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Timesheets: The Thorn In A Project Manager’s Side

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Written by Greg Bailey

Businesses are losing up to $50,000 a year in billable revenue from the inaccurate tracking of hours, according to Harvard Business review.

This statistic likely comes as a surprise for organizations, given over half of respondents indicated that their employer uses timesheets to bill clients (for face-to-face consulting hours or on-site project work, for example). But timesheet accuracy is not translating to internal working hours—in the same study, almost 40% of respondents admitted they do not track employee hours as effectively as they would like. This lack of accuracy and efficiency makes project estimates harder to calculate.

Timesheets are the obvious answer for businesses looking to keep track of working hours. But the manual nature of the process makes it more difficult than it needs to be.

Transforming the nature of timesheets

Timesheets are a perfectly sound solution in theory, providing the data that is added is accurate. But the reality is that workers do not or cannot fill in their timesheets accurately. For employees, filling out timesheets can be a tedious task and the busy nature of on-site work can make it difficult to know exactly how many hours they’ve worked. For project managers, tracking resources across multiple locations and projects is a complex and time-consuming matter.

But timesheets, like many other facets of project management, are undergoing digital change. Businesses that are able to take advantage of this can transform their projects and overcome the problems that hamper estimates in how long projects will take and how much they will cost.

This post will explore the problems with traditional timesheets and explain how integrating timesheets within a project or resource management solution can make the process easier and more intuitive.

The inaccuracies of traditional timesheets

Project managers need to track how much time employees are spending on a task to be able to measure their performance against their project goals and timelines. While this is an essential practice, it’s not a fool-proof one. Inaccurate timesheet data can create the following problems:

  • An inability to see if projects are cost-effective: when working hours are recorded inaccurately, return on investment figures are skewed.
  • Miscalculated time estimations: the most effective projects require tasks to be timed and recorded to-the-hour to ensure they are adhering to allotted time frames.
  • An inability to improve future projects: if tasks or projects take too long, estimations can be adjusted for future projects or changes can be made. But if working hours are inaccurate, these changes get made for the wrong reasons.
  • A lack of resource allocation: project managers are unable to see who is overworked (from recording too many hours) and who has the capacity to take on more tasks.
  • A decrease in project revenue: any combination of the above will lead to decreases in worker productivity and project efficiency, ultimately resulting in lost costs.

For employees to routinely and accurately fill in timesheet data, project managers must put a clear and structured process in place. While leadership is needed, integrating timesheets with your project management or resource management software can provide a level of data granularity that can remove the inaccuracies of traditional timesheets.

Digitalizing with project and resource management

Integrating timesheets into your PPM or resource management system of record provides additional insight into the availability and allocation of resources. So you can get a better view of how long it takes workers to complete tasks without needing to move your data around.

Of course, integrating digital timesheet data cannot be done if you are still using software like Microsoft Excel for resource management. And even the more popular PPM management tools like Microsoft Project do not have sufficient capabilities. This is why using the right tool is key. The right solution can help you:

  • Decide which projects are more valuable
    By including resource timesheets in your project management software, you can monitor which projects are taking up too much of your employees’ time and adjust your processes to make things more efficient and worth your time.
  • Improve accountability and transparency 
    Timesheets can help you reward employees who produce the best standard of work and highlight individuals who aren’t performing to their potential, so you can help them improve.
  • Improve project estimates 
    Making rough estimates of how long it will take for workers to complete tasks is not a sustainable practice. While the onus will always be on the individual to make sure working hours are accurate, digital timesheets can transfer this data straight to your system of record so your project timeframes (and their cost implications) always remain up-to-date.

Time keeping on the front lines

By integrating timesheets into your resource management tool, project managers can add timesheet data directly into the tool, providing instant and overarching visibility into resource allocation and availability. As a result, you get more accurate estimations of your projects in terms of time and cost.

What’s more, the most sophisticated resource management tools can integrate with popular PPM software like Microsoft Project or Smartsheet, so you needn’t up and move your entire PPM setup to benefit from digital timesheets.

