Task Management: A Beginner’s Guide

We all do some form of task management every day. In fact, each time you come home and decide to do a load of laundry and leave the dishes for tomorrow, you’re managing your tasks.

Formal task management is a basic concept expanded for use at scale. Done correctly, it can increase your productivity and positively impact your business’s bottom line.

“The task management life cycle includes steps like planning, tracking, execution, and a compilation of your success after a project or group of tasks has been completed,” says Travis Haninger, VP of customer experience and cofounder of SequoiaCX. “When done right, it can transform your organization’s productivity and growth.”

But task management is much more than shuffling a list of items from to-do to done. Organizations can scale effective task management so that both small and large teams work together seamlessly to bring projects to fruition.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll define task management, break down the most popular task management methods, tackle how to use those methods, learn to build workflows, and cover online task management and the top features of a good workflow tool. Here’s an overview of each topic.

Chapter synopsis

  • Introduction.
  • What is task management? Learn what task management means, how to think about managing tasks through their entire life cycle, and the difference between task management and project management.
  • Top task management methods and methodologies. Two main methodologies cover how to execute task management responsibilities day to day. Learn about both in this chapter.
  • How business teams of all types use task management. All sorts of business teams use task management methodologies in different ways. Learn more with concrete examples from marketing, HR, IT, and sales teams.
  • Essentials of an effective task management workflow. Learn how an effective task management workflow can remove bottlenecks, improve communication, increase transparency, help you prioritize, and automate administrative tasks like status updates.
  • Converting to online task management. Learn to convert to online task management in just three easy steps: mapping your workflow, selecting a tool, and performing repetitive testing.
  • Top features of a task management system. Learn how to pick a good workflow tool with this list of necessary features, including task delegation, calendar management, tracking, and much more.

Now that we’ve briefly reviewed each chapter, let’s dive into a detailed description of task management, including how it relates to project management and why it’s important for any business.

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What is task management?

What exactly is task management? It’s much more than a review of whether or not your team is completing tasks. It also includes critical steps like task planning, tracking, execution, and reporting.

Task management is the process of moving your tasks from ideation to completion by managing their day-to-day progress. The ultimate goal is to complete all scheduled tasks.

When we break down each of these stages, we gain a clearer picture of what task management really entails:

  • Planning: defining a task, setting its priority level, and assigning an owner
  • Tracking: monitoring progress of a task as it moves through the life cycle
  • Execution: performing the work required to complete a task
  • Compilation: gathering insights from the work performed in comparison with other tasks

Task management looks different depending on your role. At an organizational level, task management consists of large tasks broken down into much smaller tasks to be managed at the team level.

“On an organizational level, you have major tasks to be completed, like the creation of a new product, the launch of a website, or the closing of a major deal,” says Saman (Sam) Pourkermani, director at Inspirant Group. “Those tasks are then filtered to various teams within an organization to manage. For example, the creation of a new product might be broken down into a variety of tasks to be managed by manufacturing, marketing, and sales enablement.”

Task management vs project management

Task management can be a subset of project management — but never a replacement for it.

When you’re managing a project, you’ll ultimately need to break that project into smaller tasks. In addition, there will always be operational work to complete that doesn’t sit under the umbrella of a project.

“Tasks are the building blocks of all work,” says Haninger. “Every team, project, or program is built from a series of tasks, and the ability to track and compile those tasks is essential to the completion of the project. In this way, task management and project management can be symbiotic.”

To further distinguish the two management types, let’s define the difference between them:

  • Project management is a process that consists of defining and tracking the tasks that need to be accomplished to complete a project.
  • Task management is a process that consists of tracking and managing all tasks, whether or not they belong to a specific project.

“If you think about your day, you’re constantly evaluating what you need to get done within a given period of time,” says Andrew Graf, chief product strategist at TeamDynamix. “You have tasks that are tied to the success of a specific project, like the creation of an article for a marketing campaign, which is likely to get prioritized over rethinking the nomenclature behind your file organization.”

Why is task management important for any business?

There is no more essential component to effective work than task management. As tasks are assigned and reassigned when projects change or priorities shift, so much can get lost in the shuffle if you’re not managing those tasks efficiently.

The number one reason that task management is critical for any business is prioritization.

“Let’s use marketing as an example,” says Haninger. “Let’s say you’re an agency and you’ve got a cluster of content you’re working on, but a client makes a request for an article that they need urgently. You’ve got to have a way to go to your boss and say, ‘I have these 10 urgent things on my list already, which one should I deprioritize to accommodate this new request?’ ”

A system that allows for the prioritization of tasks brings structure to the execution of work. Without a framework or system to manage tasks, you won’t know if you’re working on the right things to be successful.

