Friday 3 December 2021

Role of tasks in project management

The best Western schools of project management (PMI, IPMA) do not focus on the institution of tasks in the project paradigm of the management standards they recommend. 


However, for our business culture, tasks are a separate way of controlling influence in both process and project doctrine. This tool is considered both in the context of the task of organizational management of project activities, and from the position of a wide range of tools on which the project manager relies in interaction with members of his team.

Tasks in operational and project activities

Universal and effective task management was described by us in the articles of the special project "Business in Russia" as part of an integral system of the corresponding management paradigm. Admittedly, the materials of the series describe a somewhat idealized approach, which is fully difficult to withstand in real business conditions. However, the local features of such tools are present in the activities of any successful manager, especially those acting in the project sphere.

Starting a conversation about project management, first of all, you should define the very concept of the project. And what defines the project and separates it from operational activities? First of all, it is the uniqueness of the task and the limitation of its resource capacity. 


At the same time, a regular, cyclically repetitive task, expressed in an interrelated set of works leading to the reproduction of the result, reflects the essence of the business process. Processes at the current level of business development most fully correspond to operational activities.

In addition to tasks in operational activities, there are also bad luck, since not all operational actions of production, sales, supply, management, etc. are regulated. On the one hand, in routine practice there are functions (controls of a lower level than tasks). 

On the other hand, current tasks are practiced, which, however, may be unique in nature and do not concern the current technology at all.

Here, by technology, we understand an ideal business process, divided into elementary operations, performed on the basis of accepted standards, technological instructions and other regulations. Let me remind you that according to Part II of the special project "Case in USA",devoted to the concept of the task, under the signs of the task, we adopted:

  • the presence of an accurate formulation of the result in quantitative or the most objectified form;
  • designation of the deadline for achieving the result;
  • fixing the full name and position of the task provider;
  • designation and signature of the person responsible for the task (responsible resource);
  • documented form of problem statement.
  • The absence of one of the above features leads us to the understanding that the task control tool used is not, although it can lead to the desired result. And when does the current task, which has a unique character, cease to be current and acquires the features of a project? When time constraints, uncertainties, risks, changes and a significantly larger scale of implementation are obvious. I would add here the procedure for translating the state of uncertainty into a precisely formulated result, which transforms the task into a project-type task.

The main types of activity of a commercial organization

The above is a scheme for dividing the activities of the organization into two main types: operational and project with emphasis on their fundamental differences. Naturally, it presents an ideal option that does not take into account a number of the above types of activity. 


However, a systematic approach to management requires taking into account the entire range of means of control influence, which are often assignments, current tasks that are not related to regular forms of management. In addition, functions and job responsibilities also remain part of modern management systems.

Difference between project tasks and management tasks

The goals and objectives present in the company are divided into two large types: the tasks of activity, as well as the goals and objectives of management. The latter, based on the differences in the object of management, are divided into the main tasks of managing current activities and the main tasks of management in project practice. 


The relationship of management tasks is largely determined by the type of business the organization does. After all, the very type of activity of the company can be in the project form (commercial projects), and can be based on process practice through the implementation of the technology used (production of marketable products and standard services).

The key task of operational management is the formation, development and strict observance of the procedural business model. Its objectified results are:

designed and approved business processes (operating business model);
approved organizational model tools.

The resulting tools of the business model are:

  • Approved value chain.
  • Business process technologies that ensure the strategic success of the company.
  • Optimized organizational structure.
  • Approved guidance documents (regulations, procedures, technological instructions).


Project management tasks are formulated differently, their formation is largely determined by the goals, type and scale of the project. At the same time, the definition of the project goals themselves is the basic task of project management.

  • Formulation of the project goal and its justification.
  • Create and approve the project structure.
  • Technical and resource support (including determination and approval of the volume and sources of financing).
  • Selection of a project team, ensuring the conclusion of contracts with external contractors.
  • Obtaining a hierarchical structure of work and a schedule for their implementation.
  • Calculation and approval of the implementation period.
  • Calculation, approval and compliance of the project budget.
  • Adoption of a risk plan.
  • Ensuring control measures in accordance with the approved plan.

Diagram of the project hierarchy by elements and levels of the management system

The approach to goals and objectives in the project paradigm has certain differences from the interpretation of these concepts in the management methodology from the tasks.


In the project method, goals are understood as what the main idea is put forward for, the development and implementation of the project begins. 


Tasks are the essence of direct actions to achieve goals, that is, the line between the tasks of the project and the works is blurred. In the corresponding management doctrine (see "The Case in USA"), the task is a static category close to the concept of the result, a certain point in the future, adequate in the understanding of "achieved-not achieved", and work is an action to achieve a result (dynamic category).