 

Monitoring Dependencies Beyond Your Project

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Written by Brenda Hallman

It’s important to understand all dependencies when planning a project.

While dependencies can be within a project (schedule dependencies), we are going to explore the practice of managing those dependencies that impact the project but are external to the project work “Inter-Project Dependencies”.

It’s essential to have a good handle on these activities as there is often little opportunity to control and influence them.

Let’s Look at an Example

To illustrate this, let’s look at an example. You have a project that started on 1/14 called the “Fargo Road Move Project” that is to move a bottling plant into a new building. When the building was purchased, there were some necessary updates for all of the departments that will be housed in the building. There is a separate initiative “Fargo Road Construction Project” to update the building, including laying new flooring in the bottling suite. The flooring is scheduled to be completed by 3/15. You cannot move the equipment until the flooring is complete. You have scheduled the equipment move for 3/26. Your schedule is dependent on the contractors completing the floor work prior to 3/26.

In the situation where you have required work beyond your project, you must take steps to assure you minimize the impact this may have.

Monitor and Communicate

As project managers, we are used to the ‘Monitor and Control’ aspect of our job. However, there is often little control when you are dependent on efforts by another project, therefore we ‘Monitor and Communicate’ inter-project dependencies.

Constantly monitor that the work you depend on to assure it is going as planned and understand the confidence factor of completing that work on time.

Communicate to your project leadership so they are always aware of this risk and the impact. If they heard about it regularly, they will not be surprised if they learn there is a possible slip in work and they have the potential to influence completion of that work. Often our project leadership may have control over work beyond our project.

Tools and Documentation

Inter-project dependencies should be established as soon as they are understood to exist. Below is a table that displays various project management tools and documentation that are recommended for this work.

Bonus Points

If possible, the inter-dependent project should include the work and due date as a deliverable in their scope so there is a higher accountability to meet that date and that project leadership is aware of the impact to other projects.

If there are multiple projects that have dependencies, a regular meeting of the project managers should be occurring to discuss status and impact. This team could include other individuals who may help influence completion of critical work.

There are situations where projects that are tightly inter-related can share a leadership committee. This allows for oversite at the project leadership level. If this is possible, then there should be a status report of milestones for all of the projects so that the relationship between the projects is clear.

Summary

Pay attention to all inter-project dependencies and be prepared to make adjustments should the other work slip. Keep all of your team members and leadership aware of the status of the other work, particularly if you are not confident in the due date.

It is also important to consider the magnitude of the impact should a date slip. Do not over-burden your leadership team with concern if there is enough slack to accept a date slip or there is an acceptable work-around. This is the value in tracking the dependency as a risk and analyzing it early in the project.

Bonus Points
If possible, the inter-dependent project should include the work and due date as a deliverable in their scope so there is a higher accountability to meet that date and that project leadership is aware of the impact to other projects.
If there are multiple projects that have dependencies, a regular meeting of the project managers should be occurring to discuss status and impact. This team could include other individuals who may help influence completion of critical work.
There are situations where projects that are tightly inter-related can share a leadership committee. This allows for oversite at the project leadership level. If this is possible, then there should be a status report of milestones for all of the projects so that the relationship between the projects is clear.
Summary
Pay attention to all inter-project dependencies and be prepared to make adjustments should the other work slip. Keep all of your team members and leadership aware of the status of the other work, particularly if you are not confident in the due date.
It is also important to consider the magnitude of the impact should a date slip. Do not over-burden your leadership team with concern if there is enough slack to accept a date slip or there is an acceptable work-around. This is the value in tracking the dependency as a risk and analyzing it early in the project.

 

When Management Fails: 5 Tips to Keep Everything under Control

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Written by Joe McLean

There’s one important lesson you have to learn when you become a project manager: your own performance is no longer in the focus.

Now, your major responsibility is to engage the team and encourage their performance.

That’s not the most comfortable position to be put in. Your performance is being measured by the performance of others. No matter how hard you try to keep everything under control, you might fail in more than one way.

Take Marissa Mayer as an example. When she first stepped in as a president and chief executive officer of Yahoo, she was viewed as the carrier of change. Still, she failed on many levels, and managers today use her example as a warning sign.

