Recent Changes to Task Management Conventions on Office 365

2015-11-13_14-20-24If you’ve been using Task Lists in SharePoint as long as I have, you will notice even the tiniest changes. Task Lists have never worked exactly the way people want them to – why doesn’t marking a task %100 complete also mark it as Completed? – but by adding a few extra columns to each list to customize them for your organization, they have always gotten the job done.

I wrote about how I generally use Tasks Lists years ago in my post Simple Best Practices for Using SharePoint Task Lists. I’m no longer a huge fan of the “best practice” term – there can be many different “better practices”; rarely is a “best practice” the best for everyone – but I’ve been following that model for Task List usage since I wrote the post in 2009. That’s through SharePoint 2007, SharePoint 2010, SharePoint 2013, and SharePoint Online.

Well, sometime in the last few weeks or months, the way Task Lists work in Office 365 seems to have changed, and my model doesn’t work so well any more. These changes seem to apply only to Task Lists that have been created since the changes, as my older Task Lists still work the same way they always have.

I don’t see anything in the Office 365 roadmap to explain the changes (I admit I didn’t pore through every item, but the prose there is difficult to follow, IMO), so I figured I’d capture what I’m seeing. Here’s what’s different:

  • If you change the Task Status from Not Started to In Progress, the % Complete column is set to 50% on save
  • When you change the % Complete column to 100%, the task is marked as complete on save

These two little changes can make a big difference. I think that they are actually an improvement, but for anyone who is used to the old way, it’ll be frustrating. This will be the case especially if you have some older Tasks Lists and newer Tasks Lists in the same site!

My new suggested model will change a bit:

  • When you start working on a task assigned to you, set the Task Status to In Progress, then immediately change the % Complete from 0% to whatever is appropriate. SharePoint seems to respect the % Complete you set rather than updating it to 50% on save.
  • When you’ve completed a task, leave the Task Status in the In Progress state, as we have before. Now, however, mark the % Complete to 99%. This will prevent SharePoint from marking the task as Completed when you save it.
  • When the person who originally made the request decides you have completed the task appropriately, they can change the % Complete to 100% or just tick the Completed box, which is generally to the left of the task, at least in the default view.

One of the main goals I’ve always had in my model is to make it an exception – rather than the norm – for people to mark tasks complete which they work on. We don’t need to enforce it strictly, but by convention. These tweaks under the new Task Lists behavior still supports the goal.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

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!