Task Management

Task management is the process of managing a task through its life cycle. It involves planning, testing, tracking, and reporting. Task management can help either individual achieve goals, or groups of individuals collaborate and share knowledge for the accomplishment of collective goals. Tasks are also differentiated by complexity, from low to high.

Effective task management requires managing all aspects of a task, including its status, priority, time, human and financial resources assignments, recurrence, dependency, notifications and so on. These can be lumped together broadly into the basic activities of task management.

Managing multiple individuals or team tasks may be assisted by specialized software, for example workflow or project management software. In fact, many people[who?] believe that task management should serve as a foundation for project management activities.

Task management may form part of project management and process management and can serve as the foundation for efficient workflow in an organization. Project managers adhering to task-oriented management have a detailed and up-to-date project schedule, and are usually good at directing team members and moving the project forward.

The status of tasks can be described by the following states:

The following state machine diagram describes different states of a task over its life cycle. This diagram is referenced from IBM. A more up to date task’s state machine diagram applicable to the new continuous delivery method could be found here.

As a discipline, task management embraces several key activities. Various conceptual breakdowns exist, and these, at a high-level, always include creative, functional, project, performance and service activities.

Task management software tools abound in the marketplace. Some are free; others intended for enterprise-wide deployment purposes. Some are simple to-do lists, while others boast enterprise-wide task creation, visualization, and notification capabilities – among others. Task management is used by small to Fortune 100 size companies. It does support simple individual projects to corporate task management activities.

Project management software, calendaring software and workflow software also often provide task management software with advanced support for task management activities and corresponding software environment dimensions, reciprocating the myriad project and performance activities built into most good enterprise-level task management software products.

Software dimensions crisscrossing nearly all lines of task management products include task creation, task visualization, notifications, assign resources, compatibility, configurability, scalability, and reporting.

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Project Management Triangle

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The Project Management Triangle (called also the Triple Constraint, Iron Triangle and “Project Triangle”) is a model of the constraints of project management. While its origins are unclear, it has been used since at least the 1950s. It contends that:

For example, a project can be completed faster by increasing budget or cutting scope. Similarly, increasing scope may require equivalent increases in budget and schedule. Cutting budget without adjusting schedule or scope will lead to lower quality.

In practice, however, trading between constraints is not always possible. For example, throwing money (and people) at a fully staffed project can slow it down. Moreover, in poorly run projects it is often impossible to improve budget, schedule or scope without adversely affecting quality.

The Project Management Triangle is used to analyze projects. It is often misused to define success as delivering the required scope, at a reasonable quality, within the established budget and schedule. The Project Management Triangle is considered insufficient as a model of project success because it omits crucial dimensions of success including impact on stakeholders, learning and user satisfaction.

The time constraint refers to the amount of time available to complete a project. The cost constraint refers to the budgeted amount available for the project. The scope constraint refers to what must be done to produce the project’s end result. These three constraints are often competing constraints: increased scope typically means increased time and increased cost, a tight time constraint could mean increased costs and reduced scope, and a tight budget could mean increased time and reduced scope.

The discipline of project management is about providing the tools and techniques that enable the project team (not just the project manager) to organize their work to meet these constraints.

Another approach to project management is to consider the three constraints as finance, time and human resources. If you need to finish a job in a shorter time, you can throw more people at the problem, which in turn will raise the cost of the project, unless by doing this task quicker we will reduce costs elsewhere in the project by an equal amount.

As a project management graphic aid, a triangle can show time, resources, and technical objective as the sides of a triangle, instead of the corners. John Storck, a former instructor of the American Management Association’s “Basic Project Management” course, used a pair of triangles called triangle outer and triangle inner to represent the concept that the intent of a project is to complete on or before the allowed time, on or under budget, and to meet or exceed the required scope. The distance between the inner and outer triangles illustrated the hedge or contingency for each of the three elements. Bias could be shown by the distance. His example of a project with a strong time bias was the Alaska pipeline which essentially had to be done on time no matter the cost. After years of development, oil flowed out the end of the pipe within four minutes of schedule. In this illustration, the time side of triangle inner was effectively on top of the triangle outer line. This was true of the technical objective line also. The cost line of triangle inner, however, was outside since the project ran significantly over budget.

James P. Lewis suggests that project scope represents the area of the triangle, and can be chosen as a variable to achieve project success. He calls this relationship PCTS (Performance, Cost, Time, Scope), and suggests that a project can pick any three.

The real value of the project triangle is to show the complexity that is present in any project. The plane area of the triangle represents the near infinite variations of priorities that could exist between the three competing values. By acknowledging the limitless variety, possible within the triangle, using this graphic aid can facilitate better project decisions and planning and ensure alignment among team members and the project owners.