The next chapter covers some of the most popular task management methods for day-to-day planning, execution, and reporting for teams of all types.

Top task management methods and methodologies

How you actually manage your tasks will depend on which of the task management methods you adopt, and the method you choose will depend on the task management methodology that you think best applies to the work you do.

Task management methodologies vs task management methods

Task management methods are built to execute day-to-day tasks based on the principles of a task management methodology. Let’s define each term:

  • Task management methodologies are theories of how to complete work, based on a defined set of principles.
  • Task management methods are frameworks for how to manage day-to-day tasks, following the principles of the overarching task management methodologies.

Task management methodologies

Agile and waterfall are the two most popular task management methodologies. Agile is built on principles of iterative work, or a “plan-as-you-go” mindset, whereas waterfall is built on principles of work in a timeline, or a “start to finish” mindset. 

Agile

Agile is a task management methodology with roots in software development. It promotes continuous iteration through testing throughout the life cycle of a project. When you implement Agile, both testing and measurement happen simultaneously.

“Agile task management is typically applied in a project setting,” says Graf. “Say you have a deadline to complete a project between now and the end of the year. Agile says that you have a set of business problems to solve in a certain amount of time, so break it down into smaller chunks. After each chunk (or set of tasks) is complete, let’s take a step back, see how we did, and reprioritize.”

Breaking out a project into chunks of work, or sprints (which we’ll cover more in depth later), allows you to review work with stakeholders as you go, so there are never misalignments or surprises at the end of a project.

Waterfall

Waterfall is a direct competitor to agile and emphasizes a linear progression from the beginning to the end of a project. This methodology requires careful planning at the beginning of a project, detailed documentation as you go, and consecutive execution throughout the life cycle to meet deadlines.

“While it’s less popular than agile, there’s nothing wrong with using waterfall when the type of work that you’re doing is predictable,” says Pourkermani. “For example, I can manage the process of making a cup of coffee in the morning quite predictably. I input the coffee beans, use the grinder, boil water, and pour my cup. 

“But if my project is more complex, like redecorating a room in my home, I might prefer agile to better manage surprises like orders that are delayed, curtains that aren’t quite the right color or size, or any other roadblock.”

When you apply waterfall, changes to a complex project can become expensive and time-consuming as you often have to backtrack and redo tasks to handle unexpected issues.

Task management methods

Several task management methods can carry out the principles of the two most common methodologies.

Kanban

Kanban task management is part of the agile methodology. It’s a visual method for managing tasks through the use of cards moved between life cycle stages as a project progresses. Pronounced “kahn-bahn,” kanban gets its name from the original Japanese translation, “visual signal” or “card.”

“There are certainly other methods, but I don’t believe any of them are as good as kanban when it comes to bringing visibility into where work is, how it’s progressing, and how far it needs to go before completion,” says Pourkermani.

Graf describes the visual experience of Kanban using a metaphorical swimming pool. Each lane is a life cycle stage between ideation and completion for each task. As you complete each stage, you move your card from lane to lane.

“Kanban was originally managed using Post-it notes on a board, but nowadays, many digital tools can mimic it,” says Haninger.

Here’s an example of a Jotform table organized using cards that users can move back and forth in a kanban-style workflow.

Scrum

Scrum is the most popular method to carry out the principles of agile. Users complete tasks in short blocks of time, called sprints, which usually range from two weeks to one month.

After each sprint, you collect feedback, measure progress, and select or adapt the next set of tasks based on what you learned in the sprint.

Getting Things Done (GTD)

GTD task management can adapt to the principles of either agile or waterfall, depending on how users execute it. GTD is the process of recording every task, request, or ticket in one master list and working on methodically completing those tasks until your list is empty.

“GTD is most appropriate for individuals or small teams,” says Graf. “You record any task that comes your way and constantly review and prioritize your tasks based on that big list. You could do this following the principles of agile, by completing chunks of tasks at a time, or you could plan them all at once, following the principles of waterfall.”

Lean portfolio management

Lean portfolio management is a task management method that follows the principles of waterfall. Its roots are in manufacturing, and it focuses on completing an entire project from start to finish using the least amount of resources possible, including both raw materials and human resources.

In the next chapter, we’ll learn that while some of these methods have roots in one specific business department, you can carry out all of them across your organization.

How business teams of all types use task management

No matter where you work within an organization, you can adopt task management to streamline your workflow.

Let’s dive further into task management by finding out how it’s used in areas like marketing campaigns, information technology (IT) requests, human resources, and sales projects. We’ll explore several relevant examples.