Yes; management can fail no matter how hard you try. Nevertheless, it’s important to stand your ground and keep things under control. Your team expects a lot from you, and the top-level management from your organization expects tons. There’s a lot of pressure involved, and that’s exactly why you need to make an effort to get through any obstacle you face.

5 Tips for Project Managers to Keep Everything under Control

1. Keep the Door Open

When Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, found out that all his producers wanted to leave, he was surprised beyond imagination. This occurred during the most successful period of the company. The reason for this dissatisfaction among the producers was their feeling of being disrespected and marginalized during the process of production.

This is a pretty devastating situation. As a project manager, you may face the same issue. You’re focused on the success of the project, so you often fail to recognize the individual achievements of each team member. They will feel like you’re not valuing their efforts.

What’s the solution? – Just keep your door open for everybody. Your team members should feel free to come to you with any questions, ideas, and requirements. If they have complaints, they shouldn’t hold back to express them. This isn’t where you should stop. Instead of waiting for your team members to come to you with their problems, you must move between them and find out yourself.

2. Be Honest With Yourself

If you’re like most modern managers, then you’re constantly dealing with data. You’re analyzing the progress of your project and you get the indicators of failure. Do not ignore them! They should be triggers of change. If you keep going in the same direction, you’ll only fail harder.

So if the numbers don’t go to your favor, that doesn’t mean you should give up. But it also doesn’t mean you need to stay stubborn. Just try few backup options to get things moving forward.

3. Get Support from the Leaders

When project management fails, you and your team are not the only ones to suffer the consequences. The entire organization will feel the effects. Since the leadership is more than affected by the process, you should actively engage them when looking for solutions.

First, discover the reasons why the project is failing. If behaviors and actions from the team are the main issue, you can fix them without asking for assistance from the upper levels of management. If, however, you locate the reasons in lack of finances or any other resources, it’s time to ask for support from the leadership of the organization.

4. Embrace the Cycle of Change

When things don’t work, it’s time to turn to change management. That’s the mindset that takes the “there’s no one-size-fits-all solution” as its motto. At this point, you understand that it’s time to make a big shift into the way the entire project is being developed.

It’s important to involve all team members in the process, so they will contribute with their ideas and suggestions. With the right dose of creativity and self-confidence, you can find a solution out of the mess.

5. Invest in Team Member Training

Many project managers fail because they can’t stop looking for the right people for each position. They constantly complain about the staff and they cannot be happy with the performance no matter how hard everyone tries to please them. The problem is that you don’t necessarily have the wrong people in your team; you’re just not investing enough in their professional development.

You have to understand that most people within your team are capable of doing a good job and they want to achieve better results. If they fail to do that, it’s your failure as a manager. So show them how to get better! If they make a mistake, explain where things went wrong and offer suggestions for improvement without making them feel miserable.

Failure is part of the process of growth. Most project managers will face such point in their careers. The good news is that you can overcome your flaws, as well as the flaws of the project, only if you recognize them on time. Stay conscious about each aspect of the project development and your approach to managing the team. You’re getting early signs of failure and you can act on time; you just have to be focused enough to recognize them.

OUTSIDE THE BOX Forum: The Iron Triangle is Obsolete – Long Live the Scope Triangle, Part 2 of 2

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The Scope Bank is unique to the Effective Complex Project Management (ECPM) Framework, and it functions as the traffic cop and depository of the solution discovery and development history.

The Scope Bank is the clearinghouse for all project activities. It brings together in one place solution status, cycle performance history, potential solution components and a foundation for cycle management of the project. It is the basis for problem resolution, decision making, resource management and just-in-time planning.

The Scope Bank is always up to date at decision time. In the ECPM Framework, the Scope Bank is much like a tool whose purpose is to direct the deliverables coming out of all completed cycles and plan for the deliverables to be developed in the following cycles.

Scope change requests will arise at any time during a cycle but their resolution is held until the cycle is complete and its deliverables reviewed. There will be situations where an ECPM cycle is not completed. In these situations, the deliverables that were not complete are returned to the Scope Bank for further prioritization and scheduling. The ECPM Framework cycle duration is sacrosanct. It ends as planned and not an hour later.