The STR model is a mathematical model which views the “triangle model” as a graphic abstraction of the relationship:

Scope refers to complexity (which can also mean quality). Resources includes humans (workers), financial, and physical. Note that these values are not considered unbounded. For instance, if one baker can make a loaf of bread in an hour in an oven, that doesn’t mean ten bakers could make ten loaves in one hour in the same oven (Due to the oven capacity).

For analytical purposes, the time required to produce a deliverable is estimated using several techniques. One method is to identify tasks needed to produce the deliverables documented in a work breakdown structure or WBS. The work effort for each task is estimated and those estimates are rolled up into the final deliverable estimate.

The tasks are also prioritized, dependencies between tasks are identified, and this information is documented in a project schedule. The dependencies between the tasks can affect the length of the overall project (dependency constrained), as can the availability of resources (resource constrained). Time is different from all other resources and cost categories.

Using actual cost of previous, similar projects as the basis for estimating the cost of current project.

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) the Project Time Management processes include:

Due to the complex nature of the ‘Time’ process group the project management credential PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP) was created.

To develop an approximation of a project cost depends on several variables including: resources, work packages such as labor rates and mitigating or controlling influencing factors that create cost variances. Tools used in cost are, risk management, cost contingency, cost escalation, and indirect costs . But beyond this basic accounting approach to fixed and variable costs, the economic cost that must be considered includes worker skill and productivity which is calculated using various project cost estimate tools. This is important when companies hire temporary or contract employees or outsource work.

Project management software can be used to calculate the cost variances for a project.

Requirements specified to achieve the end result. The overall definition of what the project is supposed to accomplish, and a specific description of what the end result should be or accomplish. A major component of scope is the quality of the final product. The amount of time put into individual tasks determines the overall quality of the project. Some tasks may require a given amount of time to complete adequately, but given more time could be completed exceptionally. Over the course of a large project, quality can have a significant impact on time and cost (or vice versa).

Together, these three constraints have given rise to the phrase “On Time, On Spec, On Budget.” In this case, the term “scope” is substituted with “spec(ification).”

Traditionally the Project Constraint Model recognised three key constraints; “Cost”, “Time” and “Scope”. These constraints construct a triangle with geometric proportions illustrating the strong interdependent relationship between these factors. If there is a requirement to shift any one of these factors then at least one of the other factors must also be manipulated.

With mainstream acceptance of the Triangle Model, “Cost” and “Time” appear to be represented consistently. “Scope” however is often used interchangeably given the context of the triangle’s illustration or the perception of the respective project. Scope / Goal / Product / Deliverable / Quality are all relatively similar and generic variation examples of this, while the above suggestion of ‘People Resources’ offers a more specialised interpretation.

This widespread use of variations implies a level of ambiguity carried by the nuance of the third constraint term and of course a level of value in the flexibility of the Triangle Model. This ambiguity allows blurred focus between a project’s output and project’s process, with the example terms above having potentially different impetus in the two contexts. Both “Cost” and “Time” / “Delivery” represent the top level project’s inputs.

The ‘Project Diamond’ model engenders this blurred focus through the inclusion of “Scope” and “Quality” separately as the ‘third’ constraint. While there is merit in the addition of “Quality” as a key constraining factor, acknowledging the increasing maturity of project management, this model still lacks clarity between output and process. The Diamond Model does not capture the analogy of the strong interrelation between points of the triangles however.

PMBOK 4.0 offered an evolved model based on the triple constraint with 6 factors to be monitored and managed. This is illustrated as a 6 pointed Star that maintains the strength of the triangle analogy (two overlaid triangles), while at the same time represents the separation and relationship between project inputs/outputs factors on one triangle and the project processes factors on the other. The star variables are:

When considering the ambiguity of the third constraint and the suggestions of the “Project Diamond”; it is possible to consider instead the Goal or Product of the project as the third constraint, being made up of the sub factors “Scope” and “Quality”. In terms of a project’s output both “Scope” and “Quality” can be adjusted resulting in an overall manipulation of the Goal/Product. This interpretation includes the four key factors in the original triangle inputs/outputs form. This can even be incorporated into the PMBOK Star illustrating that “Quality” in particular may be monitored separately in terms of project outputs and process. Further to this suggestion, the use of term “Goal” may best represent change initiative outputs, while Product may best represent more tangible outputs.

Project Portfolio Management (PPM)

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Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is the centralized management of the processes, methods, and technologies used by project managers and project management offices (PMOs) to analyze and collectively manage current or proposed projects based on numerous key characteristics. The objectives of PPM are to determine the optimal resource mix for delivery and to schedule activities to best achieve an organization’s operational and financial goals, while honouring constraints imposed by customers, strategic objectives, or external real-world factors. The International standard defines the framework of the Project Portfolio Management

PPM provides program and project managers in large, program/project-driven organizations with the capabilities needed to manage the time, resources, skills, and budgets necessary to accomplish all interrelated tasks. It provides a framework for issue resolution and risk mitigation, as well as the centralized visibility to help planning and scheduling teams to identify the fastest, cheapest, or most suitable approach to deliver projects and programs. Portfolio Managers define Key Performance Indicators and the strategy for their portfolio .

