3 Reasons why we built Subtask
Sep 22, 2020 · 6 min read
3 Reasons why we built Subtask
It’s 2020. The world’s dealing with Covid, many companies have shifted to remote operations, and we have hundreds of tools being offered to us that claim they can help us manage and execute to perfection. New tools seem to pop up all the time, with snazzy interfaces, cute logos, and bold messages about reimagining the future of work and our day in the "office".
When we started building Subtask, we didn’t set out to add yet another task tool to the mix. After working together for over 3 years on another product called Plectica, our team came to understand that despite all the options, something important was still missing from the marketplace. Here are a few of the reasons that led us to create Subtask.
1. Nobody likes their task management software
When we started talking to people about task management, we heard them describe their current tools with an overwhelming “meh”. There are a handful of productivity software tools out there that people are actually happy to use: Slack, GSuite, MS Office, to name a few. But when people got to talking about their team task software, the responses ranged from “I hate it” to “it’s just ok”. Among the responses we heard: the tools were too complicated, the tools are too simplistic, it took more work to manage my work in it, I use it because the company made us use it, my coworkers seem to like it. You get the idea. The list goes on and on.
2. Task management software is built for your manager, not for you
Although there are many reasons why people are unhappy with their current task management software, one in particular stood out: these tools were not built for the people doing the work, they were built for those peoples’ managers. The focus in these tools is on gathering estimates, monitoring progress, and reporting statuses. Basically, these applications are designed for you to fill out a lot of forms, so it can tell a manager when the work is supposed to be finished.
While these things are valuable and important for the business to have a sense of predictability about various initiatives, it glosses over the critical thinking and discussions that are needed to solve the hard problems that companies have tasked their people to work on.
3. We wanted a tool that helped us think more deeply about our work
When our team built Plectica, a tool for visually mapping out challenges and ideas, (because visualizing them makes it easier to creatively solve them) we began to use it a lot for key parts of our own task management and planning process. Subtask took shape when we realized that our own evolving task management process stood apart in several ways from what existing task management tools offered:
- Research and experience shows that when people break down problems into smaller parts, identify key relationships, and look at the data and tasks from different points of view, they’re able to better understand the challenge at hand and then come up with efficient and promising solutions to try. Task software should help make this easy and natural.
- As a team, we made extensive use of effort/value grids to plot out options and discuss the costs and benefits of each of them. This helped us keep our releases to the most impactful work, and to cull features that would have eaten our time with little to gain.
- Having all of the above, plus the ability to quickly see what is left to do, who it is assigned to it, and when we plan to do it — having all this at hand helped us to be much more organized as a team.
There were a few key components we believed Subtask should have which would make organizing, breaking down, and prioritizing work much more efficient:
In a normal Kanban tool like Trello, you create columns to group your tasks or represent phases of work, and you’re then stuck with that one way of organizing your project. Therefore, a key component we wanted was dynamic views, which would let us see tasks grouped in different ways — by status, by due date, by team member assignment, and to be able to easily switch between them.
In most tools, prioritization is just a simple dropdown menu with a number or low/medium/high options to rank on. We wanted to have the full benefits of an effort/value matrix so we could visualize the cost and benefits of proposed work and debate the tradeoffs.
As engineers, we’ve long found it helpful to be able to break down problems into smaller pieces to tackle them effectively. Most task tools are set up to have one flat list of tasks, and maybe a checklist or a hidden section with one layer of subtasks. We wanted people to have the full flexibility to break down work as they saw fit and treat each piece of work as they would any other task, with the ability to prioritize, schedule, assign, and track their statuses.
We think the future of truly useful, delightful task software isn’t in glorified forms or just pressing a button or two when the work is done. The future of task management — especially for the people doing the work — is in dynamic views of the data and progress, and in providing real help for breaking down problems into smaller pieces so the talent at the table can debate the real tradeoffs and think more carefully about the various approaches which could solve the problem at hand. We’re happy to say that after trying everything else out there, we know Subtask does these things better than anything else in the category.