May 24, 2017

5 steps to improved task management

This article isn’t going to focus on any one task management solution. What works best for you, your project, your project customer, your project team and your overall collaboration and reporting needs is for you to figure out and decide. But what I can and will discuss here is my own thoughts on five key steps to improve how to handle task management in order to keep projects on track, keep tasks at the forefront of task owners’ thoughts, and make sure everyone is on the same page.

This isn’t necessarily groundbreaking stuff. Most project management is really just about best practices and good common sense. Project managers (PM) are busy and usually being pulled in 15 different directions every day. So, being able to work smarter not harder, being able to incorporate common sense into your everyday tasks and priorities, and being able to exhibit leadership when directing team and customer activities are keys to success.

Now, let’s consider these five steps to improved task management on our project engagements:

Conduct weekly team meetings. At the heart of all task management is the team face-to-face meeting or conference call. And this should happen weekly. This is where the PM gets to interface with the team on weekly updates and task status at a more comprehensive level, even if they are using a fully collaborative project management solution. Talk each task through; discuss progress, percent complete, concerns, target completion dates, and anything else that might come up. This weekly touch point keeps everyone accountable and on the same page.

Conduct weekly customer meetings to review project and task status. Likewise, there needs to be a formal weekly status discussion with the project customer. In advance of this, distribute an agenda, a project status report to drive the meeting, and a revised project schedule to drive discussion of relevant project task progress and issues.

Document all task discussions on status reports and follow-up. Following both of the meetings above, it is critical to follow up with notes to ensure everyone is of the same understanding about assignments made, task progress, and what’s happening next. Ask everyone to respond with agreement or correct any errors and return them to you. Then redistribute. You don’t want any assumptions to be incorrect, any information to be misunderstood or miscommunicated, or for any of your task updates to be incorrect.

Revise the project schedule weekly with task progress assignments and updates. The project schedule is not a static tool. It is a living, breathing part of the ongoing project status. Revise it before meetings and after (if there are relevant changes), and use it to drive task assignments, tracking, and reporting.

Create and distribute customized reports to keep task assignees on track. One thing that helps me out immensely is learning any project management tool that I am using in detail and creating custom reports that aid me in reporting project and task status to the team, the customer, and senior management. If the tool can handle it, I like to show what’s recently completed, what’s in progress, and what’s next to start. If you keep everyone aware of what’s expected of them you keep task ownership high and progress ongoing. Don’t give anyone any excuses for being behind. Make them own their tasks.

Summary / call for feedback

Ensuring that your team—and the customer, if applicable—is taking ownership of their tasks and getting things done is, of course, critical to project success. That is probably obvious to everyone. But things do slip through the cracks. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep everyone focused and engaged—even our own project team members because they may be getting pulled in 15 directions, too. Using these five steps help to keep them all focused on what you want them, and need them, to do. Be selfish, but mindful. It’s how you succeed.

About Alan Shefveland

Alan Shefveland is the Director of Product Management — Strategy & Innovation at Changepoint. He has more than 37 years of experience facilitating business and technology transformation for companies. For more than 25 years, Alan has demonstrated leadership with project, portfolio, and value management process implementations that span a wide variety of industry verticals, including finance, high-tech, light manufacturing, telecommunications, and utilities.