Pipeline management involves steps to ensure that an adequate number of project proposals are generated and evaluated to determine whether (and how) a set of projects in the portfolio can be executed with finite development resources in a specified time. There are three major sub-components to pipeline management: ideation, work intake processes, and Phase-Gate reviews. Fundamental to pipeline management is the ability to align the decision-making process for estimating and selecting new capital investment projects with the strategic plan.

The focus on the efficient and effective deployment of an organization’s resources where and when they are needed. These can include financial resources, inventory, human resources, technical skills, production, and design. In addition to project-level resource allocation, users can also model ‘what-if’ resource scenarios, and extend this view across the portfolio.

The capture and prioritization of change requests that can include new requirements, features, functions, operational constraints, regulatory demands, and technical enhancements. PPM provides a central repository for these change requests and the ability to match available resources to evolving demand within the financial and operational constraints of individual projects.

With PPM, the Office of Finance can improve their accuracy for estimating and managing the financial resources of a project or group of projects. In addition, the value of projects can be demonstrated in relation to the strategic objectives and priorities of the organization through financial controls and to assess progress through earned value and other project financial techniques.

An analysis of the risk sensitivities residing within each project, as the basis for determining confidence levels across the portfolio. The integration of cost and schedule risk management with techniques for determining contingency and risk response plans, enable organizations to gain an objective view of project uncertainties.

In the early 2000s, many PPM vendors realized that project portfolio reporting services only addressed part of a wider need for PPM in the marketplace. Another more senior audience had emerged, sitting at management and executive levels above detailed work execution and schedule management, who required a greater focus on process improvement and ensuring the viability of the portfolio in line with overall strategic objectives. In addition, as the size, scope, complexity, and geographical spread of organizations’ project portfolios continued to grow, greater visibility was needed of project work across the enterprise, allied to improved resource utilization and capacity planning.

Enterprise Project Portfolio Management (EPPM) is a top-down approach to managing all project-intensive work and resources across the enterprise. This contrasts with the traditional approach of combining manual processes, desktop project tools, and PPM applications for each project portfolio environment.

The PPM landscape is evolving rapidly as a result of the growing preference for managing multiple capital investment initiatives from a single, enterprise-wide system. This more centralized approach, and resulting ‘single version of the truth’ for project and project portfolio information, provides the transparency of performance needed by management to monitor progress versus the strategic plan.

The key aims of EPPM can be summarized as follows:

A key result of PPM is to decide which projects to fund in an optimal manner. Project Portfolio Optimization (PPO) is the effort to make the best decisions possible under these conditions.

Critical Path Method (CPM)

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The critical path method (CPM), or critical path analysis (CPA), is an algorithm for scheduling a set of project activities. It is commonly used in conjunction with the program evaluation and review technique (PERT). A critical path is determined by identifying the longest stretch of dependent activities and measuring the time required to complete them from start to finish.

The critical path method (CPM) is a project modeling technique developed in the late 1950s by Morgan R. Walker of DuPont and James E. Kelley Jr. of Remington Rand. Kelley and Walker related their memories of the development of CPM in 1989. Kelley attributed the term “critical path” to the developers of the Program Evaluation and Review Technique which was developed at about the same time by Booz Allen Hamilton and the U.S. Navy. The precursors of what came to be known as Critical Path were developed and put into practice by DuPont between 1940 and 1943 and contributed to the success of the Manhattan Project.

Critical Path Analysis is commonly used with all forms of projects, including construction, aerospace and defense, software development, research projects, product development, engineering, and plant maintenance, among others. Any project with interdependent activities can apply this method of mathematical analysis. The first time CPM was used for major skyscraper development was in 1966 while constructing the former World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City. Although the original CPM program and approach is no longer used, the term is generally applied to any approach used to analyze a project network logic diagram.

The essential technique for using CPM is to construct a model of the project that includes the following:

Using these values, CPM calculates the longest path of planned activities to logical end points or to the end of the project, and the earliest and latest that each activity can start and finish without making the project longer. This process determines which activities are “critical” (i.e., on the longest path) and which have “total float” (i.e., can be delayed without making the project longer). In project management, a critical path is the sequence of project network activities which add up to the longest overall duration, regardless if that longest duration has float or not. This determines the shortest time possible to complete the project. There can be ‘total float’ (unused time) within the critical path. For example, if a project is testing a solar panel and task ‘B’ requires ‘sunrise’, there could be a scheduling constraint on the testing activity so that it would not start until the scheduled time for sunrise. This might insert dead time (total float) into the schedule on the activities on that path prior to the sunrise due to needing to wait for this event. This path, with the constraint-generated total float would actually make the path longer, with total float being part of the shortest possible duration for the overall project. In other words, individual tasks on the critical path prior to the constraint might be able to be delayed without elongating the critical path; this is the ‘total float’ of that task. However, the time added to the project duration by the constraint is actually critical path drag, the amount by which the project’s duration is extended by each critical path activity and constraint.