Task management: How is it used across business teams?

While business teams work on a wide range of different projects — from software development to marketing campaigns to sales — they can all use the same foundational task management methods to manage them.

“Each task management method can work for each business team with just a few minimal modifications,” says Haninger. “But they’ll all benefit from things like automating handoffs, visualizing their workflows, and keeping updates all in one place.” 

Examples of task management methods by department

Although the foundational elements will remain the same, the stages of each workflow, which tasks are automated, and how tasks are prioritized will differ by department. Let’s look at examples from marketing, human resources, IT, and sales.

Marketing

Marketing teams often manage tasks related to marketing campaigns, like emails, blog posts, and events. Because many of these tasks are tied to a particular launch date, prioritization based on the marketing calendar is key to the success of their project management method.

“Within a marketing team, there may be several different types of tasks to support a campaign, like written content, graphics, podcasts, videos, website updates, and more,” says Haninger.

“Each one of these tasks has a different workflow to get it from ideation to completion, but they all serve the goal of launching that campaign. You need a system that breaks down each task’s individual workflow while also being able to track all of those tasks at a high level, so the campaign launches on time.”

Marketing teams could use a kanban board or a color-coded table to track the progress of each task in support of their marketing campaigns.

Here’s an example of how a marketing team could use Jotform tables to manage its digital marketing campaigns.

Human resources

HR teams need a task management method to track projects like the recruitment cycle, employee onboarding, and employee benefits. While your task management framework will stay the same, you’ll need different tactical steps within your workflow to make sure tasks get done on time.

“Within HR teams, there is reporting, open enrollment, and endless requests from employees for information,” says Graf. “Adopting a task management method allows those teams to organize and prioritize those requests to stay productive.”

Jotform has over 20 HR task management templates for teams to manage all types of projects. Here’s an example of how you might use Jotform to track vacation and sick time.

IT

IT teams typically work with ticketing systems that allow employees or customers to submit IT requests into a work queue.

This issue tracker template from Jotform shows how an IT team may collect incoming IT requests and assign owners to each to ensure every ticket is addressed promptly.

“IT teams are often a good example of a department with tasks that aren’t always tied to a project,” says Graf. “While we might have project-based tasks, like upgrading security software, there will always be items like replacing employee computers, patching security structure, upgrading systems when new versions are available, and more.”

Even though IT might have a higher volume of tasks that aren’t project-based, the department can still operate using the same systems as a team that might have more project-based tasks. They will just have to make some adjustments to the workflow.

Sales

The number-one priority of a sales team is to move opportunities through the sales pipeline. When you treat each sale as a task, you can use task management tools to visualize and track your sales funnel.

“Small teams can use task management tools in place of a CRM to track their deals,” says Haninger. “For sales teams using project management tools, the steps in their workflow mirror the stages of the sales funnel, and they can visualize how deals move through the pipeline.

Here’s an example of how one team incorporates Jotform as a sales CRM, using a task management tool to visualize the sales pipeline.

In the next chapter, we’ll learn that — regardless of the business unit for which you’re looking to beef up task management — you’ll need to follow the same principles to build an effective workflow.

Essentials of an effective task management workflow

How well you and your team manage tasks each day depends on the effectiveness of your task management workflow. If you haven’t tested and streamlined your workflow, this could hamper the growth of your business.

Benefits of an effective task management workflow

An effective task management workflow can alleviate many pain points that create friction between teammates or cause stress. Just documenting the workflow isn’t enough. You need to build it using a digital tool to gain the following benefits:

  • Transparency. A good workflow is easy to visualize with a kanban board, calendar, table, or any other view of your choice. This visual element creates transparency among team members, allowing them to easily see how everyone performs. That transparency creates trust.
  • Communication. One of the biggest disruptors of work is poor communication — for example, providing your boss with status updates in meetings that could have been an email. When you manage your tasks within a tool, all communications live there, and all team members can give and receive updates or information on their own time.
  • Problem recognition. Especially when using the kanban method, you can see where your projects are stuck if you’ve built an effective workflow. Whether it’s a complicated stage in a task’s life cycle, an improperly assigned team member, or another challenge, visualizing your workflow allows you to easily spot the problem.
  • Prioritization. Work is constantly changing. Priorities shift daily, which means shuffling around the order to complete tasks can be really cumbersome if you aren’t clear about the location of your tasks in their workflow.

