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Task Management Case Study

The IT manager was responsible for 20 people in his team. Each team member had responsibility for maintaining one system and providing back up support for a second system; new systems were constantly being developed; user support calls were fielded by the help desk and distributed to the appropriate team member. The IT manager needed to track staff workloads and progress on current projects so that new work could be distributed equitably and a business case made for additional staff where necessary.

Trial solution one

The manager used the task delegation facility in Outlook. Each new task was delegated to a team member and a copy of the task retained in the manager's task list. Team members were expected to regularly update progress in their task lists, which automatically synchronised with the manager's task list. The manager would therefore always have an up to date record of team member loadings and task completion. Result? Team members failed to keep their task lists up to date; minor tasks were not added to task lists but accumulated to the point where their effect on workloads was significant - but undocumented. Solution rejected!

Trial solution two

The manager engaged a consultant who explained how Microsoft Project could be used to create project plans and track progress on tasks. Team members would supply progress on tasks by weekly emails so the project plans could be updated. The individual project plans would then be consolidated, enabling the manager to have a 'big picture' view of his domain. Result? Team members were too busy to send the weekly emails; it soon became apparent that an additional staff member would have to be employed just to maintain the project plans. Solution rejected!

Trial solution three

Every Monday morning the manager met with his team in the boardroom. A large whiteboard was used to record days of the month on the horizontal axis and team members on the vertical axis. Each team member in turn stood up, recorded on the whiteboard work completed during the previous week and entered proposed activities for the following week. Result? The manager knew what everyone was doing - and everyone else knew that work was being fairly distributed; task progress could be checked by anyone glancing into the boardroom; team members were motivated by the opportunity to describe their successes; and it didn't cost anything. Solution adopted!

The moral of this story is that the high tech solution is not necessarily the most successful and we should not ignore the human factor when designing solutions.

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