Life Isn’t All Work

This is a little reminder that we all need from time to time.  I’m not going to get too depressing here, but I attended a close family members funeral last week.  As I talked with family and friends at the service I was reminded of what’s truly important in life.

We all know this, but rarely stop and do anything about it.  We get caught up in the daily grind and focus on the latest hurdle at work.  Well I’m here to say that last year I said forget it, and took my family on a 10 day vacation!  We spent time at the beach and doing a whole lot of nothing.  During this vacation I got to spend time with my aunt whose funeral I attended last week.  I remember chasing and catching fireflies with my children in her backyard, priceless.  Jeez, I’m a city boy raised in So-Cal.  And during that time I got to ride on my grandpa’s tractor around the old family farm.  I am so glad we took that vacation!  These are just a few memories that no one can pull from my mind.  It was relaxing and it was more fun than I ever thought it could be. 

Life will always bring excuses as to why we can’t slow down to enjoy time with family and friends.  We Americans work harder than any people on earth.  Yet we ought to recharge and relax once in a while.  What are one or two weeks out of the year?  For me its a lifetime of memories and more fun than I ever dreamed.

Project Tracking is an Albatross?

I just got off a conference call where the customer lamented that project tracking (in his organization) is an albatross.  E.g. too much work!

His company had been using an Excel spreadsheet, and wanted to switch to Standard Time® for project tracking.  Their spreadsheets had grown so large that grooming them consumed too much time.  His statements really got me thinking.

Every project has two components: doing the work, and managing the work.  That’s no big secret.  This person was lamenting about the management part, and wanted to know how Standard Time® would improve that.

Unfortunately, the answer is not in the tool, but in his organization.  Questions arose regarding the size of his teams, their self-sufficiency, and how granular his tasks needed to be.  We agreed that his tasks were too granular – too small.  He had been trying to micro-manage everything, and that was driving him crazy.

Let’s face it, project tasks change frequently.  It’s nice to document every task you’ll work on, but in practicallity, some well-defined buckets could catch all the task work.  Each time log could describe the work performed, and you’d still have some basic tasks to report on.  Simplicity is best.

Define: Free Slack

Free Slack: The amount of time that can be spared in a task before it begins to affect other tasks.

 

Some tasks don’t really need to be completed by the time you’ve set for them.  In other words, there’s a little slack available before they need to be finished.  That’s Free Slack.

Microsoft Project calculates free slack in tasks when they are linked to other tasks.  If a task is not linked to another, the free slack is the amount of time from the finish date until the end of the project.  Here’s a quote from MSP:

The Free Slack field contains the amount of time that a task can be delayed without delaying any successor (successor: A task that cannot start or finish until another task starts or finishes.) tasks. If the task has no successors, free slack is the amount of time that a task can be delayed without delaying the entire project’s finish date.

So, how is this valuable to you?  This only applies when a successor task is not linked directly to its predicessor.  In other words, there is some slack time between them, even though they are technically linked.  This can be valuable to offer some spare time for the resource to finish the task, or to do other things.

–ray

Web 2.0 Collaboration

eWeek published a little piece in the Application Development department regarding Web 2.0 collaboration.  (See a link to the article by Darryl H. Taft below.)  The upshot is that developers have been using Web 2.0 collaboration for years.  It’s the rest of the world that’s just catching up.  How about you?  What Web 2.0 technologies do you use?

http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Application-Development/Developer-20-GungHo-or-Ho-Hum/

I use the following resources pretty regularly.

  1. codeproject.com
  2. codeguru.com
  3. msdn.microsoft.com
  4. projectteamblog.com
  5. projectteamwisdom.com

Honestly, I’m not a big web surfer.  I don’t spend a lot of time subscribing to RRS feeds and plugging into the forums – with the exception of projecteamblog.  I don’t even have special ringtones.  Web 2.0 is not that exciting to me.  I’m not much of a social networker.

Tell me why I’m wrong!  What am I missing that could help in the areas of project management, application development, and team management.  technorati.com says there’s 11 million blogs out there, plus or minus 500 million that come and go every month.  I must be missing something!  I’d like to hear your comments…

–newshirt

How To: Use Resource Pools in MS Project

This post discusses how to use Microsoft Project resource pools.  First, let me say that you are going to find this a little kludgey.  Standard Time® has a better solution for resource pools, so you might find it a bit easier to assign users to project tasks.  But, this will discuss resource pools in MS Project.

What is a resource pool?  It is just a common set of employees or resources that will be used to assign to project tasks.  Standard Time® has all resources and projects available in one database, so the “pool” is always available.  Microsoft Project uses the technique below to meet this requirement.

