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I work as a tech pm. I have been using assembla for ticket management. For personal use, I use a to do list app called Walker. Having used it for a year, I found it brilliant at certain things but limited as I became acutely aware of the difference between the nature of objects you might want to make a note of- there are an array of reasons. However, to cut to the point, what are the limitations of to do lists? I am finding it difficult to find info on this online.

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  • Scope - having just sat through a 30 minute phone call that managed to decide "we don't know what the manager wants, and we're afraid to ask him, but we're going to try to deliver it to him anyway", I have a great deal of emotional investment in the fact that "unclear requirements" are one of the top three causes of failure.
  • Dependencies Todo lists don't show dependencies
  • Prediction - Analysis of your todo list won't answer
    • When will the entire project be complete? How confident are you of that estimate?
    • Will the project serve the business need
    • What will the project cost? Is your current estimate higher or lower than your original estimate? Why the change?
  • Risk Management - the ToDo list doesn't capture uncertainties. There is no way for management to plan based on a todo list. Management can't plan alternatives, and can't assess the impact of your suddenly contracting appendicitis and being unavailable.
  • Change Management - Who controls your todo list? how? If I want to change the priority, is there a way to obtain consensus about the new priority? is there a way to deal with the work that is deprioritized?
  • work authorization - todo lists don't provide a consistent, easy way to schedule work (beyond "next in queue")
  • Cooperation - if the Todo requires multiple people, there is no meaningful way to coordinate todo lists.
  • lessons learned - unless you're implementing something far beyond the typical todo list, there is no ex post facto capture. Once you've completed the task and crossed it off the list, everything you learned vanishes.

In short, todo lists don't do Project Planning or Project Management.

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...the human working them.....

EDIT: I think before an answer about formatting can be developed, I think the scope of a to do list needs to be agreed upon.

From my perspective, it is a simple tool to capture very small, discreet tasks for a single actor. It answers what needs to get done. It does not answer how or when. The when is only implied based on priority or sequencing of the to do items. But that's it.

For a format for something this simple, I just need a list, with a simple box that allows me to indicate priority or sequence and a box that I can check off.

So I think the tool itself is limited only based on its purpose.

  • A valid point, but what about format which is precisely the subject of my question. – Andrew Welch Jan 21 '14 at 17:59
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To-do lists are used to simply describe and document the tasks in a clear way and to distribute these among respective team members. The clarity of the tasks very much depends on how clearly these have been understood and described by the concerned persons.

If they themselves are clear over them, then only they can describe it clearly for their other team members who need to execute them.

But for other serious things in managing projects like tracking and managing uncertainities, risks and changes and for estimation and planning, features like Gantt chart can be of great help.

For cooperation over tasks, online discussions can help, comments can be added over them.

There are some tools in which the same task can be assigned to multiple people. A complex task can be better described and clearly identified by breaking into smaller and manageable units through subtasks. Labels can be also helpful in identifying, differentiating, filtering and planning over tasks.

We are using a tool called proofhub for managing and executing our tasks and we have not faced any problem in carrying out our tasks with it. For other serious things in a project, it has got the Gantt chart, discussions, comments, etc.

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