What Does "Level of Effort" Mean?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Level of effort is support associated with a project or process that does not lead directly to a desired outcome, but which still plays a critical role. It can include an assortment of tasks, and often personnel need to repeat these tasks on a regular basis. This requires employee time and must be budgeted into schedules, while also weighing the need to keep employees focused on activities with a concrete and measurable goal. Supervisors may determine the level of effort necessary for a given project and can make decisions about how to budget personnel time.

Administrative assistant duties represent a level of effort necessary to make a project successful, even though they don't lead directly to the project's outcome.
Administrative assistant duties represent a level of effort necessary to make a project successful, even though they don't lead directly to the project's outcome.

In something like project development, accounting, getting supplies, making phone calls, and similar activities are all examples of efforts that are necessary, but do not contribute directly to completing a project. Accountants reconciling records aren't working directly on a bridge, for example, but their services are necessary for the successful completion of the project. Support personnel like administrative assistants often perform many such tasks, where they are engaged in activities but do not complete projects or accomplish specific goals.

This can also come up in manufacturing, where routine maintenance, work-overs for equipment, and so forth are necessary to be able to continue work, but they don't contribute to the work. Oiling a conveyor belt to make sure it moves smoothly doesn't result in producing any more products, for instance. Level of effort tasks may need to take place outside the regular work schedule so they do not interfere; crews may come in early or leave late, for example, so they can work on equipment without disrupting production.

One issue with these tasks is that their value can be difficult to measure. An employee may insist that tasks are necessary, potentially eating up time with them, and it can be hard to tell if they provide genuine support or are just busywork. For companies concerned with staff efficiency, it can be important to develop methods for assessing level of effort. This can include reviewing total work hours associated with a project, interviewing various participants in the project to see if they are getting adequate support, and asking supervisors to develop detailed documentation on the support services necessary for a project or manufacturing process.

Employees can find administrative tasks boring and frustrating. With no clear outcome or goal, they may feel like they are not contributing anything of value, or could be inclined to cut corners since their work is not immediately measurable. Supervisors must remain alert to this so they can intervene as necessary.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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