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  4. Task management vs. project management: 3 key differences 

Task management vs. project management: 3 key differences 

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

July 05, 2023

Task management and project management stand as two distinct but closely related concepts. They’re often used interchangeably, but the devil is truly in the details.

Task management is a cog; project management is the machine. One focuses on individual undertakings — solo sprints towards immediate objectives. The other is all about a broader vision — a collection of tasks converging into a broader goal. 

Here’s an example. Imagine you’re planning a surprise birthday party. You need to book the venue, organize the cake, invite guests, and find a caterer. Each of these things are tasks that contribute to the wider project (the party). 

Both share a common DNA (productivity), but despite their shared lineage, understanding the differences is important. Mix them up and you’ll overcomplicate things, waste time, and confuse your coworkers. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at both, then give you some tips on how to fine-tune your management of tasks for project success. 

What is a task?

A task is a piece of work that needs to be done. It’s like the smallest unit of achievement in your workday. Think of it as one step on a longer journey or adding a single ingredient to a recipe. It’s bite-sized, and it usually belongs to one person.

It is also actionable, with a defined start and end point and characterized by specific objectives. It could be anything from drafting a report to analyzing data or developing a code. What truly makes tasks interesting, though, especially from the perspective of an experienced project manager, is their interdependencies.

Task dependencies are what give tasks a rhythm and a sense of connection in the bigger scheme of things. For instance, you can’t start designing a website (task B) before you’ve finalized the wireframe (task A). Here, task B is dependent on the completion of task A. Understanding and managing these dependencies is crucial, as it affects your project timeline, resources, and risks.

What is a project?

A project is a planned set of interrelated tasks geared toward achieving a specific goal. Projects are completed over a fixed period of time and within certain cost and resource limitations. Unlike daily tasks, a project has a defined beginning and end, marked by achieving a specific objective. 

Projects incorporate multiple tasks, but they’re more than just a collection of tasks. They involve many interrelated elements, including teams with varying roles, defined goals, resources, and constraints. A project also follows an overarching life cycle, including initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, control, and closure.

As a project manager, it’s your job to oversee this life cycle, making sure every task works in harmony toward the goal. This involves managing teams, resources, time, risk, and potential issues.

Three key differences between a task and project

  1. The size of your goal: A task is a single piece of work. It has a beginning and an end, it’s relatively straightforward, and once you complete it, that’s it, you’re done! A project, on the other hand, is a complex, temporary endeavor with a unique purpose. Sometimes a task involves a couple of steps (like making a cup of tea), but that doesn’t make it a project. What makes a project a project is its size and complexity. Projects span weeks, months, or even years.
  2. The management style: Task management depends on a workflow (essentially a checklist), and its focus is on timing and completion. Project management, on the other hand, takes a more holistic approach. It’s about considering lots of moving parts and how they work together. The bigger focus is on flexibility rather than tracking (though it does involve that too).
  3. The application: Task management is daily. Employees come in every day and complete tasks that keep the business ticking over. A project, on the other hand, is a specific endeavor that has a start and end date. For example, designing a new app feature is a project, but answering customer queries is an ongoing task. 

Task management vs project management

Tasks and projects are managed in different ways, just as they are two distinct concepts. You’ll want to turn to task management when you’re dealing with single, standalone items on your to-do list. It’s all about focusing on one thing at a time and checking off those individual items. Task management is your go-to for day-to-day operations, maintaining productivity, and keeping those wheels of progress turning.

Alternatively, project management is for when you have a complex goal to tackle, like developing a new product, launching an ad campaign, or planning an event. These aren’t one-off tasks, they’re complicated undertakings that need careful planning, including team coordination, resource management, and task management. Essentially, whenever you’ve got a big goal with a clear start and end date involving multiple tasks you need to put on your project manager hat.

How to differentiate between tasks and projects

It’s easy to confuse projects with tasks, especially when you’re neck-deep in work and everything seems like a big ask. But being able to distinguish between the two can make a big difference to your productivity.

Let’s say your to-do list includes designing a new company logo. That sounds like a task, right? But when you start breaking it down, you realize it involves multiple steps: brainstorming ideas, sketching drafts, selecting color schemes, getting approvals, and finally creating the final design. That’s not a simple task, it’s a project comprising multiple interdependent tasks all aimed at a singular outcome. 

If you’re treating projects like tasks, you’ll likely end up overwhelmed or miss key steps. It could lead to ineffective use of resources and poor results. So take a moment, look at your to-do list, and ask yourself: ‘Are these tasks or are they, in fact, projects?’ Being clear can help you approach your work strategically, manage your time better — and ultimately get more done.

Task management software vs project management software

Task management software is like your virtual to-do list. It helps you keep track of individual items, allowing you to organize, prioritize, and check them off as you go along. The features are generally straightforward, focusing on individual task creation, due dates, and status updates. 

Project management software, on the other hand, is a more complex beast. It’s an all-in-one platform that helps managers track all the moving parts of a project. Here, you’re not only dealing with tasks but also timelines, resources, team collaboration, risk assessment, and progress tracking. Some even offer features like Gantt charts for visualizing project schedules or Kanban boards for workflow tracking. 

An interactive Gantt chart in Backlog

Backlog simplifies project management by providing an all-in-one platform for tracking tasks, managing projects, and promoting team collaboration. Plus, with handy features like Gantt charts and burndown charts, you can visualize your tasks over time and monitor progress at a glance. 

When it comes to project and task management, collaboration is essential. Because Backlog runs online, team members can log in from wherever they are (ideal for remote teams and stakeholders), comment directly on tasks, share files, and stay on top of version control. It’s just one easy way to keep everyone in sync, accountable, and working together as one.

Final thoughts

So there you have it, the epic clash of titans: project management versus task management. Both are crucial in the realm of productivity, but they each bring a unique set of skills to the table.

Project management is all about the big picture, the overarching vision, and the smooth coordination of various moving parts. With project management, you dive deep into the realm of planning, scheduling, budgeting, and resource allocation.

On the other hand, task management is all about the nitty-gritty details, the individual cogs that make the machinery hum. It focuses on breaking down the project into bite-sized pieces, assigning responsibilities, and tracking progress.

Both types of management dance hand in hand, ensuring that projects are completed successfully, on time, and within budget. Whether you’re leading a team, managing a personal project, or trying to conquer the world one task at a time, remember that project management and task management are your dynamic duo. Embrace their unique strengths, harness their powers, and watch as your productivity soars to new heights.



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