The Scope Bank has been a major artifact of the ECPM Framework and has every indication that it can bring added value to the processes and practices of its projects.

SCOPE BANK

The Scope Bank is the single depository for the current requirements. It contains open change requests, the current solution, and all learning and discovery that has been accumulated from all cycles that have not yet been acted upon. This includes all unresolved change requests. The Scope Bank is unique to the ECPM Framework and is an essential part of the portfolio of tools, templates, and processes that support the ECPM Framework.

Nothing should ever be removed from the Scope Bank unless it is built into the solution. So, it still remains in the Scope Bank but from a different perspective. An idea once suggested and thought to be of no use early in the project might later turn out to be just the opposite. In some cases, I have seen a previously rejected idea suggest a new idea that leads to new features and functions added to the solution. So, the message is that every idea is a good idea, we just haven’t figured out how – yet! If it isn’t in the Scope Bank, it will have been forgotten and no longer of any value to the solution.

The Scope Bank is the primary input to the Client Checkpoint in the ECPM Framework. The contents of the Scope Bank are updated at the completion of each cycle. The contents include future Integrative Swim Lanes and ideas for future Probative Swim Lanes. Since there are fixed resources for the next cycle, the contents of these two types of swim lanes must be jointly prioritized. Depending on the degree to which the solution is complete, there will be a healthy mix of the two types of swim lanes.

The process of discovery and learning by the team is continuous throughout the cycle. Any new ideas or thoughts on functionality are simply recorded in the Scope Bank and saved for the Client Checkpoint Phase. The Scope Bank can physically be a list posted in the Team War Room, or some electronic form (spreadsheet or word processing document). Whichever form you decide to use, make sure it is always visible to the team.

For the cycle just completed, the cycle plan called for a specific list of functions and features to be added to the deliverables through one or more Integrative Swim Lanes. No schedule or scope changes were allowed during the cycle, yet it is possible that not all the planned functions and features actually made it into the deliverables. There are several reasons for that, which we will not discuss. They are obvious reasons (e.g., schedule slippages that could not be recovered, a discovery that rendered the functionality unnecessary), which occur in all projects. The ECPM Framework accommodates these anomalies without skipping a beat. Any functions or features not completed in the just-completed cycle are returned to the Scope Bank and prioritized for consideration in a future cycle.

SCOPE BANK CONTENTS

The following presents a brief discussion of each of the items that are in the Scope Bank at any point during the project lifespan. The item descriptors listed above are most useful for scope change requests and processing but otherwise are provided as appropriate.

Current Solution

Complex projects are high-risk projects. That means they could be delayed or even terminated at any point in time. To minimize any potential business losses every cycle ends with an updated production ready solution. That solution is not complete but at least any business value that can be generated from it will be generated if the project is terminated and the solution deployed. While the expected return on investment for a completely acceptable solution may not have been realized at least there is some return on investment.

There are several factors that are at play for a favorable deployment decision. Three are important here:

  • The Enterprise Release Schedule
  • The Business Value from the Current Solution
  • The Challenge of Deploying the Current Solution
    • Support costs for multiple solutions
    • Frequent process or practice changes
    • Maintaining multiple versions of documentation

Requirements

Plan-driven project management models include complete requirements specification as a pre-requisite to the planning effort. That has forced guessing which leads to several requirements revisions during project execution and hence to plan revisions. There is a lot of waste and non-value-added work in such approaches. This is not in keeping with lean practices.

Requirements and their elicitation have been a major obstacle to project management for several reasons:

  • In the complex project landscape, the upfront identification of requirements is unlikely because either or both of the goal or solution are usually not completely known.
  • Complete requirements specifications are learned and discovered during project execution.
  • The world is dynamic and ever-changing and doesn’t stand still just because you are managing a project.

