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Real Life Example of GroupWise Task Management



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February 5, 2009 11:49 am

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I plan to do a series of blogs on the Home View and how I use it. I am going to concentrate on one panel at a time – I generally work with 7 panels, the quickviewer and I sometimes turn on an 8th panel, making 9 content areas in total. At the end of the series I will bring it all together. The aim is to give you some ideas on how to the use the Home View yourselves, and drive additional productivity which, in turn, makes your company more effective.

This first blog is going to be about task management and my task panel. Everyone one of us has projects that we run, in one form or another. Some of them are formal projects that we are a part of, but most of what we do are simply work items or To-Dos. Some of these To-Dos are part of a broader, long term thing that we are working towards, and some are just one off tasks. For example “Get Milk” is a one off task, but “Create upgrade plan” is a project, regardless of whether you are the only team member, or not. This “create upgrade plan” project will have a number of required tasks that you need to work through to complete the project.

Without a good way of recording, prioritizing and tracking all these items, both personal and work related, it is very easy to lose sight of everything that you need to do, or to be able to recognize where you might need help. Many email users today have a variety of methods to track this work. Some use their Inbox as their To-Do list, some use Task items (I will refer to these as Hard Typed Tasks), some use folders to track each project, and I am sure that there are many more examples out there. Each method has flaws, so I will share some of the things that we did in GroupWise 8 to help, and how I work with it.

With GroupWise 8 task management we did a few things. Firstly and, in my opinion, most importantly we allow users to create task hierarchies. This allows you to create a project – “create upgrade plan” – and then create the steps needed to complete that project underneath, as sub tasks. Sub tasks can have their own sub tasks – allowing for projects within projects.

I already mentioned Hard Typed Tasks, but there are more. A Hard Typed Task is one that you create under File | New Task, or by clicking on the New Task toolbar item. Now, I think that there are acceptance issues with Hard Typed Tasks. By that I mean that when someone sends me a Hard Typed Task I feel objection to it. Basically, what they are saying is “You have to do this, because I said so, and this is the priority that I am giving it, whether you like it or not”. This is not collaboration, and I come across very few customers that actually send Hard Typed Tasks to each other – possibly for this reason. The other kind of task is an item with ‘Taskness’. This is what I use for most of my work tracking. Most of these Taskness items in my Tasklist are mails that I have received where I need to do something on. I drag them from my mailbox into my Tasklist panel and this gives them Taskness – they remain as emails, but they gain some task fields that you can use. These fields are Due Date, %Complete and Order. You can reorder the task list, and nest tasks under each other by simply dragging them to the right place in the Tasklist folder. From a collaboration perspective this turns it from someone else’s priority for you, into your own priority list.

The last kind of task is one that you create yourself, as a posted item. To create the task you just put the focus in the Tasklist folder or panel and start typing. This will create a task at the same level as the item you highlighted. The item type can either be a Hard Typed Task (posted) or a posted email with Taskness, this is controlled with a user option under Tools | Options. I use posted emails.

So, now I can record what I have to do much more easily. For example, for GWAVACon that just happened in Las Vegas I created tasks for each session I was delivering, and created subtasks for everything I needed to do to be able to create the slide decks. By defining it this way I was able to much more clearly define all the things that I needed to do myself, and where I needed to gather information from other people.

That covers task types, task creation and projects, tasks and subtasks. There’s a lot more. You can track your progress on a task in a couple of ways – either by using the %Complete field, or by marking an item complete. This rolls up into the parents so, for example, if you have a task with 4 sub tasks and you mark one complete then the %Complete value on the parent become 25%. You can display this graphically in the tasklist too. If you mark a parent task complete then it marks all of the subtasks complete also. If you mark all subtasks complete then the parent also automatically gets marked complete. In GroupWise 7, when an item was marked complete it stayed where it was in the checklist, which got hard to maintain. In GroupWise 8 there are now 4 options on what happens when I item is marked complete. One is that they are hidden immediately, so you no longer see them in the list, the next is that they are hidden the next day, and the third is do nothing – in these last 2 cases the complete items move to the bottom of the list, so that they no longer confuse the users. The 4th option is a rule that triggers when an item is marked complete – this is what I use. Whenever I mark an item complete my rule moves the mail to a folder with all of the other information that I want to retain.

