Collaboration 102: Task Requests

To follow up on my Commentary "Collaboration 101," October 8, 2002, , InstantDoc ID 26919, I want to dig a little deeper into the process of delegating tasks with task requests. To delegate a task, create a new task in your Tasks folder, then click the Assign Task button on the open task window. When the To box appears, enter the name of the person to whom you want to delegate the task. Two check boxes on the task form appear so that you can specify what kind of updates you'll get as the delegate works on the task.

If you select "Keep an updated copy of this task on my task list," whenever the delegate makes any change to the task, the delegate's copy of Outlook generates a special task update message and sends it to you. By default, Outlook automatically updates your copy of the task with the information in the task update when Outlook is idle for a few minutes. You can also open the task update message in your Inbox to force it to update the task immediately.

The other check box on the task request form is "Send me a status report when this task is complete." If you select this box, the delegate's copy of Outlook sends you an email message with details of the task after the delegate marks it as complete.

Although Outlook permits you to send a task request to more than one person, it suppresses the normal updating process if the task has multiple delegates. However, the completion report still works, and a delegate can manually generate a status report email message at any time by using the Actions, Send Status Report command. Although this report doesn't update the item in your Tasks folder, it at least tells you how work on the task is progressing.

If you have a task that several people need to work on, an alternative approach is to subdivide it--create multiple tasks and assign each to a different person. Use the same category for each related task so that you can use the By Category view in your Tasks folder to group the tasks.

When you delegate a task, Outlook automatically turns off the reminder on the original copy of the task in your Tasks folder and includes no reminder on the task request. The person accepting the task must set his or her reminder. When you open the delegated task from your Tasks folder, you won't see any way to set a local reminder for yourself (maybe to remind you to remind the delegate to get the task done) and, in fact, all the controls on the task form will be disabled.

However, you actually can set a reminder for a delegated task. The trick is to bypass the form and go through the Tasks folder view. The default Simple List table view has in-cell editing turned on, which means that you can change the values of different Outlook properties by typing in the view. To add the necessary fields for setting a reminder, right-click the column headings, and choose Field Chooser. From the "All Task fields" list, drag the Reminder and Reminder Time fields to the column headings. You can then click in the Reminder column to turn the reminder on and type the time and date for the reminder in the Reminder Time field. Outlook will warn that you no longer own the task and the current owner might overwrite your changes. Thus, your local changes will persist only until the delegate sends the next update. Fortunately, the update process seems to affect only the properties related to the task progress and seems to leave intact any reminder that you set on your local copy.

If you need to keep a fully editable local copy of the task, you can make an unassigned copy in your Tasks folder. Open the task, switch to the Details page, and click Create Unassigned Copy. By the way, task requests work not just within an Exchange organization but also over the Internet, as long as you haven't marked the recipient address in Outlook to receive only plain text format messages.

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