Analog to-do lists can only take your business so far. They may have worked in the pre-digital era, but they are quickly becoming redundant in an increasingly connected world. Even some basic digital task management tools, like spreadsheets, aren’t keeping pace.
If your desk is covered in sticky notes, your wall functions as a whiteboard of to-dos, or spreadsheets have become your living nightmare, it’s time to switch to task management software.
Deciding to go digital is easy. Choosing which task management software to use can be a lot harder. But it doesn’t have to be. There are several features you’re going to need, regardless of how you plan to use the software or what industry you work in.
Quickly narrow down your shortlist by only considering tools that have the following features.
1. A Visual Dashboard and Workflow
A task management tool that focuses on visuals is essential if you want your team to quickly understand what they are working on and enjoy using the platform.
Our brains have evolved to comprehend visuals much better than text, explains Palo Alto Software COO Noah Parsons. “In fact, 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. And, perhaps because of this incredible amount of information that we’re consuming, we process visual information 60,000-times faster than text.”
In practice, visual task management will help your team members understand what they should be working on now and what work is left to do.
Few methods do this better than Kanban.
Kanban-style boards make it incredibly easy to get a birds-eye view of project progress. It also makes it hard to miss important tasks, explains Pratik Dholakiya, founder of The 20 Media. Other systems can lack the ability to expand on tasks and create task hierarchy, but Kanban makes it easy to quickly understand the flow of work. The system can also be as simple or as complex as you need.
Ideally, your software should also be able to translate project data to other common formats like timelines and calendars. This is important, as seeing tasks and deadlines on a calendar can highlight conflicts and ensure due dates are met, writes KaiNexus’ Clint Corley. The more customizable the calendar is, the better. Corley points out that the view should be adjustable to focus on the day, week or month. Users should be able to get more information on specific tasks without leaving the calendar, too.
Visual Kanban-based displays help your managers, too. When workflows are displayed visually, managers can better understand where blockages are occurring. In particular, it’s easy to see when a particular team member is overworked, writes Laura Taylor, CEO of Silverline Communications. When this is the case, managers can quickly adjust and reassign tasks to reduce the pressure on that person.
Reporting is also much easier, writes GirlsGuideToPM.com’s Elizabeth Harrin. Visual tools will typically come with customizable dashboards that can be used to create and share digestible reports that keep stakeholders and clients happy and up-to-date.
2. A Central Repository With Universal Access
When you use analog systems or more basic digital solutions, information can quickly become siloed. Only you see your own notepad and email inbox, which means if you don’t go out of your way to share information, your colleagues aren’t going to be on the same page.
Your task management tool needs to solve this problem.
When a team member needs a particular file to work on a task, for instance, it’s important they are able to access them without leaving the platform. As a result, content marketer Ryan Robinson recommends looking for a tool that allows you to upload and store documents where your collaborators can find them easily.
Ideally, your chosen tool syncs data across all of your devices, writes journalist and digital media consultant John Boitnott. Combine this feature with a mobile app, and you’ll have a transportable system you can access anywhere there’s an internet connection.
It’s also important your team can see what others are working on, writes Business News Daily’s Adam Uzialko. “Since team members are able to see what tasks are assigned to one another, they can coordinate between one another far more easily,” he writes.
When your software has these features, your team will work more collaboratively and more productively, writes entrepreneur, author and speaker Elizabeth Dukes. Keeping information in the same place and easily accessible ensures everyone remains up-to-date and can contribute to tasks immediately.
Not everything needs to be so accessible, however. While information must be open to everyone, administrative privileges need not be. That’s why it’s equally important to have a level of hierarchy built in that allows managers to invite other people onto the platform while maintaining control of projects through rights and permissions. Just because someone uses your task management software doesn’t mean they should be able to reassign tasks or edit entire projects.
3. Intuitive and Easy to Use
No one wants to waste a day training employees on how to use a new task management tool. The whole point of a task management tool is to make work easier to manage, writes Owen McGab Enaohwo, CEO and cofounder of SweetProcess. There’s no point if the tool itself is hard to use.
So, while you want your tool to have all the features you need, it also must be intuitive and easy to use. If you can’t add a task and assign it to a team member in just a few clicks, the software is probably too complex.
Functionality and ease of use are two of the most important features of any project management software, Eileen O’Loughlin at Capterra writes. In a 2019 survey of nearly 200 project management software users, 36 percent of respondents listed functionality as the most important factor in their adoption of a specific tool. One in 10 said it was ease of use.
More importantly, how easy a tool is to use is directly correlated to user satisfaction. “While the majority of users report high levels of satisfaction with their PM solution, for those who aren’t satisfied, the number one cited reason is that the software is hard to use,” she says.
If you want your team to embrace a particular task management software, make sure you select one that people can learn to use quickly.
4. Seamless Integration With Your Processes and Tech Stack
Choosing a tool that plays nicely with other apps and platforms you have in your arsenal is important.
It’s a particular benefit if the software uses APIs to integrate with other tools and share data, writes GoodFirm’s Rachael Ray. This streamlines workflows while eliminating the risk of error that is part and parcel of manual data entry.
It also makes your team more productive. When apps integrate well with each other, you’ll find your team spends more time on tasks and less time in their inbox, writes Natalie Lambert, a marketing executive and current advisor to CultureHQ.
If you can simplify or streamline your tech stack, all the better. For instance, Carrie McKeegan, CEO and cofounder of Greenback Expat Tax Services, recommends remote teams choose a tool that all but replaces email. Not only does this keep everything in one place, but it means her team is able to completely switch off from work at the end of the day. There’s no need to repeatedly check emails when the information and documents they need are available in one place when they start work the next morning.
5. Automated Workflows
The right software can automate parts of your workflow, letting the machine work for you. That way, you never drop the ball. You eliminate guesswork, and you prevent important tasks from being overlooked.
Great task management software will have automation capabilities baked in. Most employees are still responsible for a lot of administrative work that can be handled automatically with the right tool. Using automation to remove repetitive tasks from workflows is a powerful boost to productivity, writes Peter Daisyme, a cofounder of Hostt. The less repetitive work employees have, the more time they can spend on important tasks that move the needle.
Automation also facilitates better collaboration, says Formstack’s Abby Nieten. When tasks are automatically updated and reassigned with the latest information, there’s no need for that person to waste time searching through emails or checking in with someone to get started. It also avoids miscommunication and information silos.
Because that task will automatically appear in the new user’s dashboard, there’s no chance of it being overlooked, either. A task that could get buried in dozens of emails is very obvious when assigned in a task management tool.
A feature-rich task management tool is important, but be careful your software isn’t bloated. While it might be tempting to pick a platform with all the bells and whistles, the more complicated your tool is to use, the less your team members will use it. Stick to the five features above, and you’ll have a helpful rubric to guide you through the software-selection process.