Productivity · Collaboration tools

Why are there so many good task trackers but no great ones?

Elena Rykhlevskaia Analytics Manager at comScore, Inc.

November 26th, 2015

There are a lot of task trackers out there, and requests for "best task tracker" suggestions never seem to converge, even at the FD discussion board. Heck, the most popular FD discussion thread is called "Jira or BaseCamp?"

Many folks asked to recommend a task tracker will share a history of switching from tracker A to B to C to D to finally settle with E which is still kind of not right, but OK... does the job.. after they spent time setting it up/ customizing/ enhancing.

I feel like task tracking is a universal need, and tasks are tasks, be it "implement a feature", "write a marketing pitch" or "clean bathrooms". Why aren't there universally great trackers? Is this because tasks are NOT of universal types, so task trackers really have to be tuned to the type of work (or even "style" of working) you do?

Is my wish for the "best tracker" a pipe dream, or the best tracker just has not arrived yet (kind of like Slack that suddenly emerged as a superior solution annihilating competition in an already crowded space)?

Jeff Fitzmyers Project Manager at Energy Remodeling Inc.

November 30th, 2015

Because: what Peter said, and a "task tracker” is a small function within a context of an effort to effectively allocate resources, process feedback, use existing best practices while creating better best practices, while the environment is changing. 

Currently, tasks are where things get done - where supply meets demand - within an system, yet are disconnected from it, and therefore relatively ineffective. It’s very challenging to determine exactly HOW to hook up the parts of everything which is why this does not yet exist.

I have been working on this off and on for 15 years. I did not know it at the time, but I was "codifying the process of evolution for practical use". It’s actually really simple, once I unlearned everything and just mimicked nature's precesses.

Elegance suddenly emerges: transparency works well with privacy; anyone can easily add value and be paid quickly without fear of exploitation; practical definitions for “nonprofit”, “of age”, “copyright” simply emerge; conflict resolution is expert, local, and timely; fraud costs money, honesty pays.

Business / communication / evolution are all complex adaptive systems so they start with about 3-4 initial conditions. Possibly:
- Private property (tangible, intangible)
- Connections (If tangible, limited to ~2 nodes away. AI people have not figured this out!!!)
- Add value first (Part of the only proven cooperation strategy of tit-for-tat [Axelrod])
- Context (Scope, [summery] statistics, meta data, and where/how fractal patterns emerge.)

Not a philosophy! Alex Wissner-Gross ~showed it’s physics: Intelligence is simply maximizing future options within a context.

Great, but the details and coding it into something useable are taking time :-) I'm 20% done.

Cyd Harell of Code4America gets it, “A typical city website today is ABOUT the city, but the site should BE the city, doing the people’s business online.” In other words, task management will be an integrated facet of resource allocation, not an app.

Peter Johnston Businesses are composed of pixels, bytes & atoms. All 3 change constantly. I make that change +ve.

November 27th, 2015

Before World War 1 we had armies led by hierarchical structures - generals telling majors etc. til it got down to the expendable "ordinary men" of Pink Floyd's famous song. WW1 was a disaster, killing millions of these ordinary men for a few yards of mud.

So they changed methodology. Suddenly armies worked in expert units, with all the experts working closely together and with autonomy, rather than having to blindly follow orders. 

Companies, however, are still living in that pre-WW1 world. Tasks are often handed down or "agreed" in Hippo (Highest paid person's opinion) meetings. Projects are driven by the ego of top managers, rather than bubbling up as "we need to do this" from the cutting edge of the business.

Some of our inability to collaborate was trained in schools too. We were taught to listen to the teacher, but never talk to - or learn from - our fellow pupils. We were taught to go away and produce finished work before showing it to the class, not show an idea and get others to work on it together.

Task trackers still follow this top-down, no-one working together model too. They break down the task into autonomous units which are someone's responsibility. They work on tick boxes, not fluid "coming together" models as each part of the task influences the shape and scope of the others.

The problem is a chicken and egg one. Until more companies work this way, there won't be demand for the product to make it happen. And the old companies are already broken - their system doesn't work and no amount of software can fix it.

So the tracker is like CRM - mapped to the wrong business model. It becomes a way to berate people for missing deadlines which were artificial anyway. It becomes a way for the person who likes writing lists but never does anything to lord it over those who achieve, but understand that scope creep affects deadlines and work with it.

And like CRM, good software should make it easier to do projects, not add an onerous reporting layer to force knowledge from people into the organisation. Yes - that's right - project software isn't to benefit you but to benefit the organisation, giving them transparency and a way to force deadlines.

I hope that, as organisations become about teams of experts collaborating and driving things forward, the software to synergise this will emerge. But I've said the same about CRM, then stood by and watched as a whole new raft of marketing software was built on the same "appointments for pushy salespeople" model.

Mamie Stewart Founder & CEO at Meeteor, Speaker, Change-maker

November 27th, 2015

My company is building a task manager as part of our meeting management product so we're deep into this topic.

Where I've landed is that its about the process of task management. Tools like Trello use the kahnban style of task management which is great when there is a list of tasks that anyone from a group of people can 'claim' and that need to go through a flow in order to be complete, handing task from person to person depending on the state (develop, test, deploy, etc). This is how my dev team works (using the agile method). This process is very different from a business project team where there are clear responsibilities for each person. A more traditional task manager with lists and checkboxes typically is easier to work from. Within these there is a wide range of functionality which is more or less valuable depending on the complexity of the work and dedication of the team team to the tool.  

Rather than looking for the 'best' task manager, I'd think about how you work and what you want the task manager to facilitate for you. 

As for the Slack, analogy, I think thats a misnomer. Slack didn't really do anything different than Hipchat except for bring good design and a bit of humor, making the product feel usable by 'business' teams as well as dev teams. My whole company was on hipchat and then switched to Slack - same functionality, better design/experience. 

Pierce Wetter Front End Principal at Skyport Systems

November 27th, 2015

I would say it's because planning tasks require different modes of thought throughout the process. High level review, daily logging, and execution are all different modes. Organizing is important too. Personally I have a hybrid method of mind maps and Personal Kanban. Sent from my iPhone.


November 29th, 2015

We have had since 1957, excellent task tracking for once-through (e.g. construction) projects where tasks are logically linked, have planned durations, are able to anticipate resource loading , leveling and balancing within and across multiple projects, plus facilities to make projections and record actuals (durations, resources and costs).

Not much of a difference between construction and b2b except that the work shifts from being deterministic to probabilistic.

So long as you can plan, monitor and control work such that you take care of "what", "why", "who", "how", "where" and "when", what more is there to worry about at the operational level?

Gopi Mattel General Partner. Lifeboat Ventures

November 29th, 2015

I would agree that even at this moment, there still isn't an excellent task manager out there. I like Wrike, but even that is nowhere near what I would like. My theory is that current task managers are not designed to work with human behavior and psychology.