Project Management is a valuable tool for helping
organizations plan their projects and key initiatives. However, when built
without a solid foundation of Task Management, your project management
“‘house” is built on sand — susceptible to the “elements”
and easily destroyed by changes in the landscape. However, if you build your
Project Management house on a Task Management foundation, you’ve got a
rock-solid approach to boosting your organization’s productivity and completing
strategic projects on time.

Projects begin with a plan, but without a sound approach to
managing the tasks needed to complete the project, success is unlikely.
Basically, even if you have a great strategy, if you can’t make it happen, your
project will falter and fail to meet its goals.

So what is Task Management? 
In a nutshell, Task Management is a systematic approach to recording,
assigning and prioritizing the detailed tasks that must be completed so that
your team members can answer the million dollar question:  “What are the most important tasks that I
need to work on today?” Sounds good, but how does it work?

They’re off!

Let’s take a typical project. The parties are brought together:
Marketing, Project Managers, Development Managers, and Team Leaders. A solid
plan is put in place, a budget is created and you are off. So why does it seem
that the plan’s best day is its first?

The answer is that reality and the plan quickly diverge.
With the best intentions for solving this problem, Project Managers try to
increase the detail of the plan, hoping to get a better handle on what is going
on and how to get the job done thinking, “Surely, adding detail will give me a
better idea of what is going on!” Not necessarily.

Adding hundreds of tasks to the project plan does not help
individual contributors get their work done, and it can actually hurt the
productivity of the entire team. Why? Because it takes a lot of effort and
still fails to answer the fundamental question team members ask (or should
ask): “What are the most important tasks that I need to work on today?”

Task management leads to team management

So what is the best approach to actually getting a project
done?  Integrate Task Management with
Project Management.

As projects progress, planned tasks spawn many other
unforeseen tasks: defects, design changes, enhancements and action items
abound. However, the project plan is not the proper place for this information
and easily bogs down with this level of detail. Tasks must be tracked, assigned
and measured for completion separately from the project plan. Using a separate
task management system allows Project Managers to identify bottlenecks, tweak
workloads of team members and provide management with a real-world glimpse of
how much work has been done — including those unforeseeable issues that crop up
and need to be resolved.

Ultimately putting Task Management in place gives
organizations the tools and information necessary to collaborate and manage
their workload as a team.

Here are 6 key elements for better Task Management:

Define the type of work: New Feature, Action Item, Defect, etc. It helps
everyone understand what needs to be done.

Target — Target tasks to your plans’ milestones. Measuring
progress is easier with metrics when remaining tasks and issues can be related
back to the plan, keeping team members focused and working toward a common

Prioritize — All
team members should understand the priority system. Practice priority
diversity: if priority 1 is critical and 3 the least critical, it makes no
sense to make all tasks priority 1.

Get the right tasks assigned to the right people. Make sure that ownership is
clear and reasonable. Workloads have to be balanced and fair and it should be
easy for people to get the help they need from other team members.

Check status
Regularly track task status. It should be easy to see what is completed, what
remains to be completed, and what issues exist. It is never a good idea to
spend hours with managers and team members to get this information.

Track compliance — Keep a complete work history for each
task. This is a good idea for many reasons. It helps you understand what issues
remain, how to improve your plans, understand and correct process issues, and
comply with appropriate industry standards like Sarbanes-Oxley,
ISO9000, SEI, FDA, FAA, etc.

The Cogs are Turning, Now what about the Plan?

The team is cranking along, what about the plan? Is the plan
correct?  Are we on target?  Do corrections need to be made?  Resources re-assigned? None of these
questions can be answered with any accuracy unless you understand the tasks,
workload, and issues and how they relate to the project plan milestones. When a
good Task Management foundation is in place, teams can collaborate, focus and
be productive. Management can quickly and easily make better-informed decisions
along the way. Project Managers understand the status and issues as they occur,
so they can deal with obstacles and delays as early as possible while there is
still time to recover.

So which is it Project Management, Team Management, or Task Management?

The answer is simple: all three. Projects begin with the
plan. Once it gets going, many tasks, planned and unplanned, ensue. Team
members must continuously balance workloads, target, prioritize, and
collaborate to complete their work. Project Mangers need to keep the plan up to
date and help address issues to keep the project on track. Project Management
built on a solid foundation of Task Management brings your organization
together as a team that stays focused and completes strategic projects on time
and on budget.

About the Author

Rich Bianchi is
President and Founder of Alexsys Corporation, an
innovative provider of team project management software. Prior to founding Alexsys Corporation, Rich spent 10 years leading critical
projects for large organizations like Bull and Honeywell. He has several
patents to his credit for the Honeywell mini-computer emulator on UNIX.