5 posts categorized "Data Quality"

06/30/2011

Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting in Your Project Management Software Tool: Part 3

IStock_000009248870X_web This is another post in a discussion on how to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting, and thus good resource management, in your project management software tool.

In part 1, we discussed the key of capturing all of the work to be performed by your resources (people for the purposes of this series).

In part 2, we discussed the key of accurately capturing when the work will be performed.

In this post, I want to discuss what may seem like a nuance, but is actually very important.  That is the importance of estimating the effort that will be expended on a task / project.  Many organizations simply collect the duration.  The duration is the amount of calendar time that is required to complete a particular task or project.  The effort is the amount of actual, dedicated work that is needed to complete the task or project within the duration period.  For example, "Creating a Design Document" may take 5 days (the duration) to complete, but John has other things he will be doing during those 5 days.  Over the course of those 5 days, John will be working for 12 hours (the effort) on "Creating a Design Document".

Why is this important?  Because when it comes to resource utilization, the effort is all important.  That is a fundamental building block.  How much time will a resource need to expend on the task?  The duration will not cut it.  You have to know the effort.  And there is no magic shortcut.  It is not as simple as saying "ok, let's start tracking effort."  It takes time and discipline to produce good estimates.

For some tips on how produce good effort estimates, let me turn to an old blog post by Tom Mochal in TechRepublic.  Included in his recommended steps are the following:

  • Create the initial estimate for each activity (task) in the project (this implies that you need to break down your project into these activities / tasks.
  • Add specialist hours (hours from experts, specialists, indispensable folks that will inevitably be needed).
  • Consider adding rework hours (most likely the task will not be 100% correct the first time).
  • Add project management time (time to do the project management).
  • Add contingency hours (to factor in the uncertainty of your estimate).

I would also add that you need to start tracking historical records of how long things actually take.  That allows you over time to gradually improve your effort estimates and assumptions.

It may be a big step to perform these steps right away.  In that case, start small and gradually add more maturity to your estimating process as people become more comfortable.

Of course, it can be difficult to follow the steps above all the time.  We are bombarded by imposed deadlines from stakeholders, management, clients, and others.  But as I said, there is no magic shortcut.  If you indeed want accurate resource utilization, you will have to go through the "effort".

 





06/22/2011

5 Things You Are Not Doing (But Should Be) With Your Project Management Software Tools

IStock_000005289430_web Almost all of us have project management software tools that we use on a consistent basis.  It may be true project tool, a spreadsheet or even email, but it is still a software tool we use to help manage projects.  Here are 5 things that you are probably not doing right now with your project management software tools (but you should be).

1.  You are not looking at trends or historical data.

Most people are consumed with the present and the future.  Which tasks need to be done and which are coming up?  Trends are important.  If you do not look at trends or historical data, you will never get better.  Trends tell you tasks that are typically not completed on time, how much time items really take, who your resource choke points are, and even opportunities for process improvement.

2.  You have not matched technology and process together.

Technology only provides significant value-add when it is married together with a good process.  The technology should support that process.  Many people implement technology without a good process in mind.  In other words, they are focused on the features of the technology (aka "a way to schedule our projects") instead of being focused on implementing their process.  Or they have implemented technology without a documented process in the first place.

3.  You are not taking advantage of automation capability.

Even organizations that have sophisticated project management tools tend to not take advantage of the automation capabilities in the tool itself.  They still spend an enormous amount of time doing things manually that could be done in more of an automated fashion.  For example, you may be tracking your schedules in a tool, but you are also continuing to fill out documents (with duplicate information) and passing them along in your process.

4.  You do not have a meaningful dashboard.

Organizations may have a dashboard, but many organizations do not have a "meaningful" dashboard.  Either no one is looking at it or when they do look at it, it does not tell them what they need to know to make decisions.  This is because no one has spent the time to discover what information is truly meaningful or the data in the tool is not up to date.

5.  You do not have anyone overseeing the tool set.

Tools are like anything else.  If you do not spend any time overseeing the tool, it will not be used effectively.  That means that you need to have someone whose responsibility it is to make sure the tool (and the information in it) is clean and useful.

Are you guilty of any of these?  Most of us are not perfect in the use of our project management software tools.  Pick one and work on it and see what results you get.

 





06/01/2011

5 Keys to an Exceptional Dashboard in Your Project Management Software Tool

IStock_000003110526_web Dashboards are not created equal, even dashboards that display the same information.  One organization may have a vibrant dashboard that is used by everyone reliably.  Another organization may have a stagnant dashboard used by no one.  What makes the difference?  What are the keys to implementing a good dashboard?

Here are five keys to implementing a fantastic dashboard in your project management software tool:

1.  Keep it Simple

Some dashboards are overly complicated with too much information, or information that is too complex.  Keep your dashboard simple both in terms of the layout and the information presented.  Do not make it too complex.  Someone should be able to glean significant information from the dashboard in a matter of seconds.  If it takes a lot of effort and time for them to glean information, it will not be effective.

2.  Your Dashboard is Only as Good as the Data You Enter

It does not matter how fancy of a tool you have, how nice the reports are, or how fancy the presentation is if the underlying data is not solid.  In other words, all a dashboard does is present data that has been entered by people.  If people are not entering data correctly, or are not regularly keeping the data up to date, then your dashboard will be useless.

3.  Stay High-Level with the Ability to Drill-Down Into More Detail

It is easy to get lost in the minutiae of adding all of the significant detail to a dashboard.  That is not the purpose of a dashboard.  The purpose of a dashboard is to provide a high-level overview so that the viewer knows what action to take.  The viewer may then need the ability to drill-down into more detailed information, but this information should not all be displayed in the dashboard itself.  For example, it may be important to the viewer to know which projects need attention - perhaps a green / yellow / red indicator is attached to each project or portfolio.  However, the individual tasks, milestones, or issues that are causing the indication would not normally be displayed.  Those would be available upon the viewer drilling down further.  The exception to this would be a team member-level dashboard whose specific purpose is not to provide insight but to communicate a lot of detailed information, such as their current tasks.

