Task Management for the Modern Workplace

When we talk about task management, the most common association is: project managers. It seems like the only fitting role for the task. With tight deadlines and so many items on to-do lists (for each member of the team, and then teams at large), task management is a lot of work. However, we all use it today. From long-term to short-term projects, teams and departments everywhere use task management. It can be used as a part of usual duties, and it makes leading and working on projects much easier.

Why is task management important?

But even with a lot of good will and effort on the teams’ part, poor task management can result in:

39% of projects failing due to lack of planning, resources, and activities.
57% of projects failing due to “breakdown in communications.”
73% of respondents admit that their projects are either always or usually “doomed right from the start,” including 27 percent who always feel this way.

Nevertheless, 90% of global executives and project management experts say that good project management is key to delivering successful results and gaining a competitive edge. And in order to gain that competitive edge, only three factors make a difference:

• The task management process
• The tools
• The people

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of task management you don’t have to be a professional project manager for. Along with the tools you can use (as well as their pros and cons – because Excel isn’t the best way you can manage projects), and techniques teams can use to complete projects in time for the deadline. And, if your team uses Office 365 for all your task management needs, we’ll show you how you can use it even better.

The Basics of Modern Task Management

The way we manage tasks has changed. Even though project management has existed since Ancient Egypt, it was only recognized as such around the 1950s. After that, the field has experienced a change greater than in the period between Ancient Egypt and the 1950s. The cause behind it? Technology. That same idea behind technology allowed task management tools and techniques to spread beyond their original field. We approach task management differently today than our ancestors did in the 1950s, but we still keep the same thing in mind: efficiency.

Simple Task Management Techniques

Even though there are some very obscure task management techniques, most teams don’t use them in their day-to-day. We’re not always fit for the more intricate project management aspects, as we simply want to get things done successfully.

The main task management technique is the famous…

1. To-Do List

It works best if each team member has a separate to-do list for their tasks, which branched out from the general team to-do list. Setting priorities is very important when creating to-do lists, as it helps the team focus on the most important things first (or: plugging the leak, not repainting the floorboards). If your team uses Office 365, you know that Microsoft To-Do lets you create lists, add reminders, due dates and notes, as well as personalize them. The main problem with Office occurs when teams should stay updated, which isn’t always easy when everyone’s busy with their tasks. Project Central helps your team stay in sync and focus on the work at the same time.

2. Do / Delegate / Drop

This is another form of task management prioritization. It’s especially useful on fast-paced projects which change directions and take turns often. By applying the do/delegate/drop technique, your team can stay focused on priorities. If a task needs to be done, it can be prioritized accordingly. If it can be delegated to someone who has time and the skills to do it, it’ll enable a team member to focus on something else. And if a task needs to be dropped, it frees up room in the team’s schedule for other priorities.

Visual Task Management

The best way to manage tasks within teams is definitely with to-do lists as they’re efficient and straight-to-the-point. Tools like Office 365 also help since there’s no additional education needed for all team members to use them.

However, nothing works as well as visual task management. It’s simply because our brain processes visual stimuli differently: 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and these stimuli are processed 60,000 times faster than text. In addition to that, 40% of people will respond better to visual information than plain text. If your team has so many tasks that a simple pen and paper to-do list won’t cut it, visual task management is a good solution. Even if your tasks are simple and easy to collaborate on, using visual techniques makes projects more successful.

• Visual task management saves time (there’s no need to spent a lot of time trying to find the right folders, files and notes)
• It simplifies complex projects (team members can easily understand what the project is about, and how their tasks contribute to the overall success)
• Visual task management identifies problems (it’s much easier to understand where help is needed)
• It improves communication

3 visual tasks management approaches

The two most popular ways to use visual task management is through Kanban and Scrum boards.

Kanban Boards track the process, and maintain multiple work-in-progress activities. The emphasis is on continuous delivery. Most teams take them to mean whiteboards with tasks defined on them, which is not wrong.

With Scrum Boards, project tasks are divided into sprints. Each sprint tracks tasks that have to be started, tasks that are in progress, and tasks which are done. Scrums are best for one-off, shorter projects, while Kanban boards can be used to visually track tasks throughout a longer period of time. Most teams use Kanban for long-term collaboration and customization, as it’s much easier to keep track of everyone’s tasks and consolidate them. But if your team has a project they need to get done soon, and it’s the main focus (as opposed to Kanban’s people-centric idea), Scrum can be a great solution.

You can also consider using the Gantt Chart. They can help you visualize tasks and the relationship between different team members’ tasks. However, they’re best used with simpler projects as they can become quite complicated.

Visual Task Management with Office 365

Microsoft realized early that if we see information (instead of just reading it), we’ll be more productive. That’s why Office 365 lets your team create their own board using Planner, where tasks are organized into buckets. Later on, you can divide tasks among team members or based on their status. If you’re using Project Central with Office 365, in addition to managing tasks within a project like Planner, you can also easily manage multiple projects using visual dashboards to provide the high-level picture.

Tracking Tasks

Simply making a to-do list is a lot if you’re running a big project or a big team. The trick is in being able to recognize which tasks are developing as scheduled, and which tasks need to be modified. This is where task tracking comes in hand. The main factors you should be tracking in task management are:
• Team member assignation (who is doing what)
• Task status (task completion stage or percentage)
• Task follow-up (what a task influences, and what may be the next task once this one is completed)

Milestones

In order to track tasks easily, most teams use milestones. Milestones are just collection of multiple tasks that a major task is comprised of. For example, if your team is working on rebranding, a milestone may be finishing logo design. In addition to efficiency benefits, milestones are also a good way to motivate your team as they show just how much completing a single task has helped the overall progress of the project.