Finally – categories. I use these to prioritize my tasks. We made categories much easier to get to. If you move the mouse to the left side of the mail icon in the list view you see a colour swatch – click this to access the categories. This is true for all item types, not just tasks. I have 5 categories I use for prioritization. Today, Urgent, Medium, Low, Waiting on Others.

Finally, how do I have it set up? I have a panel that points at my Tasklist folder. I have positioned this panel in the center of a 3 column Home View, and it takes up that entire column. I work from this panel more than any of the others, which is why I dedicated as much room as I could to it. By Contrast, my mailbox panel where I do all my triage work, is a small panel in a column with another panel in it. I try to keep the contents of my mailbox folder as low as possible, normally under 40 items, and often less than 10. Using a combination of tasks, subtasks and categories I am much more able to deal with the email overload that affects so many of us. I don’t need to keep searching through a bloated mailbox for what I have to do and I don’t need to keep switching folders to see what is going on in my projects.

I am sure I have forgotten something, but I encourage you to try working with your Tasklist more – for me this was the key to getting control of my email bloat, and allowing me to do other things besides email processing.

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9 Comments

  1. By:FlyingGuy

    Yes yes and more yes!!!!

    This is the kind of thing we need posted more often because I can point to a real world manager that is using GW effectively to manage their time and projects.

    “Hard tasks”… Yes some like them some don’t. For companies I deal with a lot of them find them as a wonderful additional to their management toolkit. For example, a meeting takes place in which a number of things are identified as critical to a project and the manager uses these “hard Tasks” and the accompanying tracking mechanism to know when and item has been completed, since it saves having to have another meeting to go over “whats been accomplished”.

    Thanks for a great start to a continuing series of blog entries.

    I know you are a busy guy but putting this together with a nicely done video would be a great sales tool.

    Thanks so very much.

    • By:aevans

      Yes – that is one pretty good way of using them. Another way that people track this is through Teaming, and assigning tasks to people. In my view there is still something socially unacceptable about being sent a task, as opposed to being assigned a task. A pre agreed task, as output from a meeting, is the right use case – micro management is not :)

  2. By:blntskul

    Alex,

    The way GroupWise 8 task management functions is really nice for tasks that I assign myself, but unless I’m missing something, it’s not very useful for collaboration because I have no idea what progress has been made by other parties. Whether you agree with hard typed tasks and the social acceptance of them, the fact is that a great deal of our daily operations involve a supervisor giving an instruction to a subordinate. There’s no meeting involved, nothing to collaborate on – just a thing that needs to be done – like ‘Please change the light bulb in the closet’. I send a task to a person and would like documentation about where they are in the process. That only seems to be possible for tasks that I send to myself. The most I can get out of a task that I sent to someone else is whether its been completed, and that requires that I open the sent item and look at the properties page. What I would like is to be able to view all of the tasks that I’ve sent to other people, organized by recipient, and displayed in the task/subtask hierarchy with percent complete and/or complete date.

    I’m given tasks all the time, and I give tasks all the time – just not with GroupWise – because it’s not effective. It’s the perfect place to keep track of this stuff, but as it is, I would have to send a followup message to the recipient to see what’s going on. I can accomplish something like this with a helpdesk/ticketing system, but it’s much more convenient and quick to send a task than to go to another system and create a ticket, which then has to be relayed to the recipient in some way – generally by email. Then I have to go to the ticket system to see updates.

    Tommy

  3. By:janpop

    Tommy, I completely agree with your points with regards to the idea of using the tasks or tasklists as a replacement of a ticketing system and also with expressing that the ability to efficiently follow up on overdue tasks is currently missing in GroupWise (unless I also overlooked it).

    In our organization, we spent a lot of time and effort exploring the functionality of GroupWise and Teaming and have in the end developed a full 2\.5 days end-user training on internal collaboration practices we consider to be the most possibly efficient for our business processes and given the tools available – GroupWise 8 and Teaming 1.0. We are currently rolling the training out to 3’500 users in 30 countries and the general adoption of the techniques taught seems to be quite good so far.

    The reason I am mentioning training in this post is that we dedicated one entire training module to the topic of time management, which we’ve further split up into calendaring and task management, both of these handled in GroupWise. We estimate that the adoption of efficient scheduling and task management practices can bring us a saving in productivity of at least 4%.

