Must-haves for Staying on Top of Task Management
It’s easy to get lost in the details of a large software project and lose sight of the overall plan. There are too many instances in the industry where this continues up to the point of the project needing rescue.
As a project manager, you take care of tactics, such as curating the product vision while representing stakeholders. You also break down the initiatives into smaller tasks and monitor task progress.
Be careful not to confuse this with product managers; though there is some overlap in duties, product managers discover what is valuable, feasible and useful to customers and persuade other stakeholders to come on board with the plan. The key to product management is that they are responsible for prioritising what to build next.
If you’re a project manager, this article is here for you to initiate and maintain your task management.
What does project task management involve?
Firstly, lay everything out on the table of what needs to be managed during your project. When you do, you possess all the attributes of leading your project to success.
Project managers are tasked with many things involving:
- Planning deliverables and dependencies
- Overseeing project duration and deadlines
- Project resource allocation
In the fray of all these, please remember that project planning and project scheduling differ. Project planning is the first stage and the blueprint of the larger milestones to achieve. On the other side of the coin is project scheduling; the roadmap and specific whens, whats, hows and whos of each to-do to reach said milestones that are in the project plan.
How to maintain project scheduling and task management
Before jumping into the tools and techniques to execute tasks for an agile software project, we need to start at the beginning of the line — the mindset. Critical thoughts and perspectives will heavily influence your decision-making and ultimately steer the course for the project.
In the mind
The O.A.R approach
A tip we highly recommend for rapid decision making is the O.A.R approach. These are:
- Objectives you want to attain
- Alternatives available
- Risk of the alternative considered
It’s obvious to anyone that decision making doesn’t come quickly. At the heart of this is the “what ifs” and fear of making the wrong decision; easier said than done sometimes. Decisions that can be easily undone should be taken care of first.
This is not to suggest that impulsive decision-making is any better, but rather to eliminate the chances of not making an actionable decision at all. Irreversible decisions that require more weighing up should conclude at a slower pace.
Beware of becoming the ‘go-to’ person, with expertise in many areas. This can be flattering to a fault, where smaller tasks will slowly accumulate in the backlog. Being approached with a task “that will only take 5 minutes” often never happens, and contingency time eats up what could be valuable project time. Agree to extra requests on your own terms, and weave them in with other priorities at hand.
This may help to schedule small meetings while they explain the task at hand. This way you can discover what can be evaluated and fixed. If not, separately allocate the level of effort and scheduling for it.
Onto the pragmatic side of project scheduling — you get out what you put in when it comes to using the tools and tactics to distribute and manage tasks. When you’re sinking many hours into the actual project, you want automation to shine and handle these processes for you.
Our weapon of choice that serves us well is JIRA. There’s more project management tools for 2021 we’re keeping our eye on that contain plenty of must-haves for glancing at the distribution of plans, durations and estimations. Trust us when we say you don’t want to use Excel for these things.
Generally, these are the main features you want in your scheduling software:
- Dashboards: Extremely useful for glancing over the project, and allows you to watch performance and make sure everything stays on track.
- Reports: Always have everyone on the same page for meetings by communicating progress towards what the success will be.
- Collaboration: Peace of mind comes through effective communication; commenting, file attachment and sharing data within a ticket or document.
- File storage: The amount of time saved searching for documents saved in separate folders and locations can easily be eliminated with local file storage.
Is your project starting to go off track?
Any kind of agile project management and scheduling comes with figuring out how to deal with risk, managing high stress and tight prioritisations. Too often we hear “we don’t have enough time”. As much as we seem to enjoy squeezing too much into schedules, it’s often useless to fight against time since we can neither create or destroy it.
Ignoring these warning signs will inevitably lead your project off path and needing to be rescued later on:
- Recognise bottlenecks and critical paths early: Risk management, as much as its importance is stressed, doesn’t often involve as much review of tasks and workflows in projects. Sometimes, you can depend on your mental review of past experiences to judge the severity of a certain bottleneck when it comes to risk management. But if this isn’t already in your process, outline a visual flowchart to analyse dependencies and conflicts so the potential issue doesn’t surface.
- Assign resources sensibly: Unexpected issues are practically a given during any project scheduling. The easy option is to send in extra pairs of hands to assist during chaos — but we all know the quote “too many chefs spoil the broth”. Focus on competency; it may take some re-delegating or re-allocating tasks to make sure everyone is dedicated to the right tasks.
- “Being too busy” to stick to commitments: Being busier seems to be attached to getting more interruptions and requests. The team can forget about your current tasks, and will ask for seemingly urgent requests for things. Remember to discuss your situation and specific needs, which will clear the ground to determine what to prioritise and reasonably fit in.
Reach success easily and quickly by working within your schedule and abilities. Schedules themselves may not actually be “full” or “busy”, but rather how much we’ve decided to fit into that allocated time.
Pitfalls and consequences of poor task management
Like before, this is where your project will end up when you choose to avoid issues that aren’t feasible anymore.
Should you choose, there is an option to expedite this with an easy guide of how to start a fire. Beware of:
- ‘Heroics’ culture: Efficient and realistic task management is built on properly identifying risks and delays, and assigning resources properly on projects. When a product needs to leave the door and overtime becomes normal, it may be beneficial to review the project framework to allocate these heroics towards additional and unexpected tasks outside regular daily needs.
- Not progressively refining project schedules: This ties in with our prior point of “filled-to-the-brim” schedules. It’s common to feel pressured to sign up to schedules and make early commitments — which, in theory, may look fine, but you need to know exactly what you will be working with by having a confidence percentage. Lack of this heavily influences your decision to confidently predict estimates and complete tasks while there are still unknowns. Progressive refinement is a series of decisions, consistently reviewed and refined throughout the project.
Tools and ideas cannot bring anything to life without the help of each other. Our Way of Working is a free download to help with the full process of product development.