TaskWorld is task management for task masters

TaskWorld is another a task management company whose back story is this: the founder looked at the marketplace and found no product that met his personal needs. That is the background mythos behind products like Asana and Basecamp, yes, but just as often the result of that thinking is not a product with broad applicability, but an attempt to codify a specific management discipline instead of the intersection of many. That’s what I think has happened with TaskWorld.

The company was founded by Fred Mouawad, an entrepreneur running a broad range of companies — in retail, jewelry, food service — who wanted more direct control:

Fred Mouawad, like many Executives, wrestled with the growth of his companies. The serial and portfolio entrepreneur spent too much of his energy and time following-up on tasks and projects. It was also difficult providing all members of the organization with an accurate and evidence-based evaluations. His twice-yearly evaluation system failed to provide in-depth examples of where his team members performed and where they did not. Out of necessity, he needed to find a solution to these challenges.

In 2006, Fred commissioned his IT team to build an application that logs all tasks between departments and tracks the percentage of work completed on-time. The goal was to avoid letting tasks fall through the cracks, and make team members accountable for results. No more excuses […].

The best way to think about TaskWorld is that it has two halves. The first half is a fairly conventional team task management solution, following the well-established norms as exemplified by Asana and Wrike. Here’s the main screen, with the familiar three panel interface of (at left) navigation across tasks, projects, networks, (at middle) the current context, which in this case is a project called AdjectiveNoun, and (at right) the selected task, showing task metadata.

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The second half is what happens after tasks are completed. Imagine that I had assigned something to you, and you have completed it. Once that happens in TaskWorld, I am alerted, and presented with the options to accept the task as completed or reject it. If I reject, the task is reopened and you would be alerted you need to take some action. If I accept, I am presented with the opportunity to rate your work, and send you a message about the task, including optional emoticon.

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Each user in TaskWork has a profile that is based on the cumulative averaging of the timeliness of task work, and the ratings given by those who have assigned tasks to the user.

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Note that there is apparently no way to weight the importance of tasks, so all tasks contribute equally to the star rating even those ‘sharpen pencil’ is clearly not at the same level as ‘write a sonnet’.

There is a clear imbalance in the tool — a very strong inclination toward top-down control — since there is no mechanism for those assigned work to rate the efforts of their task masters or coworkers. What happens if I am late to complete a task because someone else was late this theirs that I was depending on? There is no outlet for this sort of group responsibility or interplay,a nd to the extent that it might be possible to take that into account in these ratings, all of the decision making is in the hands of the task master.

Ultimately, TaskWorld’s model reflects the power relationships in the sort of organization that would find TaskWorld a good match for their needs.

The Bottom Line

TaskWorld is a well-implemented tool for task management based on a decidedly old-school command-and-control management approach. It seems to work as implemented — although I could not find a way to delete my account and escape TaskWorld — and for those that are interested in the minutiae of atomic task ratings the reports offered present an accurate presentation of the data being collected. As Mouawad said, there is no room for excuses in TaskWorld.

However, I believe that evaluation of performance is a great deal more nuanced. First of all, the assessment of an individual’s value to the organization is increasingly a blended one, including independent and interdependent efforts by individuals and their association with other into sets, and the impact of individuals and sets on social scenes, and how this percolates out to the world — organization — as a whole (see Sets, scenes, and worlds: understanding social scale in the organization). This is social scale at work, and any realistic and useful approach to weighing performance will necessarily have to involve all scales, and is likely to require a collection of approaches to performance evaluation.

I have been investigating a number of algorithmic and psychographic approaches to assessing people’s suitability for various jobs for a presentation I am giving this week, and I am starting to believe that the traditional approaches to evaluating performance are likely to be as bad as traditional approaches to hiring, which research has shown to be astonishingly informal, superficial, and poor at predicting success in the target role.

Sadly, I think I have to group TaskWorld into that camp. I don’t see how its performance metrics could be of real use in a 21st century organization, but only in an organization like an old-time assembly line, an Amazon fulfilment center, or a sweat shop where belabored workers are struggling to meet strict goals for piece work set by an overseer.

In any creative setting, TaskWorld’s model is both too little and too much, at the same time.