Simple Best Practices for Using SharePoint Task Lists

When I’m working on a project, we almost always use a SharePoint Task List to manage our outstanding tasks.  I’ve seen many people try to overcomplicate this process with complex workflows, roles, and permissions, but to me some simple tweaks and conventions to the basic Task List get you much further along and make life easier, to boot.

When I create the Task List (calling it something relevant, like ‘Project X Team Tasks’), I do a couple of quick tweaks:

  • From List Settings, I go to Versioning Settings and tick Yes for ‘Create a version each time you edit an item in this list?’
  • Next, I go to the Description column settings and set ‘Number of lines for editing:’ to 10 (6 just never seems like enough) and then tick Yes for the ‘Append Changes to Existing Text’ option.
  • Optionally, if it is a fairly large or involved project, I may add a new column or two to capture the primary and/or secondary areas to which the task pertains.

That’s it!

We keep the permissions open on the list: everyone on the team can create, edit, and delete tasks.  Whenever someone creates a task, it’s up to them to assign it to someone if they know who it should go to.  If they don’t there’s usually one person who just keeps an eye on the whole list and assigns things that get “orphaned”.  (It’s often me!)

We create a few views that are grouped by Status and then sorted or grouped by Assigned To.  This makes it easy for everyone to see what’s on their plate.  Using the Active Tasks view rather than the All Items view as the basis for this view is often easiest.

When someone grabs a task to do, they make sure that they are assigned to it and mark it as In Progress.  Along the way, they add to the Description whenever something happens.  If they need clarification from someone, they just assign the task to them.

When someone completes a task, they add a final comment into the Description, mark it as 100% complete, leave it In Progress, and assign it back to the person who created the task.  It’s then up to the person who asked for the task to decide if it’s time to mark it as Complete or add another comment and reassign it.

Simple conventions, low overhead, but it always works!  When you’re working on a project that’s all about collaboration, it’s important to trust the team and *work* collaboratively, too.  Sure, anyone could delete all of their tasks or assign them away, but come on, we’d all know about it.

Remember that you can set an Alert for the task list to send you an email when something changes.  There are options about how often you receive the updates, etc.  To do this, click on the title of the Task List and then in the Actions menu, choose Alert Me.

Happy tasking!

5 Comments

  1. SharePoint task lists are a great way to communicate with the team what needs to be done. Not so great for scheduling though.

    If you’re interested in a straightforward scheduling tool that has rich SharePoint synchronization features check out IntelliGantt. Or, if you’re an MS Project user, check out our IntelliGantt Add In for MS Project.

    http://www.teamdirection.com/

    It lets project managers keep the power of pm tools and gives team members the ease of SharePoint.

    John Milan
    TeamDirection, Inc.

    Reply
  2. Great and useful advice, my question is how do you roll up multiple lists into one master list? Or do you just use one master list and then have custom columns inside of it for filtering?

    For example if you have a list for ‘Project A Team Tasks’ ‘Project B Team Tasks’ and ‘Project C Team Tasks’

    How do you view ALL team tasks in one dashboard? I know you could just have one master task list and then create a new category for projects A,B,C but I think that that master list could get large and unweildy quite fast. Any suggestions?

    Dustin Swartz, TGP

    Reply
    • Dustin:

      I would stick with the separate Task lists per project because that’s how people are going to manage them. Then I’d user a Data View Web Part (DVWP) with DataSourceMode=”CrossList” to roll up the tasks wherever you want to display them (typically in a parent site).

      M.

      Reply

Have a thought or opinion?