Difference between design tasks and design work

The hierarchy of the project management system, schematically presented in the previous section, a prior constitutes a tree-like structure. However, it is expressed by heterogeneous elements at the appropriate levels of the organization:

  • objectives;
  • results;
  • project product;
  • product structure;
  • and, finally, tasks.

This hierarchy basically repeats the composition of the elements of the first block of the project charter as a kind of contract between the curator and the project manager, in which his responsibility for the key result (key task) is determined. 

At the same time, the project methodology allows the results, the product of the project and its structure to be deployed at a qualitative level, without unambiguous digitized specification. This is not only permissible, but is often the only possible way to gradually approach the format of tasks in their true sense.

Above you will find the model according to which most projects are executed on a regular basis according to the detailed methodology. At the first stage, during its initiation, work on the charter of the project, both the curator and the PM formulate the goals and key result of the project implementation. Ideally, when the result is already digitized in the charter, but in practice at this moment there is only a set of qualitative desired states, and it is not entirely clear how to achieve them. 


The task, if it has all the attached attributes (through the charter), is a "black box" (which is not yet clear inside). Moreover, such a task is extremely difficult to decompose into subtasks.

Therefore, an auxiliary tool of the hierarchical structure of works is also used at the qualitative level of description. 


However, in understanding the doctrine of management from tasks, as described in the article on the birth of business processes from tasks,the works of IMR do not contain in their formulations references to specific results. 

Rather, these are the main functions or functional actions that need to be performed to achieve the desired project result. Moreover, the functional approach is not the only one here.

In practice, we see examples of IMR of either functional or product type, depending on the criterion for splitting work into elements. 

That is, the project at the upper level can be divided into a set of products or into a set of production and management functions (see the article on the technology of creating an IMR). In the best design solutions at the stages of initiation and planning, there is a gradual filling with task content. 


This is most fully manifested already at the time of development of the calendar plan. In my opinion, the task format (the exact wording of the result in the activities of the plan) serves as a criterion for the quality of the preparatory work performed.

Genesis of the task from uniqueness to technology

The process of development of the control system from tasks always comes from the state of the "black box" to the technology. And it's not just the desire for certainty and the natural formation of experience in solving complex unique problems, but also the profitability of such changes. 

A project is always a more expensive undertaking than technology. The difficult task is that initially it does not have a clear solution, the intermediate results are literally "groped" by the people responsible for them. Results happen, not inevitable events of prescribed actions performed.

Repeatedly completed project task enters the cycle gradually. For example, the first regional store of a company that adopted a network format strategy is a complex unique project. 

And the twenty-fifth store with competent management does not cause any difficulties. Very simplistically, we can present the entire methodology of project implementation from the point of view of the task life cycle as follows.

Project Life Cycle in task paradigm

In the article on the types and types of investment projects,we considered their division into classes, based on two parameters: the uniqueness of the product and the uniqueness of the technology used in the market. Using the terminology proposed in that material, the "black box" project is a large-scale "open project". 


The product is unknown, the technologies are completely new (the main features of innovation). For such a project, the formulation of the task is the subject of genuine creative torment. But as we move towards the accumulated market and own experience, project tasks become simpler, gradually acquiring the features of development processes.

Typical projects, acquiring the status of business development processes, acquire many links with the operational cycle. Governance processes are also changing in relation to development processes towards regularity and greater regulation. The overall level of interaction, competence in solving developmental problems is increasing. Some such processes fall into the focus of strategic management as new areas of operational activity as potential core business processes. The next step in the genesis is such a detailed regulation of processes that they become a technology.

Project Management Goals and Objectives

A certain ratio of functional and process approaches is clearly present in the complex of executive actions for the implementation of the project, and in its management. 


It combines functional groups of project management tasks and management processes in a matrix disposition. Since three points in project management are key (content, limitations and risks), the following functions of the management system are the main ones:

  • content management;
  • value management;
  • time management;
  • risk management.

It is these four functions that need to be clarified primarily during the project initiation process. Other management processes (planning, organization of execution, control and completion) more fully use the entire range of functional areas. The functions of the personnel management system, supply, communications, quality, integration serve as auxiliary means of supporting the above functional groups.

What is the significance of PMI's process-functional approach to the task expression of design operations? It seems to me that it is very indirect. 


Nevertheless, although the PMBoK Manual describes algorithms consisting not of tasks, but of actions formulated at a qualitative level, these sequences ultimately facilitate the localization of the formulation of the results of specific events in an objectified and even digitized form.

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