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The Dangers of Mixing Up Project with Task Management

Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed the recent proliferation of social task management tools. However, with all these new tools it can be difficult keeping track what each one does and finding which tool is best for you. With these new task management solutions popping up it can be difficult deciphering the difference between task and project management. Mistaking one for the other can be dangerous to the long-term success of your organization, particularly when it comes to tool selection and risk management.

Trying to crack the differences between task management and project management without a guide is not an easy task. It is because of this that I want to help explain the differences between the two today. I recently came across an article by Carolyn Crummey on Smallbiz Technology where she tries to help outline, break down, and alleviate any misunderstandings between Project Management and Task Management.

Projects consist of Tasks, But Tasks don’t make up Projects

Sounds like something taken straight out of a high school geometry course: “A square is always a rhombus, but a rhombus isn’t always a square…” In all seriousness, this rule strangely makes sense. Think about it, if you are to break down a project into its smallest, simplest form you would have a series of tasks. These tasks are usually short in duration, and are assigned to one individual – Jeff will design the email, Stacy will pull the mailing list etc… However, as Crummey so aptly points out, “every task on our to-do list is not necessarily part of a project. Most of us who work on projects also have some collection of additional tasks listed on Post-It notes, online trackers, and whiteboards.”

Task Management

While it’s true that having more choices and competition is usually a good thing for consumers, it can also make deciding on a solution pretty difficult. One piece of advice Crummey offers is to avoid overly complex task management tools, “Beware: if you find anything more sophisticated than task due dates or a list of milestones, you’ll often be disappointed.”  She continues writing that the best traditional task management tools are extremely good in two critical areas. Traditional task management solutions provide a common web-based interface that allows teams to work together and collaborate, in addition to giving teams a way to list tasks and due dates that is sufficient for front-line workers who are primarily concerned with their own productivity. According to Crummey, while they sure “beat the heck out of Post-it notes”, but if you require more in-depth tracking you may be unintentionally exposing your team to some unintended risks.

Project Management

If you’re looking for a tool that to help out with more complex, major initiatives simple task management solutions won’t cut it. According to Crummey, “Task management applications don’t give the project manager who is tasked with overseeing the project (or portfolio of projects) any insight into several important areas.” According to Crummey, project management tools provide richer insight into the following areas:

  • Task estimation – How long will each task take? How long will the entire project take?
  • Project scheduling – Will the person assigned to the task be able to accomplish it in time? Will the project in its entirety be completed on time?
  • Resource and capacity planning – Does the team have enough resources to accomplish the project on time? Or is scope-cutting or resource balancing needed?
  • Portfolio-wide management – What projects are top priority for the organization? Are they adequately staffed or funded?
  • Risk management – Is the right amount of progress being made? Are there areas of risk in the plan that need attention?

Understanding these various aspects of a project requires a bit more work and information than you can put into a task management tool. “Things like availability and work estimates create another axis of information that informs critical business decisions, which directly impact the bottom line.” When looking at project management software it’s important to keep in mind that one size doesn’t fit all here. Crummey recommends watching a demo, giving the trials a go and consider which mix of features best fits your team.

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