The ECPM Framework has mitigated this obstacle by modifying the accepted definition of a requirement. This definition begins with a high-level description of what an acceptable solution must provide from a performance aspect. In some cases, it defines what an acceptable solution must contain without any performance criteria added. To wit:

DEFINITION: ECPM Framework High-level Requirement
A specific end-state condition whose successful integration into the solution delivers specific, measurable, and incremental business value to the organization. 
The set of ECPM Framework high-level requirements forms a necessary and sufficient set for the attainment of all project success criteria and the delivery of the expected business value.

At any point during the project life span the solution is such that requirements are either:

  • Integrated into the solution
  • Under development for future integration into the solution
  • Not yet approved for integration into the solution but requires further study and analysis
  • Unlikely to be integrated into the solution without compromise

Change Requests

Every cycle will result in new learning and discovery. This will result in requests for changes to requirements, functionality or other project adjustments. The changes might suggest changes to what has already been identified for addition to the solution or changes to potential solution components. They will usually arise from the client members of the project team. The intake process involves documenting them and adding them to the Scope Bank following the cycle in which they first arose. This list is cumulative and includes:

  • Change requests not yet acted upon
  • Change requests scheduled for integration
  • Change requests in the solution

Integrative Swim Lanes

Once a deliverable has been approved for integration into the solution it is prioritized along with others to be included in the solution. That prioritization is usually business value based but other technical considerations will usually determine the cycle in which it will be included.

Built and scheduled for integration

Much like any Scope Change, the schedule is based on technical rather than business criteria. There will be exceptions when the expected business value or marketing benefits exceed the cost of implementation.

Integrated into the solution

It is important that the history of integrated change requests be kept for later reference. Project performance reports may well quantitatively compare that history at the cycle level.

Probative Swim Lanes

Probative Swim Lanes are unique to the ECPM Framework. They include a variety of experiments and other research projects. Most statisticians would see Probative Swim Lanes as just another design of experiments. I am one of those statisticians and would call Probative Swim Lanes primitive designs of experiments. Whatever you choose to call them, the idea here is to preserve the lean characteristics of the ECPM Framework. Probative Swim Lanes are often one of the following:

  • prototyping – trying out a number of ideas using different models
  • brainstorming – discussing alternatives and formulating approaches
  • researching – gathering information on possible approaches

The incremental search for a solution is that Probative Swim Lanes are sequentially linked. The objective is to spend time and money incrementally as ideas develop and earn further expense and time allocations rather than all at once on an untested idea. This is in keeping with the lean characteristics of the ECPM Framework.

Completed but not yet acted upon

Probative Swim Lanes can result in either solution increments to be built (future Integrative Swim Lanes) or result in dead ends (Probative Swim Lane Archives). In both cases that history must be preserved. It is the best intelligence the project team will have as far as suggesting and executing future Probative Swim Lanes.

Active investigation

The history of a single Probative Swim Lane may include several efforts. Not until a decision is reached is that effort reaches a decision point.

Defined but not yet been scheduled

Probative Swim Lanes that result in future additions to the solution have to first be added into the prioritized Integrative Swim Lane list.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

The Scope Bank is the solution history of the project from its inception. The plans and deliverables from all of the completed cycles are recorded there. All of the change requests and their resolution are also documented. Cumulatively this information is the best available for cycle planning.

OUTSIDE THE BOX Forum: The Iron Triangle is Obsolete – Long Live the Scope Triangle, Part 1 of 2

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The Scope Triangle is an interesting artifact of project management planning.

The term is not used in PMI’s PMBOK® Sixth Edition. The closest the PMBOK comes is to list scope, quality, schedule, budget, resources and risk as the constraints that impact the project. PMBOK goes on to say that these constraints form an interdependent set in that if one changes at least one other will be affected. In this 3-part article paper we will develop the Scope Triangle and show how it can be used in project management training.

Representing the Project

There are two ways to graphically envision the project that have been described in the literature. They are briefly described below.

