Binfire

To do list or task management?

Some people call task management software to do list. This is an oversimplification of task management.

Why “to do list” is such an improper name for task management? When you go shopping or doing chores at home to do list is OK. For work, you need task management!

The difference between a “to do list” and task management is that you create a “to do list” with no deep thoughts or prior planning.

When you are working on complex projects, you need to understand the problem, identify what needs to be sone (tasks), simplify those tasks and then track each task.

Do you see the difference? Task management is for professional work and it is something you need to learn to use it effectively.

To Do list vs. Task Management

As I mentioned before you create a to-do list when every item in it is simple to understand and execute. Nothing complicated.

You use task management when the task needed to finish a job are not clear and you need to put some thought and effort to understand what needs to be done.

Coming up with task needed in a complex project is not as simple as it sounds. 

Planning and tracking tasks is really a hard job. You need to gain experience to do it right!

This is how tasks are managed in professional projects.

Creating a task list

Start thinking about all parts that make the whole product and service. Make a task for each part you can think of.

Make sure to think about all things needed, don’t leave anything unaccounted for.

The more detailed your list is, the better it represents the whole project.

Enter all your tasks into a robust task management software which support WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) even when you plan to use the agile method.   

Breaking up large tasks to smaller one

Now that you have created your list, it is time to evaluate each task and see if you can break it up into several smaller tasks.

Why is that important? Because large tasks are much harder to estimate how long they take than shorter tasks.

When you break a large task to smaller tasks, you get infinite insight as what needs to be done to complete that task.

The work breakdown process forces you to think critically and in detail about each task and better understand its requirements and how to finish it on time.  

Assign priority to tasks

Not all tasks are equal. the best way to figure out which tasks are more than others is to give each task a priority.

We use a 5 scale priority levels (1 to 5) in our work. The highest priority is 5 and the lowest is 1.

By using priority you can guide your team to work on what matters.

Usually, tasks with priority 1 or 2 are not important for the success of the project and in crunch time they may be discarded to meet the deadlines.

Figure out dependencies

Another useful tool found in any task management software is to use dependencies to show if a task is dependent on any other tasks to finish.

So, you can add predecessors to tasks to show they are dependent on those tasks and can only finish when those tasks are completed.

Gantt charts show this graphically and much easier to follow than in the task lists.       

Plan for unexpected 

Shit happens, but if you have a plan on how to handle them, they will not affect your delivery and deadline.

This is a big deal, you need to learn to use the “What If” method to plan project right.

What is someone quits in the middle of the project? What if a part we depend on does not ship on time? What if the cost of parts we use to go up more than 10%.

Do you see how it works? At the beginning of each project, you are your team try to come up with all the shit that might happen during the project and have a plan for it.

Resource Planning 

To work on projects and tasks you need resources. So, you need to figure out what you need in term of manpower, equipment, space, and money to finish the project.

Your job as a project manager is probably centered around allocating human resources for your project.

Most projects starting in established companies can provide the resources you need. Your job is to allocate these resources efficiently.  

Assign tasks

Now that you have figured out your task list, it is time to assign them to your team members.

Each member of your team has unique strength and weaknesses. Find the right team members for each task. 

The most difficult tasks should be assigned to most senior members of the team.

 

Time Estimation for each task

This is the most difficult part of task management. How do you know the duration of each task?

The first thing to do is to involve the team member who the task is assigned.

You as a team need to come up with an estimation of how long each task takes.

The best way to estimate is a three-point estimation. Using three-point estimation you can come up with more accurate time estimates for each task.  

Make a schedule

Having a list of task, with time estimates and dependencies you can now create an awesome schedule.

Most project management software has scheduling tools. The best scheduling tool I know of is the Gantt Chart.

The interactive Gantt charts make scheduling much easier and robust.

You can modify your plan in the Gantt chart and avoid the need to go back to the task list and manually change dates.     

Start the project

As soon as the schedule is ready and your resources are in place you can start the project.

It is a great idea to start any project with a bang. Have a party, take the team to a concert.

It does not have to be big or take too long. But, when you start any venture in a positive note, the excitement stays with the team while working on the project.

Track tasks & project

One of the most important tasks for any project manager is tracking the status of tasks in real-time.

Having a ten-minute standup only meeting for the whole team each morning is a great way to start each day.

In these meeting everybody will share what they accomplished the day before and if they are facing any issue.

If there are problems and a longer meeting is needed to sort them out, have a meeting with a smaller group later in the day.

For these brainstorming sessions only invite people who are absolutely needed for those meetings.

Most project management software these days also have features for sharing status among the team members.

Use the messaging tools within the PM apps to get status updates for each team member every day. 

Maintain a project status board

Having the status of the project and each important (high-level) task displayed prominently in a location that all can see is a huge motivational force.

We use a huge LED display for our status board. This board is placed where everybody on our team can see it.

The board is connected to our project management app. The status of the project and all major tasks are displayed on this board

When a major task is completed, we play music and video and celebrate our accomplishments.

This board helps in a great deal improving accountability and productivity.

The idea is not to punish those who might be behind in their tasks but to celebrate when we accomplish our goals.

Inccedently, this board helps with collaboration too. When someone is struggling with an issue, the whole team is mobilized to help and resolve the issue.        

Evaluate tasks completed

One of the things that you must pay attention to is when a task is marked as done or completed, it is really completed and no more work is needed.

A robust testing regiment can’t be overemphasized. Without proper testing, no project is ever really completed.

Having a good Q&A team as part of your development team is crucial. 

Make sure the Q&A is an integral part of the team from the very start of the project and not an afterthought.

Many new project managers make the mistake of iqnoring quality assurance and testing until late in the project.   

Approve Task

A good approval process is a must in any project management. The approval team should be consist of the Q&A team, developers and the project manager.

Sometimes in complex developments, compromises are needed. Make sure the approval process is documented well! 

Write task/project summary

When a task is done or when the project is finished, you need to write a summary of how the process worked.

If your team encountered any issue? Was the task done on time? 

For projects, you need to go further and try to capture all the learnings from the project in one document.

This document is essential is your continuous improvement and learning.

Every time a new project starts, the team should have access to the previous project’s summary for a better and more solid start. 

Summary

Any project worth doing needs a robust task management process. Leave to-do list for when you do errands.  

Managing tasks is one of the primary elements of good project management.

I will be writing about project management and work management new trends for 2019 in the next few blogs.  

Love to hear your thoughts about task management, project management, work management, and productivity.

Leave a comment below and we can start a discussion on improving how we work collaboratively.  

   

   

   

David Robins

CEO

David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.

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