I recently had an interesting insight, that upon reflection, may actually be a real-world example of a Minimum Valuable Problem issue.
A few months ago, a CEO of an early-stage company was asking me for feedback on the idea of adding “task management” features into their MVP product. My feedback was: “Don’t. It’s a super-crowded space, and nobody is close to getting it right. You’ll just create confusing overlap with existing tools that your users already use”.
The “nobody is close to getting it right” was based mostly on intuition, driven by more than a decade of experience with various tools. But at the time, I could not articulate what is it exactly that everybody is “doing wrong” or what “getting it right” may look like. I believe I can now.
Serendipitously, as I was getting ready to write this piece, I came across this one-sentence post by Jeff Weiner:
What most tools often miss is that what we really need help with is managing our time. Successfully managing our tasks is a byproduct of successfully managing our time. We cannot successfully manage our tasks if we’re not successfully managing our time, because, guess what, if we don’t have time to do the work, we cannot get the task done.
I think the folks at Plan, which I’ll get to in a moment, got it 100% right, arguing that a big part of the problem is the direct replication of physical tools into digital tools:
“We’ve taken the solutions that worked in the 60s and 70s — paper to-do lists, desk calendars, notebooks — and replicated them online and on our phones. If you want to try to “get organized” today, it takes a ton of manual effort, discipline, and, most importantly, time to do it regularly.”
And I’d argue that the same applies to more professional tools such as the Gantt Chart (invented circa 1910) and the Kanban Board (developed as part of the Toyota Production System between 1948-1975).
As we break away from the “production line” type of tasks, and tackle more open-ended problems that require experimentation and creative problem solving, our time becomes our scarcest resource and the hardest one to manage.
Fortunately, there are some promising signs that this schedule-based, rather than task-based, approach is starting to gain traction through some early innovators in the space.
Plan gets at it from the task end. Giving you a side-by-side view of task lists and your calendar, allowing you to actually schedule time to do the work needed.
Worklife gets at it from another non-trivial use of our professional time – meetings. Again, giving you a side-by-side view of your calendar and scaffolded meeting notes view, which makes it easier to track agenda item, assigned tasks and decisions, especially across recurring meetings.
Now if only they could be mashed together into a single tool for managing both tasks and meetings… then we would have a solution to a truly valuable problem.