Tracking Tasks with Office 365

In Planner, tasks are tracked by being separated into buckets. Tasks can be marked as not started, in progress, and completed. Since this is pretty simple, you can also use a checklist for task details, and the Charts view. It shows you the overall progress of all tasks, giving you the same big picture as with tracking tasks through milestones. This is quite simple, so if you need even more features, Project Central gives you the ability to see project health, status and completion. All integrated with Office 365, and for free.

Task Management Software and Tools

When it comes to selecting the best task management software and tools for your needs, there are many options on the market.

Spreadsheets

The most common option task managers and teams use are spreadsheets. Spreadsheet, although good for calculating revenue and losses, aren’t really the ideal task management solution. The main problem with spreadsheets is updating and sharing them. It’s good for teams who are in the same location and have enough time to refresh their emails. For everyone else, spreadsheets just don’t pass the efficiency test. They are also not very visual by nature, and can fail to grasp and simplify the complexity of some projects.

Choosing software for task management

The best software does not require you to be a professional project manager. In fact, it adapts to your needs more than spreadsheets, and should be easy to use for everyone on your team.

It helps with everything from planning to reporting, as well as communication. It also accurately shows the dependency between different team members’ tasks. Keeping everyone on the team updated on the progress so no time is wasted on the back-and-forth. Project management software also helps with organization at any point in the project. If you use milestones to track progress more accurately, the right project management software will show you how tasks (and their statuses) contribute to the overall project.
In general, task management software makes things more organized and help you keep everything under control. Due to their simplicity, there’s no additional project management education you and your team members have to get. 

So when you’re choosing software for managing your projects and tasks, keep an eye out for these factors:

1. Which task management skills do you need help with?

It’s best to approach software selection with your needs in mind. There’s always one key problem bothering teams so if you’ve been using different project management solutions in the past, keep your pain points in mind. If you’ve used a solution that was too complex for your team (and you didn’t use it even 5% of its capabilities), it may be time to look into something simpler. That’s why most teams use Office 365. Not everyone has to be a project manager to use it, it has all the basic features, with additional upgrades (like Project Central) available if you are working across multiple projects or need more support than Microsoft offers.

2. What is the best task management app?

Some tools support and enhance the way your team naturally approaches products. Whilst others are costly – and unsuccessful at helping you do what you do best. It’s good to test different solutions – especially if they all fit your team’s approach. When testing project management software, make sure you:
• Get feedback from everyone on the team
• Check data security
• Note which features you’re using, and which ones you aren’t using

3. Implementation

Once you have decided on a tool, make a plan that will show your team how they can use it. Even though training isn’t necessary with software like Office 365, it’s still good to include the use of task management tools into the day-to-day activities, especially if your company culture isn’t as technical.

Encouraging teams to use task management tools in the modern workplace

New tools do not automatically get used. Even if you’ve been using them for a while, that doesn’t mean that all team members are using them equally. However, it’s important for your current and future efforts that team members are using the provided tools.

You can encourage your team to use task management tools by:

1. Including them in the selection process

If you can start early, do it. This means getting the team’s feedback on pain points in the workflow, and selecting the software together. During this process, they’ll be able to understand how the tool addresses your project management task type problems.

2. Demonstrate benefits

If you cannot include your team in the process (or the solution has been used for a long time), make sure you show how using the tool helps them personally. This can mean less time spent on writing reports, simple communication with colleagues that work from home, or anything else that may be bothering them. It’s important to explicitly state the benefits of collaborative task management to the team members. They need to know the tools not only affect the project, but them as individuals.

3. Provide guidelines

If you want your team to use task management tools, you should tell them how and when to use them.
This means explaining:
• At which point they should use the tool to update progress and/or leave notes
• How and for what they should use it to communicate with others on the team
• The scope of the tool

You don’t have to use the tool for every task, but make sure you properly outline the process for projects to avoid any misalignment.

4. Coach

Even solutions as simple as Office 365 can be complicated for some tasks and some team members. If you notice that a team member is avoiding the software or retorting to other means of communication and project updates. Make sure you get to the bottom of the problem and offer advice on how they can use it better.

5. Listen to feedback

You likely won’t approach a tool with the intention of using it to its maximum capacity. In fact, it’s best to start simple so everyone can stay on track and adapt to the changes slowly and securely. But with time, the team may be ready to start using the tool for more. They may also need additional support and features that this tool doesn’t have on its own. When that happens, make sure you discuss it as a team, and make a decision as a team.

Improving Office 365 Task Management with Project Central

Sometimes native features aren’t enough for your needs. Every day, we speak to hundreds of customers that love Office 365. They just wish it had more features. That’s exactly why we’ve created Project Central.

As a free, safe and easy solution, it can help you use Office 365 to the maximum, and get the features your team has been missing.

With visual Project Cards, you can see where everything stands. This helps you move forward quickly and make the right decisions for the progress of your project.

Once you set up your project, it turns into an easy process where you’ll have all the key information (Project Health, Status, and Completion).

Visual management to see the bigger picture

On our Dashboards, you’ll be able to share results with your teams. See what needs attention, and stay focused on the bigger pictures – across projects. You don’t have to pick just one. Give all your projects the appropriate attention, without wasting your time.

And to keep everyone in the loop, your team can meet on the Activity Feed and track tasks. Even if they’re not proficient at technology.

Office 365 is definitely better than Excel, but it can’t cover everything. That doesn’t mean you should upgrade to Microsoft Project right away, and use only 5% of its abilities. After all, the best solutions don’t just have a lot of features. They have the exact features your team needs.