A project can have several, parallel, near critical paths; and some or all of the tasks could have ‘free float’ and/or ‘total float’. An additional parallel path through the network with the total durations shorter than the critical path is called a sub-critical or non-critical path. Activities on sub-critical paths have no drag, as they are not extending the project’s duration.

CPM analysis tools allow a user to select a logical end point in a project and quickly identify its longest series of dependent activities (its longest path). These tools can display the critical path (and near critical path activities if desired) as a cascading waterfall that flows from the project’s start (or current status date) to the selected logical end point.

Although the activity-on-arrow diagram (PERT Chart) is still used in a few places, it has generally been superseded by the activity-on-node diagram, where each activity is shown as a box or node and the arrows represent the logical relationships going from predecessor to successor as shown here in the “Activity-on-node diagram”.

In this diagram, Activities A, B, C, D, and E comprise the critical or longest path, while Activities F, G, and H are off the critical path with floats of 15 days, 5 days, and 20 days respectively. Whereas activities that are off the critical path have float and are therefore not delaying completion of the project, those on the critical path will usually have critical path drag, i.e., they delay project completion. The drag of a critical path activity can be computed using the following formula:

These results, including the drag computations, allow managers to prioritize activities for the effective management of project, and to shorten the planned critical path of a project by pruning critical path activities, by “fast tracking” (i.e., performing more activities in parallel), and/or by “crashing the critical path” (i.e., shortening the durations of critical path activities by adding resources).

Critical path drag analysis has also been used to optimize schedules in processes outside of strict project-oriented contexts, such as to increase manufacturing throughput by using the technique and metrics to identify and alleviate delaying factors and thus reduce assembly lead time.

Crash duration is a term referring to the shortest possible time for which an activity can be scheduled. It can be achieved by shifting more resources towards the completion of that activity, resulting in decreased time spent and often a reduced quality of work, as the premium is set on speed.
Crash duration is typically modeled as a linear relationship between cost and activity duration; however, in many cases a convex function or a step function is more applicable.

Originally, the critical path method considered only logical dependencies between terminal elements. Since then, it has been expanded to allow for the inclusion of resources related to each activity, through processes called activity-based resource assignments and resource leveling. A resource-leveled schedule may include delays due to resource bottlenecks (i.e., unavailability of a resource at the required time), and may cause a previously shorter path to become the longest or most “resource critical” path. A related concept is called the critical chain, which attempts to protect activity and project durations from unforeseen delays due to resource constraints.

Since project schedules change on a regular basis, CPM allows continuous monitoring of the schedule, which allows the project manager to track the critical activities, and alerts the project manager to the possibility that non-critical activities may be delayed beyond their total float, thus creating a new critical path and delaying project completion. In addition, the method can easily incorporate the concepts of stochastic predictions, using the program evaluation and review technique (PERT) and event chain methodology.

Currently, there are several software solutions available in industry that use the CPM method of scheduling; see list of project management software. The method currently used by most project management software is based on a manual calculation approach developed by Fondahl of Stanford University.

A schedule generated using the critical path techniques often is not realized precisely, as estimations are used to calculate times: if one mistake is made, the results of the analysis may change. This could cause an upset in the implementation of a project if the estimates are blindly believed, and if changes are not addressed promptly. However, the structure of critical path analysis is such that the variance from the original schedule caused by any change can be measured, and its impact either ameliorated or adjusted for. Indeed, an important element of project postmortem analysis is the as built critical path (ABCP), which analyzes the specific causes and impacts of changes between the planned schedule and eventual schedule as actually implemented.

Project Network

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A project network is a graph (weighted directed graph) depicting the sequence in which a project’s terminal elements are to be completed by showing terminal elements and their dependencies. It is always drawn from left to right to reflect project chronology.

The work breakdown structure or the product breakdown structure show the “part-whole” relations. In contrast, the project network shows the “before-after” relations.

The most popular form of project network is activity on node (AON) (as shown above), the other one is activity on arrow (AOA).

The condition for a valid project network is that it doesn’t contain any circular references.

Project dependencies can also be depicted by a predecessor table. Although such a form is very inconvenient for human analysis, project management software often offers such a view for data entry.

An alternative way of showing and analyzing the sequence of project work is the design structure matrix or dependency structure matrix.