Critique of Task Management

  • July 15, 2013
  • Scott

Anatoly often brings great issues to the table – the kind of problems we and our clients wrestle with periodically – and gives some great analysis of potential solutions.

This time, the subject is “Task Management” in the context of process management:

The idea is simple: someone assigns tasks by setting goals, responsibles and terms. It’s easy enough to develop a system automating terms control, due dates reminders, statistical analysis, etc.

Any decent process system (i.e. BPMS) features built-in task management. Task durations, notifications, delegation, on-the-fly reassignment in the event of unplanned leave are available out of the box. If necessary, the process scheme can implement more sophisticated things like timers, escalation or cancellation by external events.

But there are two problems.

The first problem is “who” – who assigns the task?  As Anatoly points out, bubbling this decision up to “the big boss” is an expensive way to assign tasks. On the other end of the spectrum, automating can de-humanize the assignment.  And as Anatoly points out, there needs to be general agreement about who makes these decisions and how.

Second, you need context from the previous steps – process context – in order to do the next step well and correctly:

Process systems provide such context – each process instance has a set of attributes, and each task is associated with certain attributes as its input and output.

But, basic task management systems don’t provide much more than a basic description of the task:

More advance approach links a task to a dedicated folder containing Word and/or Excel documents i.e. by utilizing ECM. But if we don’t store the information in a structured way (not in the database) then we should a) be prepared for errors, duplicates and inconsistencies in the data; forget about the integration with legacy systems (e.g., accounting) – multiple data entry, multiple errors.

Case Management doesn’t really address the problem sufficiently either:

The case management systems (ACM) are good in providing the context but their ability to cope with cross-functional issues is questionable. The same issue may arise: department A may assign a task to an employee of department B within the case C but are we sure the latter would accept it readily? It’s no surprise that most case management examples don’t go beyond a single department.

Like Anatoly, I see customers wrestle with task management often.  I’ve even seen customers mistake their task management problem for their process problem – not realizing that task management is “orthogonal” to the process, as it can only be done correctly with a combination of process context and context of all the other executing processes (otherwise, how to accomplish load balancing, skill selection, etc.).

When presented with a “task management” problem, absent a process context, take a step back and find out what the root causes of their current task management or throughput challenges are (usually they are related).  There’s likely a cross-departmental process issue to uncover – of which task management is just the department-level exposed raw nerve.

And then make sure you address the “human” and organizational side of the equation.


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  • Phick Steven

    Dear Scott,

    Thanks a ton for briefing the overview of task management. It is obvious that task management needs a rigorous streamlining of the projects but the important part lies in the management that how that has been carried out.

    The best way in fact to get a perfection in task management is when some one really gets involved in the job and keeps a good track of it. No tools with proper management from the human is gonna work perfectly.

    Like for example with me I have always seen difficulties in managing the tasks and to get rid of those sort of problems I basically implies on task management tools which makes me go perfect.

    Do let me know what is your feedback on this?



    • In my opinion, the main thing to do is to figure out what is happening upstream and downstream from the “task management problem” so that you can figure out what is driving (creating) the bottleneck for that team or making task management difficult.

      Have a more recent post on the blog now about micromanaging – and why it isn’t synonymous with BPM.

      You’re right that no tool will fix people 🙂 Need to set up a system that is aligned with good behavior. And then use tools that don’t introduce unnecessary friction for your customers or users.