERP provides the right functionality. Confluence (from Atlassian), Basecamp , Miscrosoft SharePoint - all solutions are good. Your main task is to compile a knowledge base about projects, without spending a large amount of time on it.

    Advice that your management will not like

    Carefully evaluate the toxicity of the client at the very beginning of the relationship. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated, “a customer at any cost” can cost a company of good specialists, cause great losses and cost your reputation.
    A big brand can become a heavy anchor on your neck.

    If you see that from the very beginning the client builds relations in which you are all the time “hostages”, have to go to unpaid processing or do free work, and the growth rates of work volumes initially threaten to exceed the capabilities of your team, immediately ring the alarm. You have big problems. And do not think that business diversification is invented by fools. Bones of dozens of companies whitening on the banks of history prove that, putting your hopes on the business of a large client, you put yourself in an dependent, weak position. There are almost no companies on the market that perform such a unique job and have the knowledge to become indispensable.
    The worst customer is the one who pays the most.

    I would prefer to have 20 small clients who will “worship” my company than one who will wipe my feet on me. At the same time, each of them will not have critical value, which makes you resilient enough to cope with crisis situations. The worst customer is the one who pays the most.

    Bonus for project managers

    I have seen many project managers, who sweat for several hours to align indents in documents, highlight individual words in bold and italics, format tables and make captions to images, arrange numbering, compile glossaries from objectively understandable terms. My classmates decorated their diaries so much in elementary school. Never do that. Avoid unnecessary formatting of documents!


    Well, almost everything I wanted to say in this article. I hope that for some of you my advice will be useful enough to take a fresh look at familiar things, to prevent dangerous situations, or to tackle urgent problems. And, to be honest, “overboard” there are many important topics that I would like to discuss with you in more detail in the following articles.

    For those who like to look through the articles, I briefly summarize the main points:

    • Make the production process understandable - let everyone in the team understand their role and tasks;
    • Use a project management system - task management should be simple and time efficient;
    • Write exhaustive briefs - try to evaluate the task a step further;
    • Standardize project content requirements;
    • If the technical task does not have a direct need - discard it, do not do any extra work;
    • Enter executive documentation - summarize knowledge after the project is completed;
    • Avoid toxic customers;
    • Avoid unnecessary formatting of documents.

    That's all. If you liked the article, the material turned out to be useful - share it on social networks and subscribe to my profile. If you disagree with something or you have suggestions - let's discuss! Leave comments or write to me personally.

    Good luck in the fields!

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