3 posts categorized "Tasks"

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".

 





11/12/2010

2 Major Reasons to Start Tracking both Duration and Effort

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).

Ss_msp 

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.

Ss_ru_full 

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.
 





10/26/2009

Tips on Tasks Part 2

In my last post, we discussed tasks and how to use them in project management software. In this post, let's finish that discussion with some guidance into how to use tasks in a project management software tool.

You can read the earlier post here.

First, you need to understand how you use tasks within your organization. If you are a collaborative organization without formal project schedules, then you can use a simple task tool without the need to break out into sub tasks or create more formal project schedules. If you do need more formal project schedules, such as in a product engineering environment, you will need a more sophisticated tool to break out tasks into sub tasks and schedule them.

In general, here are the most common tools to manage tasks in a project management software system:

1. Simple Task Manager. Some tools have a simple task manager tool where you simply create tasks in the project. You don't break them out into sub tasks or fit them into a project schedule, you simply create tasks. If you have more of a need and culture for collaboration without much formal project scheduling, this would be a good type of tool to investigate. This is more collaborative in nature where there is not a lot of control over the specific tasks within a project.

2. Gantt View. By far the most common type of tool is the Gantt View. The Gantt View enables the creation and breakdown of tasks along with the scheduling of tasks with dependencies and constraints for a complete project schedule. You should use this tool if you have a need for more formalized project schedules, and it is important to track the status of schedules / the impact of falling behind in any area of the schedule. By its nature, this will require a little more time to understand how to use it, but it will be well worth it in the long run.










3. Work breakdown structure. A work breakdown structure is simply a breakdown of the work that is required to complete a project. It typically breaks down tasks into sub tasks into more sub tasks until you get down to an appropriate level. A work breakdown structure tool could be a hierarchical tool showing this almost like an organization chart, or it could be an outline tool showing it in outline format. Most project management software tools show a work breakdown structure in an outline format (such as in a Gantt View). However, some tools have a specialized work breakdown tool for this very purpose. You should use this type of tool if many of your projects are different, you have to break out the work each time, and it is vital that you thoroughly break out the work before even thinking about scheduling (p.s. we built both methods into EnterPlicity to support the different needs).








How do you use tasks in your organization and what tools do you use? Send your comments to blog@teaminteractions.com.





 

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