4.  Only Present Actionable Information

There is a tendency to put information on the dashboard because it is neat and because you can show off the fact that you know the percentage of tasks within a portfolio that begin with the letter "M", started the Monday after a holiday, and the number of letters in the name is divisible by 2.  However, no one is going to use this information so there is no reason to display it and no reason to collect it.  The dashboard should be a tool where information is displayed that viewers will consider relevant, that they will actually look at, and that they can take action on.  Ask yourself whether the information in your dashboard meets this criteria.

5.  Don't Forget Training

 No matter how simple your dashboard may be, do not assume that people understand what they are seeing.  Sometimes there are nuances in language or procedures that are interpreted differently by different departments, people, and organizations.  Provide some training so that people know they are using the information in the dashboards appropriately and effectively.  I am not talking about formal training, but either holding periodic brown bag lunch sessions and / or providing a one-page cheat sheet on the information presented.

What other keys have you seen make a dashboard effective?

Happy Dashboarding!





05/20/2011

7 Ways to Improve "Garbage In, Garbage Out" in Project Management Software Tools

IStock_000004341760_web_rc In my last post, I discussed the issue of "garbage in, garbage out" in our project management software tools.  In other words, if we do not have good data going into the tools, we will not have good data coming out of the tools.  And that is a problem, since retrieving good data is a fundamental reason to have a tool in the first place.  There are a variety of causes for this that we discussed in that post.

Fortunately, there is hope.  Organizations have overcome this problem and produced a useful tool with useful information.  Here are seven ways that you can overcome this problem in your own organization:

1.  Make it public

Collin wrote a comment on a previous post on the importance of visibility.  Don't hide the information in the system.  Make it visible to everyone.  This produces natural accountability.  Who wants to be the one that is "holding up the system" and whose area is clearly lacking with input into the system?

2.  Use it

If you do not use the information in the system, why would anyone take the time to accurately enter that data?  Do not expect people to do so.  However, if you consistently use the data and expect the data to be accurate, people will start to realize this is serious and will enter the right data.  For example, instead of asking people to write up a report and email it to you once a week, insist that they use the project management software tool.

3.  Implement Accountability

There has to be some level of accountability to use the tool.  If there is not, many people will do what is most comfortable: doing things the way they have always done them.  We have discussed this more than one time in the past and so do not need to rehash this here, other than to re-iterate that accountability is a key component.

4.  Train

You cannot expect people to enter accurate data if they do not understand how to enter accurate data.  They may simply be lazy in not entering accurate data (or no data).  But they may also be sincere and simply do not understand how to enter the data correctly.  Or they are reticent to use the system to enter data because they do not understand it.  This is where training comes in.  Hold some brown bag lunch sessions that cover the process (not the features) that you want them to follow.

5.  Set expectations

Expectations can be a wonderful thing.  If I expect my kids to do something and I act that way consistently over time, they will often (not always) rise up to my expectation.  If I do not raise my expectation for them and act accordingly, they will almost always revert to the lowest common denominator.  I believe the same is true for our project teams.  If you set the expectation - i.e. that the important information you use weekly will be pulled from the project management software system - you inherently raise the bar.  But you have to act appropriately.  Meaning, you go to the system and expect the information to be there.  That is just how things are done.  I am not saying that is a magic bullet and it is that easy.  But I am saying that plays a key part in raising the bar for your organization.  Your organization (whether a corporation, company, group, department, or team) will only match the expectations that you have for it.

6.  Understand it is a process, not an event

Getting accurate, good, actionable data into your project management software tool is a continuous process, not a one time event.  You need to continuously do these things, talk about it in your meetings, and make them an integral part of your processes and culture.

7.  Understand it is a management issue, not a technology issue

In most cases, getting garbage in your project management software tool is not a technology issue.  It is a management issue.  It is a matter of managing the team and organization so that they indeed do enter quality data into the system.

Choose at least two of these things to work on and pay attention to the level of quality in your project management software tool.





05/17/2011

Garbage In, Garbage Out in Project Management Software Tools

IStock_000004341760_web_rc Most of us have heard the adage, "garbage in, garbage out."  It refers to the fact that the information you get out of a tool is only as good as the information you put into the tool.  If people enter in garbage (bad information), you will get garbage out.

I did some searching and came across reams of sites, information, reports, etc. about data quality.  Much of that is focused on IT and how IT can help to ensure data quality in company databases.

I want to talk about data quality in our project management software tools from non-IT folks.  If I were to ask you, what is the number one reason that you even use a tool in the first place, what would be your answer?  Because it sounded like a good idea?  I would dare say it is to get accurate information, anytime, in order to make good decisions and take action.  Why else?  For example, there is no reason to put a project schedule in a tool, unless you want to pull information out about it to figure out what tasks need to be done, what tasks are falling behind, or to see someone's workload across this and other projects.

If that is true, then this issue of data quality is huge.  We have all seen symptoms of this:

  • People "don't have time" to enter data into the system.
  • People enter the minimum required information.
  • People enter information to make themselves look good.
  • People simply don't enter anything - they don't use it.
  • Managers ask for data input, but never actually use it.
  • People enter the wrong data because they don't understand how they are supposed to enter it.

This creates a big question of why you have the tool in the first place?  Fortunately, there are ways to improve the situation and achieve the data output that you need (we'll talk about that next).

In the meantime, I am curious.  What other "symptoms" have you seen at your organization?  Leave a comment, or email blog@teaminteractions.com.

 






 

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