People, teams and organizations are looking for smarter ways to plan and track their work. Almost all are looking for software tools that seamlessly blend into their needs. This note is 101 (introductory) – it stays vendor agnostic – and highlights important considerations on the journey from individual task management to cross-organizational portfolio management.
On personal level individuals maintain a set of “tasks”– usually in different forms (from pen and paper to software tools) to track and remind themselves what needs to be done. There is indeed plenty of different tools from cloud to mobile, it’s up to everyone’s taste. The most important is how to prioritize and tackle possibly ever-growing list of tasks so it does not become a graveyard of the past… It almost seems that many prefer to block their time on calendar, rather than capture a task that levitates above all the workload.
As you see – just adding a task either on paper or in a tool – is not enough. There must be a will and desire of the individual to use the list effectively. Yes I agree it’s simple to do and everyone can figure out what works the best. The important takeaway is – as we move further in the complexity to work, project and portfolio management all individuals need to be enlightened, trained and motivated, because they work on a team effort.
Work management is means of organizing and managing work in collaborative environment. The focus is on what and who. This is a natural evolution of task management, where individual “tasks” are no longer only yours – but you share them with your teammates to ask them to contribute to the end-result. Now clearly this could be challenging situation as different people have different priorities and participating in your work management effort could be additional agenda.
There are lot of software tools that help in every step of this process – from easy to get started templates to intuitive and simple user interfaces. Some rich cloud solutions are even combining power of simple scheduler with numeric calculations and analytics – so there is no need to use more tools!
These activities can become complex rather quickly, especially if you are interested in sequencing the work, involving more people across departments, creating dependencies and tracking what was done and when. This is where the more formalized and structured cousin – project management comes in.
Projects typically are complex one-time activities lasting months. Project Manager is leader of the entire process and is responsible for its success. Projects typically have lifecycle starting with idea that needs to evolve into a business case – summary of key outcomes and key goals of the entire project. After approval – right resources are found and project execution starts. Project manager needs to balance project delivery – deliver project goals and keep eye on budget and resources. Once project is successfully completed evaluation is done.
…and since projects can be very complex they often fail to deliver the intended results. Project Managers and organizations demand analytics and insights that would reveal and highlight problems to be addressed as soon as possible.
Now it’s clear that there is a necessity of rigor, processes and habits that the organization has to establish for all this to work properly. You don’t want to become a fool with a tool! Are you thinking this is too much for you organization? Is it too big investment? Do a ROI analysis – and decide accordingly… In this cloud era – the tools are becoming simpler to implement – but the process is usually what takes the most and is the most important.
Multi-project, cross-departmental environment – where tens of projects with different goals are running and competing for funding at the same time. This environment is usually controlled and aligned with organizational strategy that dictates priorities and funding. Many software solutions in the market today have flexible portfolio management capabilities and help you deliver the intended outcomes. What is the most important? The right balance between simplicity and flexibility.
OK, so which one is right for us?
The biggest challenge of task and work management is that they are not aligned with the organizational strategy, they are bottom-up driven and usually lack the big picture, especially in larger organizations. They are great to make things done, but not as good to make sure the right things are done. This may not be a concern for really small organizations, but for larger – this could be a huge deficiency. It’s not surprising however that all the above techniques and tools usually co-exit side-by-side. With co-existence it’s important to ask the right questions about integration and how all data captured in any system can flow upstream or downstream and seamlessly integrate in dashboards and provide the right level of visibility on all levels. There are more and more one-vendor tools with consistent user interface and seamless integration to make the “toolset” decision easier.
Interchangeability and maturity
Could the software tools for project management be used for work management? Well they can – but why would you use a giant crane, when the same job can be done way with bare hands? It’s usually wise to look at the right tools for the job – it’s usually better to have fewer tools than too many.
Maturity, processes, training and tools. Here we are again. The lack of project and portfolio management (PPM) maturity or processes – caused by poor project management implementation is effectively “degrading” PPM to work management. If your organization was to easily replace project management tools with work management – then CLEARLY you don’t have the right PPM processes and/or PPM was poorly implemented or you simply don’t need PPM.
It’s very clear that as we move from task management to portfolio management – the right processes need to be in place BEFORE the tools can start delivering results. This does not mean that you should stay with work management forever – this means that since project and portfolio management is more complex due to scope, duration, cost and impact – it requires more thinking, more preparation and more attention during execution. This however also means that more people are involved and they need to understand why and how to do things right.
Synergy among people, processes and tools is essential. It is like engine – if one wheel slows down it degrades the whole performance or if one wheel stops the entire engine stalls.