The three essential pieces to work management

Coordinating work across teams is chaotic—especially if you have to dig through emails or messaging apps to find information. Without a system for planning, organizing, and executing work in one place, confusion and chaos can grow, causing teams to move slowly, miss deadlines, and fail to achieve their most ambitious goals. Remote work can compound this problem and make teams feel particularly stressed.

Luckily, you and your team can overcome these coordination hurdles—whether you’re able to work together in an office or are remote and distributed around the globe. That’s where work management—and a work management system—comes in.

But with so many options out there, it can be hard to know what to look for in a tool. At the end of this guide, you’ll know exactly what you need from a work management tool to help your team stay in sync, reach deadlines, and hit your goals.

What is work management and how can it help your team collaborate?

To quickly set the stage before diving into how a work management system can help your team achieve more, let’s define what work management is, exactly. Here’s how we think about it at Asana:

“Work management is a systematic approach to orchestrating an organization’s workflows—like projects, ongoing processes, or routine tasks—to provide the clarity teams need to hit their goals faster. It’s about coordinating people and work across all levels of an organization, ensuring everyone has the information they need to accomplish the work that matters most.”

[Download ebook: What is work management — and why your team needs it]

Basically, work management—as opposed to project management—is about more than simply checking off a task or working on a single deliverable. It is a broad way of looking at how you and your team work, setting up processes and work plans for better coordination across your entire organization for the long term.

And since work management looks at the big picture and how all pieces of work relate, everyone on your team knows how their work contributes to broader company and organizational goals. That can be an empowering connection for people to make.

“We’ve found that helping your team understand the larger impact their work has on the organization helps people stay engaged during a project.”- Marty Newkirk, Product Manager at CarNextDoor

Now, what does work management look like when implemented? Let’s take a look at the three pillars of a work management system to illustrate what work management looks like, in practice, and how it makes collaboration smoother and less stressful.

Pillar one: Organizing elements of a work management system

No matter the industry or company, there are three core elements that define work—and a work plan—within a team or organization:

A work management tool makes it easy for teams and organizations to plan, organize, and execute work based on these core elements. Let’s dig deeper into each one.

First, tasks represent individual pieces of work, like a first round of edits on a blog post or reviewing someone’s code. Tasks can be recurring—like running a monthly report—or discrete—like updating a website page. No matter what your job is or what project your team is working on, a well-crafted task needs to provide clarity on three things: who is doing what and by when. It seems basic, but if tasks are created and assigned without the who, what, and by when hashed out immediately, the lack of accountability will create confusion.

Tasks, when grouped together, make up the second core element of work: a project. Projects represent the larger goal a team is trying to achieve, like launching a new product or kicking off a brand campaign. In other words, all projects, no matter how big or small, are simply composed of several (or many) individual tasks.

Portfolios of projects are the third key element of work. In short, they are groups of projects. They are most useful for a manager (or individual contributor involved in multiple projects) to keep track of many things. Progress tracking with portfolios builds transparency and trust across teams, creating seamless coordination across all levels, from senior leaders to managers to individual contributors. A project portfolio in a work management system gives you a bird’s-eye view of the entire initiative and then allows you to drill down into individual projects, all the way to the task level, to see what everyone on your team is working on.

The best work management systems bring these three elements together seamlessly, giving you and your team clarity and accountability at every level of your most important initiatives. That accountability and clarity are the first steps towards less stress and more forward progress. A work management system creates the structure and keeps everything, from the small details to the big picture, in one place.

Pillar two: Dynamic views in a work management system

Although an overall structure is important for standardizing how work information is captured and organized (e.g. tasks, projects, and portfolios of projects), a work management system with dynamic ways of viewing that information can further unlock your team’s efficiency. Dynamic viewing gives everyone their own way of viewing work and of operating—but that fits within your team’s work management system.

At the individual level, people should be able to view their own tasks easily and clearly, away from the clutter of a large project. Whether it’s a list view or a calendar view, everyone needs a place to see their “to-dos” in a way that works for them and makes it easy to focus on top priorities. This helps people organize their day, monitor their own workload, and prioritize tasks.

At the project level, some projects are better suited for certain types of visualizations than others. An event with a large check-list of small but important tasks is probably best visualized in a list-view. However, for an agile workflow, like web development, a board view might be better, and a content calendar probably benefits from—you guessed it—a calendar view.

For large and complex projects with many stakeholders and cross-functional partners, it’s important to have a work management system that allows people to toggle between different views. For example, a product marketing manager might want to see all deliverables in a list-view one day, and the next day, they may need a timeline view to ensure everyone’s due dates line up well.

At the end of the day, there isn’t a right or a wrong way to visualize projects. The most important part of this pillar is to have a work management system that is flexible and allows your team to toggle between whichever view is most helpful in that moment.

Pillar three: Automate processes with a work management system

So much of the work we do involves ongoing or repeated processes—and you might not even realize it. By automating simple processes with a work management system, you can speed up workflows, reduce errors, and provide clarity for your team.

For example, most product launches follow the same steps—even if they don’t involve the same people. What if you could templatize that? A work management system allows you to create a template for the projects and processes your team does often so you don’t have to start from square one designing the workflow every time. This also ensures that no one on your team misses any critical steps, like getting budget approval or legal sign-off on campaign creative. Sure, each project has its own quirks, but you don’t have to constantly reinvent the wheel—which gives your team more time and understanding of processes.

Certain work management systems, like Asana, also allow you to automate some of the smaller, nitty-gritty tasks that take up your team’s time, like assigning the right work to the correct teammate, setting or shifting due dates, and handing off work at the right time. When your team uses a work management system with automation features, streamlining many processes ensures no one misses any critical steps—and helps your team move more quickly.

Collaborate more effectively with a work management system

With a work management system, you and your team can move from being reactive or thinking one project at a time, to looking at the entire system in which you operate. When you can get a bird’s-eye view of everything going on—and how your work connects to broader initiatives—your team can become more effective and less stressed.

“We are productive when we’re thinking about not just the short-term solution, but about the long-term system. We’re productive if we’re not just putting out fires, but we’re actually thinking about the systems that need to be built or the processes that could be improved.”- Ally Allen, Manager of Operational Effectiveness at Leading Educators

Rather than wondering who is doing what by when, searching for a document through email, or trying to remember how your team planned the last project, work management keeps everything organized for you. With a single source of truth, you and your team can create solid work plans knowing that you and your team can hold each other accountable—and accomplish more with less stress.

Download the work management ebook to learn more

Real talk: How to make working from home work

More Asana Resources