Tasks are currently allocated to people in the following ways:
- Via a workflow system (the good way)
- Via email
- Via face-to-face conversation
- Via telephone conversation (or voicemail)
- Via meetings (whether the task recipient is present or not)
- Via written communication
There are probably some more obscure media (e.g. text message), but I think the above captures it.
The tasks an individual has assigned (i.e. has to do themselves) and is tracking (i.e. is waiting for someone else to do) are stored in the following ways:
- In memory
- On a notepad (or worse, multiple notepads)
- In an email inbox
- In a workflow system
- In a voicemail inbox
- In a spreadsheet
- In a to do list application (although this typically stores "to dos" and not actions outstanding from another
Other challenges include:
- Cross-system incompatibility
- Linking task data with other meaningful data (e.g. customer records)
- The ability for multiple people to track a single task
- The ability for an action recipient to carve up a task into sub-tasks to be delegated
- The ability for task recipients to mark tasks as having a dependency on another task, and for the task issuer to have visibility for this
The real challenge is getting all tasks into a single database. Once they're there, everything else is a matter of good database design, reporting and management (and a good UI to access the data). Here's some thoughts on how to get tasks into the database:
- Adding tasks to email composition: this already exists but is not widely used (in my experience) largely on cultural grounds, but potentially also to do with a lack of interface/API into workflow systems; there needs to be some kind of natural language understanding that identifies that the composer of the email is issuing a task and prompts the composer to formalise the task (e.g. recipient, date required by, etc)
- Speech recognition by always-on mics on smartphones combined with natural language understanding could be used to identify tasks being issued and add these automatically to the database. This technique is applicable to phone calls, face-to-face conversations, meetings and voicemail messages.
If the above two are addressed, the workflow system will become such a routine part of day-to-day working life that people will automatically use these tools or add tasks manually to the workflow system as required.
And then we'll all feel like automations in a giant delivery chain...