Not All Tasks are Created Equal
Let’s say you’re running a small project with 10 tasks, with each task requiring 1 hour of effort by a team member who charges $100/hour. As your project progresses, each task completed represents 10% of your project’s completion.
At first glance, that makes sense. All of your tasks have the same amount of effort and dollar value, so why not? The catch is that each task might have a different value with respect to the actual progress of your project. What if 8 of your tasks are coding, and 2 of your tasks are meetings? Do those two meetings truly represent 20% of forward progress on your projects? Probably not. They probably don’t represent 0% of forward progress either.
Many other project management tools treat all tasks as somewhat equal outside of their effort. When we were creating Assign It To Me, we were trying to provide project owners with some flexibility in terms of deciding how much progress a task can contribute to the overall progress of their project.
The last thing a project owner needs is to get a heavy feeling because they’re not comfortable with the degree of accuracy of their project’s calculated percent complete.
Let Assign It To Me Do The Heavy Lifting
Our solution to addressing the variability of a task’s contribution to the overall project percent complete had to be relatively simple and straightforward in order to balance usability and simplicity.
The mathematical solution was relatively simple— all we needed to do was make the project’s percent complete a weighted average of all of the percent complete of all the project’s tasks. While it would be more powerful for project owners to be able to set anyvalue for a task’s weight by themselves, having to manage such variable values on a large project would be a nightmare.
We basically decided to keep it simple. We have a 6 point scale from 0 to 5 to let you put a relative weight on a task:
- 0 – Unimportant – This task represents 0% of the project’s overall progress
- 1 – Much Less Than Normal – This task contributes much less to a project’s overall progress than a normal task
- 2 – Less Than Normal – This task contributes less to a project’s overall progress than a normal task
- 3 – Normal – This task contributes a normal amount to a project’s overall progress
- 4 – More Than Normal – This task contributes more to a project’s overall progress than a normal task
- 5 – Much More Than Normal – This task contributes much more to a project’s overall progress than a normal task
By default, all tasks in Assign It To Me start with a weight of 3. This way, project owners who don’t want or care about task weight can have equally weighted tasks. In terms of the math, when we calculate the project’s weighted average, we use this formula:
∑(task percent complete × task weight) ⁄ ∑(all task weights)
We use the same 0 to 5 scale for task weight in the calculation. So a 0 weighted task that is 100% complete represents a 0% contribution to the overall project’s progress. A completed task weighted at 5 represents a (5 x 100%) / ∑(all task weights) contribution to the overall project’s progress.
A Note On Folders
Note that folders do not have a user-defined weight. From a project perspective, folders are simply containers for tasks. They have no bearing on any aggregation calculations made by Assign It To Me.
In a task list view, folders will show a calculated percent complete that is the weighted average of all of its tasks, including those in subfolders. Folders do not impact the calculation of the project’s weighted average.
Weight In Practice
So how can you apply this in a real world project? Here are some ideas:
- You can create milestones like sign offs in your project by creating 0 weighted tasks
- You can reduce the progress contributed by meetings by setting them to 1 (Much Less Than Normal)
- You can make some simpler but more critical tasks very important by setting them to 5 (Much More Than Normal)
Also, while our labels for the weight values are sensible defaults, remember that they are still 0 to 5 weightings mathematically. A power user can always choose to ignore our text labels make the numbers mean something else for you. For example, if you make a weight of 2 mean “normal” with respect to your particular project, a task with a weight of 5 will make a much larger contribution to your project’s percent complete.
Remember, we are defaulting every task to 3, so you don’t have to use weighting if you don’t want to. We do, however, hope you take advantage of this feature in Assign It To Me, because it’s a pretty unique and powerful feature.
Other articles by this author:
- Proof of Work
- Get To Know Extrata, Episode 1: The Command Line Interface
- A Defining Moment
- Wheels, Mousetraps and Other Clichés
- Luna – WYSIWYG Data Processing