    For example, say you’re a mechanic who has two projects: a tire change for tomorrow and a transmission replacement for next week. You might automatically choose to work on the project with the closer deadline, but in reality, you need to work on the transmission replacement because other team members have to complete several more steps after your task is complete. Unless you can visualize both workflows, you might not make the right choice.
  • Predictability. Once you’ve completed several tasks within your new workflow, you’ll be able to view data on how long it takes your team to complete tasks. You’ll also be able to break each task down by department, team member, time of year, or any other parameter of interest.

How do you establish an effective workflow?

Establishing an effective task management workflow requires being thorough about documenting the steps to complete a task, defining a single owner for each step, and putting it into action by testing the workflow.

1. Document all the steps to complete a task

To make sure you document each step to complete a task, speak with every relevant stakeholder and team member involved in the process.

Part of your documentation process should include communication. Often, small steps, like approvals or handoffs, aren’t documented in a workflow up front, but when they’re included as an official step to complete the task, the process runs better.

“Your team needs to know where to go if they have a question about something,” Graf says, “and how to communicate updates or request approvals. Is it email, Slack, your project management tool, or another form of communication? Answering these questions will help your workflow run much more smoothly.”

2. Define an owner for each step of the task

Each step of your task management workflow should have a single owner. If you find that most steps have two or more owners, that likely means you need to break down the task into smaller steps.

“Your biggest challenges when establishing a good workflow will be assigning single owners to each stage,” Haninger says. “If you can identify a single person to own each stage of a task’s life cycle, your task will flow freely from beginning to end.”

Once you’ve defined the owners, you’ll also need to make sure they know when it’s their turn to dive into their specific step or part of the task. You can accomplish this by setting up automations that notify everyone when a step is ready for them, when deadlines are approaching, or when others have requested feedback or information.

“Automating handoffs and status updates can probably save 20 to 30 minutes of someone’s time a day,” Graf says, “and that time can be much better spent on valuable work. Imagine this at scale — an organization of 100 people that all save 25 minutes of work a day. That’s a big productivity increase.”

3. Test the workflow, rinse, and repeat

Once you’ve identified all workflow steps, assigned owners, and set up automatic notifications, you’re ready to test your workflow.

You’ll ultimately find items to streamline as you go, and that’s normal. Keep testing, rinse, and repeat, until your workflow works perfectly for your team.

Like we said earlier, this type of workflow functions best in a digital setting. Next, we’ll dive into how to convert your offline task management workflows to an online environment.

Converting to online task management

Transitioning from offline to paperless online task management processes isn’t as daunting as it seems and can have quite an impact on your business’s bottom line.

Why switch to online task management?

If you use any of the common digital communication tools, like a calendar, email, or instant messaging, your task management is partially online already. But you might be collecting tasks from each of those places and listing them on a sheet of paper or digital notepad.

True online task management means adopting a tool that allows you to communicate with your team, automate status updates, and analyze your productivity all in one place.

“Whenever I’m dealing with a digital transformation, the first place I start is task management,” Haninger says. “It’s the most effective place to start because it removes communication barriers, identifies unbalanced workloads, and streamlines how teams work together.”

Balancing workloads is one of the biggest benefits of transitioning to online task management. With the right tool, you can see who has too much work, who has too little, and where work is hitting bottlenecks.

“The panacea of work is the concept of a digital workspace,” Graf says. “Now, you can dynamically manage your team and ensure that handoffs are made appropriately, and from a manager’s perspective, automating handoffs and status updates even saves you time.”

How to transition to online task management

To successfully take your business from offline to online task management, you’ll need to thoroughly map your task management workflow, select a digital tool to visualize and manage that workflow, and test your new workflow in the digital space.

1. Map your workflow

Mapping your task management workflow requires thoroughly outlining every step in a task’s life cycle, identifying a single owner for each of those steps, and putting them in order from ideation to completion.

“The sequence is key to a successful workflow map,” Pourkermani says. “Whether you’re fulfilling a customer request, delivering a service, or building a marketing campaign, you need every step mapped, in order, to get your workflow right.”

The next step is building that workflow in a digital tool, assigning owners to tasks in a digital workspace, and onboarding and training your team to use that digital tool.

2. Select a digital tool

Your digital task management tool will be the backbone of your online transformation. It should allow you to visualize your workflow using a kanban system, where you can assign clear owners to tasks and set up automations to ensure that your workflow runs smoothly.

Also, make sure that your tool collects task-related data that allows you to measure your performance and identify where you can improve in the future.

Jotform provides teams with over 10,000 templates for task-related data collection. In addition, our PDF templates offer a customizable solution for task-related data collection using a fillable PDF form.

“The tool that you ultimately choose needs to fit your needs like a glove,” says Graf. “If you’re a 10-person team, your needs are drastically different than that of a 100-person team, and you might not need to pay for complex task management features like custom tool integrations and unlimited platform seats.”

