Using Outlook Tasks for a Performance Review

At Microsoft, we have a performance review twice a year to ensure we're on track towards meeting the goals that we set up at the beginning of the year with our manager. I've been a manager multiple times in my career, so I've been on both sides of the table during this review.

The results of a review shouldn't come as a surprise to either party. If, that is, you've been communicating to your boss on a regular basis about the tactical things you're doing that lead to the strategy of fulfilling the goals. But how do you track what you're up to, and how do you communicate them to your boss?

If you're like me, you have several "project-level" assignments, meaning that you have lots of things to track.

(Not everything is a project or requires this amount of tracking, so this isn't for every work item, obviously)

I work with hundreds of people and dozens of teams here at Microsoft, and so my day can get very randomized if I'm not careful. To help keep me on track, and my boss informed, and to provide a paper-trail of my activities for review time, I use Microsoft Outlook Tasks. Here's why I do that:

  • Common tool I use every day
  • Has status fields, and rich-text fields for lots of data
  • Has the ability to send status reports - some of which I can send to my boss
  • Has multiple views
  • With Exchange Online, I can get to these even on the web from any device that has a browser or Outlook app
  • Even when closed, they are retained for historical purposes at review time

Here's my process:

  1. Whenever I get a project to work on, I make a task
  2. I enter all data in that task as I work on it, setting the "Start Date" and "End Date" to today.
  3. Each morning, I run down my tasks - if there is anything I need to work on for that project, I do that work. When I'm done with that work or if there is nothing due, I set the Start and End dates to tomorrow.
  4. Rinse, lather, repeat
  5. Each Monday (or if something significant changes in the task) I hit the "Status Report" button and mail it to all concerned parties. If it's something my boss needs to know about (like the task being assigned, or finishing), I include him/her. I put in the amount of time, the percentage complete and so on. I do this each Monday even if nothing has changed, with a status of "Checking status - anything needed from me?" to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
  6. Using the Status field in the Task, I set it to "Completed" when I'm done, and send out a Project Post-Mortem e-mail to all parties.
  7. At 1/1 time, I pull up the View in Outlook of "Completed Tasks" and walk down the tree with my boss, making sure it leads to hitting our goals

Using this process, there are no surprises at review time We've both been kept in the loop, even if my boss is remote or I work remote. And everyone on the teams knows about the project and where my part of it is at. I can't tell you how many times this has been useful - but it's been so popular I was asked to write this post. :)

Here's a sample task layout (click for detail)


And here's a fake status update (click for detail):