The Iron Triangle

I cannot find the source for this term but it has come to mean the relationship between cost, time and scope (Figure 1). As is the case with the six constraints identified in PMBOK these three constraints also form an interdependent set. Specify any two and the third is determined. Or to put it another way if your manager says something like “I want you to develop a web-based order entry system for the new widget line and I will need it operational in 2 months. You have a budget of $50,000 to cover all one-time development costs,” you probably can’t do it. The chances that these three constraints form a consistent set are unlikely. Better would be “I need you to develop and order entry system for the new widget line and I need it operational in 2 months. How much will it cost to develop?”

While Figure 1 may be an intuitive way to envision the project plan it has little value in project execution.

The Scope Triangle

The Scope Triangle (Figure 2) was first introduced in my training programs in the 1980s and subsequently published it in the first edition of my book “Effective Project Management: How to Plan, Manage, and Deliver Projects on Time and within Budget,” (Wysocki, Robert K, Robert Beck, Jr. and David B. Crane, 1995, New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-11521-5). The intention then was to illustrate with a simple graphic that the project plan was a system in balance, at least on day one of the project.

The interpretation is rather intuitive, which is why there has been excellent instructional value in using it. The Scope and Quality are exactly bounded by the length of the three sides of the triangle representing cost, time and resource availability. Don’t try to draw the Scope Triangle. It is conceptual only. Given that the project plan makes sense on day one of the project the project plan is a system in balance. If any one of the five variables changes, at least one other variable must change in order to restore balance to the system. For example, if the client changes the due date of the deliverables to an earlier date, the length of the time side is reduced and the three sides no longer enclose Scope and Quality. To restore balance to the system anyone of several variables could change. For example, Scope could be reduced or the budget increased to hire outside contractors or some combination of the two.

Figure 2 is a useful way to envision the project plan and it has good value in maintaining the project plan, handling problem situations and managing scope change requests as is discussed below.

Using the Scope Triangle as a Management Tool

The Scope Triangle has been used in training programs for over 25 years. It is a good model in which to imbed and teach the following three project management activities.

Managing Scope Change

In the traditional approaches to project management a formal scope change process is needed. Most processes start with a request from the client. The appropriate team member will analyze the request and issue a Project Impact Statement in which alternatives and their impact on the project plan are documented. The client chooses one and the project plan is updated to reflect the chosen alternative.

The Scope Triangle is used to prioritize the alternatives from those that affect only the project team and the resources it controls to those that affect the resource managers to those that affect the client through added cost or schedule adjustments.

Resolving Problems

Problems are sure to arise in even the best planned projects. Schedule delays, supplier shipment errors, loss of a scarce resource and a variety of risks that materialize and must be handled. There is a hierarchy of resolutions (related to the Scope Triangle) that are offered in the order listed:

  • Accommodated within project resources and timelines
  • Accommodated but will require extension of deliverable schedule
  • Accommodated within the current deliverable schedule but additional resources will be needed
  • Accommodated but additional resources and extension of deliverable schedule will be needed
  • Accommodated with multiple releases and prioritization of deliverables across release dates
  • Cannot be accommodated without significant change to the project

Representing the Project Portfolio

Recent application of the Scope Triangle deal with some basic concepts of project portfolio management especially agile portfolio management. In the Scope Triangle shown in Figure 2 replace the inside of the triangle with all of the projects vying for inclusion in the portfolio. The initial proposed projects will most likely require more time, or money or more human resources available at that time.

Think of removing the proposed projects in some reversed prioritized order until each of the three bounding constraints are all met. The prioritized order will be based on some combination of risk and business value.

Putting It All Together

The Scope Triangle is a valuable tool for teaching scope management, problem resolution and portfolio management concepts. It is an intuitive graphic that every project manager should burn into their brain to help them approach the three applications with a much better strategy.

The Art of Project Management, a discipline for initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve a specific goal. A project is a temporary endeavour designed to produce a unique product, service or outcome. The end to end delivery of the project, known as the project lifecycle is affected by resource, time management and a fixed budget. The purpose of project management is to enhance a particular situation through the avenue of delivery and change. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all the project goals within the given constraints, normally defined in a user or project manual, created at the beginning of the development process. The primary constraints are scope, time, quality and budget. The secondary and more ambitious challenge is to optimize the allocation of necessary inputs and integrate them to meet a pre-defined objective.