3. Thoroughly test the tool with real-world tasks

Once you’ve reflected your ideal workflow in your task management tool, the next step for seamless conversion to online task management is testing the tool with real tasks or projects.

Train all stakeholders for a specific task or project to use said tool, and make sure that all communications and status updates take place within it.

If you find that stakeholders or team members are reverting to old processes or avoiding the tool, ask them why. This will typically pinpoint a hole in your workflow that you need to adjust to complete a full transition to online task management.

You’ll probably find a few holes over the first few months. Set expectations with your team that your new online workflow is a work in progress — and that you’re dedicated to making adjustments until it works for everyone on the team.

Next, let’s dive into the systems and features you need to seek out in an effective task management tool.

Top features of a task management system

So far, we’ve covered several critical aspects of task management and tackled multiple steps for effective project management assignment, including methodologies, methods, and workflows — but all of this is meaningless without a system that brings these concepts to life.

Your task management system will run using a tool, platform, or software solution that each of your team members will use every day to complete tasks and move projects forward.

Key features of a task management system

Jotform Tables provides everything your team needs to manage tasks smoothly and includes the following critical features for maximizing productivity.

Task delegation and assignment

The single most important feature for any task management system is the ability to easily delegate, assign, or reassign tasks to team members as projects and tasks progress.

Jotform Tables makes it easy to delegate tasks by designating a column for each task to its assignee, so there’s never confusion over ownership.

Prioritization

There are rarely days when you can tackle everything on your to-do list, and as organizations scale, the number of tasks increases. As a result, it’s imperative that employees can easily see which tasks they need to work on first.

Jotform Tables features customizable columns you can use to mark priority levels for tasks or organize tasks by the due date.

Calendar view

A calendar view within a task management system allows for better project management prioritization and makes it easier to set deadlines for tasks.

The Jotform Tables calendar view allows you to visualize tasks in calendar form so it’s always clear which task should be your next priority.

Kanban view

Kanban is one of the most preferred methods of task management because it allows businesses to visualize where tasks are in the process of completion and offers greater transparency among all team members.

Here’s an example of a Jotform table that uses cards for users to move back and forth in a workflow as they complete tasks.

Tracking

You should never have to report on the status of a task or project again once your task management system is in place. Instead, your task management system allows all relevant stakeholders to handle project management task tracking for every team task.

Jotform Tables keeps all information about each task in one place, including a task’s name, status, relevant attachments, and stage in your workflow.

Reporting

Finally, your task management system should allow you to easily share results with other stakeholders or team members through project management reporting tools.

Jotform’s Report Builder allows you to analyze data on your team’s task management processes in a variety of ways, including creating and publishing surveys, converting real-time data into custom reports that match your branding, and sharing reports with other team members easily.

A task management system that includes all these features and is customized to suit your team’s workflow needs will ultimately lead to more productivity and growth.

Conclusion

Task management is an integral part of any organization — whether you have a few employees or hundreds. Managing projects at scale, collecting and satisfying requests from customers and employees efficiently, and staying organized all ensure your organization reaches its goals.

There are many approaches to task management, whether following agile or waterfall methodologies or executing with methods like kanban or GTD. The right method for your organization can scale your productivity and positively impact your bottom line.

Digital transformation and online task management allow you to track, monitor, and analyze just how well your team is hitting its goals, and using a task management system like Jotform can help.

Meet your task management guides

Travis Haninger

Travis Haninger is the VP of customer experience and cofounder at SequoiaCX, a digital growth agency that specializes in customer experience and digital transformation. Haninger has spent the last decade in leadership roles for high-tech medical devices.

He specializes in repurposing teams, developing programs, and digitally transforming departments to better serve customers and increase profitability. Task management tools play a major role in the success of these business transformations.

Saman (Sam) Pourkermani

Sam Pourkermani is currently director of digital transformation and product development at Inspirant Group, a management consultancy that works with companies to improve company or team task management through digital transformation, evaluation, and improvement.

Pourkermani is an expert in lean-agile transformation, improving team performance, collaboration, the throughput of teams, implementing and using kanban, and improving team task management. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago in computer engineering and management information systems.

Andrew Graf

Andrew Graf is the chief product strategist for TeamDynamix in the areas of project portfolio management, system integration, and workflow. Graf has been innovating in these areas for over 20 years and is well versed in task management topics and methodologies, including kanban, waterfall, agile, and now, more emergent digital workspaces.

This article is originally published on May 20, 2022, and updated on Nov 28, 2022.

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