Many of the project schedules we see run to hundreds of tasks, and it’s not uncommon to see project schedules with thousands of lines.
While it’s great that projects are being planned in detail and that all these activities can be adequately managed, it’s not easy to read a Gantt chart with several thousand lines. Sometimes you need a way of more easily showing how tasks fit together, either because you need to communicate progress to someone, or because you want to pull out the work that falls into a particular category.
That is where task groupings come in.
What is Task Grouping?
Task grouping is where you put related tasks together. Yep, it’s that easy. You simply make sure that similar tasks, that are related in some way, appear together.
In its simplest form, think about writing out a To Do list and then highlighting related tasks in different colors. You might have a yellow highlighter for work to do with one project, a green highlighter to mark the tasks related to your team management activities and pink for personal tasks. That’s it – you’ve created task groupings!
So why would you bother to do this?
What are Task Groups Used For?
Task groupings are useful for lots of reasons. It’s commonly acknowledged now that multitasking is not a good idea. You are more productive if you can be focused on one task, or at least one ‘theme’ of tasks – like invoicing – for a period of time. You lose focus if you switch between tasks that are unrelated, such as spending five minutes answering an email on a particular project issue, then updating your project schedule, then taking a call about a different project, and then typing minutes that relate to another project. It’s better, and more productive, to stick to one type of activity. The more you can group your tasks, the easier it is to see what you have to do in that area and stay focused to get the work done.
It’s not all about productivity. Task groups help you see the patterns in your project. If you group tasks together by the department responsible for them, for example, you’ll be able to see which department is taking on the biggest burden of responsibility. This exercise highlights which teams are not doing so much to support your project. Perhaps that’s fine. Perhaps you need them to be doing more and by grouping your tasks by department you’ve surfaced that challenge.
Task groups are also useful for reporting. They help your stakeholders see the bigger picture without necessarily needing to see and understand the detail. If you listed the progress of every task, your report would be huge. But if you stick to task categories, work streams, themes or whatever you want to call them, then they can get a feel for progress at a much higher level.
Task Grouping Strategies
The strategy you use for grouping tasks will depend on the software and process you are using. There are a number of different ways to group tasks. For example:
- By creating a work breakdown structure (WBS), showing tasks and their hierarchical relationships
- By resource, so all tasks being carried out by the same person or team are grouped
- By schedule position, so all tasks being carried out in the same time period are grouped
- By priority, with tasks of similar priority grouped together
And you can probably think of other ways that would make logical sense for grouping tasks on your projects.
You may find that you use different strategies for grouping tasks on the same project, but at different times. For example, you may start out with a WBS but need to group tasks by department for reporting purposes so that the resources in that team can easily see the entirety of work allocated to them.
If you consider task grouping on a large scale, what we are really talking about is program and portfolio management. Program management is putting together a group of related projects with similar outputs to deliver a common goal. Portfolio management is grouping together related projects and programs to provide an easy way to manage disparate activities across the organization. This is task grouping, but at a much bigger scale!
How to Create a Task Group
Project management tools make it easy to create groups of tasks. Check how your project management software works. Primavera P6, for example, will group tasks based on their work breakdown structure elements on the project schedule. You can use reports to show different types of groupings, like tasks for a particular person.
If you use a project management tool, it’s best to keep your groupings in that. While you could export to a spreadsheet and then add color to cells to show different groups, that’s a lot of effort for something that could be far more easily managed from within your tool.
One very simple way of creating groups of tasks, even if you don’t have expert knowledge of your scheduling software, is to create a main task (the group name) and then subtasks that cover all the activities that fit within that group. This has the added advantage of being able to roll up the subtasks into a single activity, to group at that level for reporting purposes.
If you aren’t using scheduling software, you can group tasks together in folders on a shared network drive, or by ordering them together in a list. Even sticky notes on the office wall can show you tasks in groups!
Grouping Tasks in Microsoft Project
It is possible to group tasks in Microsoft Project and it’s a very useful thing to do. Read more in our guide to grouping tasks in MS Project.
Task grouping is a useful and practical way of making sense of a lot of things that need doing. You can cut your project schedule in numerous ways to make it understandable and meaningful for people who need information at any given time.