Why Should I Use Tasks & Projects in Project Management Software?
The difference between tasks and projects may be confusing if you’re new to project management or have previously relied on a task management system to manage your projects. Tasks and projects are the main building blocks within project management software that enable you to keep track of and organize your work.
A task is a single unit of work that needs to be accomplished within a project. A project is the entire series of tasks that need to be completed together to accomplish a single outcome or goal. For example, if you want to create a new product, the entire creation process is your project. A single task within that project may be “build prototype.”
What Is a Task in Project Management Software?
A task is similar to an item on a to-do list. It’s one action or step that’s required to move your project towards the desired outcome. Tasks should be used to:
- Plan all the necessary steps to complete a project
- Visualize individual steps on a project Gantt chart
- Store detailed information about processes, how-tos, or notes
Typically a task will have a single person assigned to it and require a relatively short time-frame to complete. For instance, one best practice is for task lengths to be between 1%–10% of the entire project length. This means that if your project takes 100 work days to complete, each task should be 1 to 10 days in length. Any task longer than 10 days should, therefore, be divided into two or more tasks.
A secondary option is to break longer or complex tasks down into sub-tasks. This option enables you to keep the overarching task for visibility, while still dividing it into more manageable pieces of work. For example, using the above example, let’s say you have a task called “build prototype.” This task could actually involve the following sub-tasks:
- Machinist to built prototype body
- Ironworker to complete prototype shell
If the body and shell need to be built together, it may make sense to keep these grouped under one task. However, since a different person is responsible for each, having subtasks allows everyone to clearly see and understand what is expected of each team member.
To follow your overall task progress within your project management software, parent tasks should illustrate a subtask progress bar that slowly fills as subtasks are completed. This feature allows you to easily track both individual contributions and their direct impact on the overarching task.
What Is a Project in Project Management Software?
A project encompasses everything that needs to be completed in order to reach a specific outcome. This can include all of the actions, inputs, outputs, and milestones required to achieve a particular goal. Projects can range from simple to complex and vary widely in length, resources, cost, and scope. Each project should have a clear start and finish date, a defined scope of work, and an owner.
Projects within project management software are used to:
- Monitor start and finish dates of the overall project rather than just individual tasks.
- Quickly and easily track the high-level project status.
- Manage task dependencies and interactions, such as if one task delays another.
- Easily update project stakeholders on project information using software reports.
- Store project-related files and notes that need to be accessible to the entire project team.
Larger, more complex, or longer projects may be broken down into individual phases. Some project management methodologies, such as
Agile, break projects into separate sprints. Each phase or sprint should have its own defined time period and outcome and therefore can be treated as its own project within your project management software.
Projects vs. Folders
Some project management software solutions also allow you to create and manage folders. Folders are used to contain and organize data. They are not actionable items, and they do not have their own set of attributes, such as start and end dates. The purpose of folders is simply to keep related information in one place and to create an organizational structure or hierarchy that makes it easy for users to find and share information.
You can use folders to:
- Group together related tasks and projects.
- Group together supporting documentation relating to tasks and projects, such as meeting agendas, notes, to-do items, issues or risks, and ad-hoc requests.
- Add tags to tasks, so that single tasks can be viewed in multiple folders.
Folders can be used to group projects and tasks by team, client, stage of work, or however fits your team best. You can create a folder to group together different phases of the same project or group separate projects that have the same customer.
Alternatively, you may create a separate folder for each department and tag tasks with their related department. For instance, if you have a “Marketing” folder, then any marketing employee can quickly navigate to all of their tasks in one place, even if they relate to different projects.
Folders can contain subfolders, projects, and tasks. By using tags, folders allow you to slice, dice, and group information in whichever way is most useful to your team members, without having to duplicate data.
Best Practices for Using Folders, Projects, Tasks & Subtasks
Here are some tips on creating and organizing your work into folders, projects, tasks, and subtasks:
- Start at the top. The easiest way to organize your project management software is to start with the largest possible bucket and then work your way down. For instance, a folder may be dedicated to a single customer. Every unique product or deliverable they contract may be its own project within that folder.
- Create and use templates. By building templates for your folder structure, project structures, and tasks, you can save time and ensure work is consistently structured throughout the software. With templates, each time you create a new project or task, you already have the outline and structure.
- Become familiar with project management best practices. PM best practices will help you improve both your project performance and your use of project management software. For instance, understanding how to create a WBS (work breakdown structure) will help you break projects down into tasks.
- Engage with others. Seeking aid and advice from your software vendor, a community forum, or others within your company can help you discover the best ways for organizing projects and tasks within your system. There is no perfect solution that fits all scenarios. However, by engaging with others, you can uncover new ideas and learn what’s worked for companies or projects similar to yours.