    To satisfy the requirement for sending tasks and managing follow-ups specifically, we were able to develop only for small teams of up to i.e. 6 people. Imagine a manager with a Panels View consisting of 7 panels where one is showing the manager’s own Tasklist and each of the remaining 6 panels is showing the tasklist folders of the team members, however, only with tasks that the manager sent specifically to the respective team member. Such setup enables the manager to monitor the progress of tasks of his staff, including adjustments in the priority order of the individual tasks. By drag-and-drop between panels, tasks can also be reassigned to other team members.

    Ok, the way this is setup is:
    - Step 1: The task receiver (team member) creates a folder in his Cabinet and changes its view to a Tasklist;
    - Step 2: The task receiver (team member) shares the folder with one or more potential senders (i.e. the manager);
    - Step 3: The task sender (manager) accepts the shared folder, creates a panel displaying the folder contents (fields Subject, Due Date, % Complete, Name) and assigns the panel to the “My Teams Tasks” View (folder presented on the Nav Bar);
    - Step 4: The Task receiver (team member) creates a rule, which links all tasks received from the respective sender (manager) to the tasks folder created in step 1.

    Even though the above is working reasonably well for small teams, we unfortunately haven’t found an efficient way of managing follow-ups on tasks (or messages) sent to other random colleagues.

    The “Reply requested” option in message tracking is good but it would be useful if the recipient could be automatically reminded when running to an overdue. It should also be pulled up to the main Compose Message form for the users to really start working with it.

    Or when a common task is sent to a group of 100 people out of which 30 are close to missing the deadline, our users would love to see GroupWise issuing an automatic reminder only to the remaining 30 users.

    What would also be great is if tasks could be set such that they would automatically trigger an escalation to the manager when overdue (based on the isManager LDAP field information).

    Whilst the Due Date is good for non-critical tasks, the ability to specify the “due time” has been also reported to me by users as a functionality they’d like to see.

    And finally, for replacing general helpdesk ticketing systems, the export/reporting functionality for the tasks would be definitely demanded.

    To conclude, I believe we can make our users working more efficiently by eliminating the combination of GroupWise and various task tracking or ticketing systems or the abuse of the plain e-mail messaging and changing for the “Tasks”. Making the tasks more feature-rich I see as a key, though. The step from GW7 to GW8 has shown that Novell does a really good work in this area and I just hope that the upcoming releases will further improve the usability.

    • By:aevans

      Thanks for this very complete answer, it is a great solution that you have come up with. I would love to sit down with you in person to go over this – or even on the phone. Feel free to send me an email directly to discuss this

  4. By:blntskul

    That’s a pretty good workaround. I’ll have to give it a try. I’m not looking to replace the ticket system, but our daily operational or project based tasks just aren’t suited for a ticket system. It’s too much overhead. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Alex, please don’t consider this a solution though. GroupWise needs just a few more task related enhancements to make it a great tool for this.

    Thanks,
    Tommy

    • By:aevans

      One thing to note is that when we designed the task management functionality we did so under the overriding concept of personal task management – make me better able to handle and process the incoming ‘stuff’. Our main goal was to make it easier and more intuitive for me to handle my own items. The concept of group task management and project management was not the goal we were going for with this release – though it is certainly a consideration for us, and one that we are looking to interaction with Teaming to solve.

  5. By:blntskul

    I see your point, but GroupWise is a collaboration tool – not just a personal email and calendar client. The suggestion from janpop above is probably as good of a workaround as is possible with the current release, but a few minor things could help. Such as –

    * Make it so tasks don’t have to have a due date – like when you create a posted message in your own task list. For tasks that don’t really have a hard due date, it’s misleading.

    * Allow tasks to be edited by the recipient, or anyone else with permission, with dated entries. Think of it like a chat log or something. As a manager, I want to be able to quickly followup on the progress and status of things I ask my people to do.

    * Related to the previous enhancement, when someone replies to a task, keep the reply as part of the task rather than a separate email. You should get a notification and something in your inbox, but it should just be a pointer to the task. A task should be a shared object among the collaborators.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m a GroupWise fan. It’s very close to being a great solution for task management. Put it on the list for me. :-)

  6. By:rflorio

    I agree with Tommy, it only seems logical that if I assign a task I would like to keep a record of it’s status. I would love to see those tasks in my Task list as well as my own.

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