Many of us come to project management software to achieve a particular objective, and that objective is many times related to somehow managing resources better. There is a fundamental data point that needs to be understood in order for that to happen, and that is the entry of duration and effort. For some of you, this is elementary. For many of us, it is not, and it is essential to understand this. These two terms are used when performing scheduling or estimating in a project tool. Effort is sometimes called work (such as in MS Project). What is the difference between these and why should you start to track both? Here are two major reasons.
First, what is the difference? Duration is the amount of calendar time that is required before a task or project will be completed. For example, the task will take 5 days to complete. Effort is the amount of work that resources on a task or a project will actually do. For example, a person may work 10 hours on a particular task over the 5 day duration of the task (because they are also doing other things during that time).
Here is a screenshot of a sample project in MS Project showing the difference in entries (remember MS Project uses the term Work for Effort).
Why is this so important? Here are the two primary reasons to start tracking both of these.
1. You cannot do resource management without doing both.
Many organizations come to us wanting to manage their resources better, but they only think in terms of duration - how much calendar time will it take to complete tasks and projects. An organization can implement project management software, load up all their projects, and start using it as a part of their process. But if they are only tracking duration, they have no information or data to understand their resource loads and utilization. They only have schedule information. Only effort provides information as to the actual workload of the resource. And only entering effort for every single task will provide the overall views and data needed to manage resources better (or manage them period).
You have to be able to add both duration and effort as part of your process. Then you can begin to pull data such as the following (out of EnterPlicity) and really look at your resources.
2. You cannot have a truly accurate schedule without doing both.
Think about it. If I simply enter duration with no thought to effort, do I really have an accurate schedule for that task / project? You need to know how many hours it is going to take for a person to complete the task (effort). You also need to know what else that resource is working on and, given that, factor that into how much calendar time it will take before they can put in that many hours and get it done (duration). Otherwise, you have a guess at best.
There are several ways to do this, such as simply entering the values for duration and effort per task, or using a percentage of time a resource is available to work on it. Depending on your project management software, you have some options. It does not need to be complicated. But these are a couple of really good reasons to start tracking both of these values.