To create a resource pool:

  1. Create a new Microsoft Project MPP file
  2. Choose View, Resource Sheet
  3. Enter the names of resources you will assign to tasks in your projects
  4. Save the file with a catchy name like RezPool.mpp
  5. Consider creating resource pools for each workgroup in your company
  6. Keep the file open for use in the next step

To associate the resource pool with your project:

  1. Create a new MPP file (a new project)
  2. While in the new project, choose Tools, Resource Sharing, Share Resources
  3. Choose the “Use Resources” option
  4. Choose RezPool.mpp from the dropdown list
  5. Click OK
  6. Save the new project file

To use the resource pool in task assignments:

  1. Make sure both your project file and resource file are open in Microsoft Project
  2. Click in the Resources column next to a task
  3. You should see the list of resources from the pool
  4. Choose one

This technique should allow you to share a common set of resources, which you will frequently assign to task.  As we said earlier, you should consider creating multiple resource pools representing each workgroup in your company.  But, consider using Standard Time®, where resources are always available for all projects.

–ray

Business Driven Initiatives

What percentage of your organizational time is spent on business-driven projects?  In other words, how much time is spent working for customers?

Even a one-man operation must worry about this number – this percentage of customer-driven time.  Every organization has projects they do for customers, and projects for in-house development.  The balance between them is what I’m talking about.  Do you know your percentage?  Do you track your project time?

I’d like to think that 90-95% should be customer-related.  Any lower, and you’re probably spending too much time fiddling with non-marketable work.

I once worked for a company that wrote all their own software development tools.  At the time, Microsoft was selling full-featured compilers for $300.  Yet this company wrote all their own.  In their case, I would guess their customer-drive project time was less than 80%.  That’s too much time fooling around with internal tools.

A company with that much time on their hands won’t do well.  What say you?

–ray

There’s Some Done Already!

I know a person (who will remain unnamed) who uses a little trick to work on projects.  When starting a new job, she does just a little bit the day before.  When she comes in the next day to begin the project, she’s happy to see that there’s some done already!  And then, she can continue where she left off.

Nobody likes to start a new project with a blank page.  Yuck, where do I begin?  That small hurdle is sometimes enough to make you procrastinate a whole other day.  Yes, I do it too!  I have hundreds of small projects I’m responsible for, and sometimes I can’t bring myself to start another one.  To avoid a new one, I’ll putter around on secondary tasks, avoiding the real work.  But, if my project is already started, I have no trouble picking up where I left off.  It’s the starting that bugs me.

I think I’ll try this little trick next time!

— newshirt

Define: Six Sigma

Six Sigma: A project management methodology used to ensure quality and lowest possible costs.

 

The more I look into Six Sigma, the more I like it.  Like all project management methodologies, it does have some heavy-handed aspects.  But, the basic philosophy is sound.

Here’s a link and a quote from Microsoft’s web site (article by John Knutsen):

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/project/HA011233361033.aspx

The “hidden office” (from Microsoft’s web site)
The difference between 99.99966% efficiency (Six Sigma) and 99% efficiency can be thought of as the “hidden office.” The hidden office represents all activity that results in defects (not meeting customer expectations) or not doing things right at the first attempt. Customers don’t pay for the hidden office.

For example, say a company bills 8 million customers on a monthly basis. If the process were performing at a 99% success rate, 80,000 customers would be incorrectly billed each month. The hidden office represents the costs and resources required to find and fix incorrect billings, and to address customer dissatisfaction.

The basic philosophy of Six Sigma is that poor quality costs your company money.  Doing things wrong the first time costs money.  The best way to lower costs is to reduce defects.  In other words, do things right the first time.  That’s the driving force behind Six Sigma.

–ray

The Trouble with Time

The trouble with tracking project time is that most people don’t know how quickly it passes.  Unless you are a geek who studies where project time is spent, you probably have little idea how quickly it rushes by.

Does that sound a little absurd to you?  After all, everyone from the day they are born, is conscious of time.  We live under its shadow every day.  So of course we all know how long things take to complete, right?

No… we don’t…  It’s like we’re willingly ignorant.  Nobody really wants to know how long a finished project will take.  I suppose this stems from impatience and aversion to hard work.  But there’s also a feeling that “the future” is infinite.  We really can’t see past the next few weeks, and a month (in project terms) is an eternity.

I always laugh when people say, “we’ll have that finished by [September].”  Supply your own month.  They don’t really have a clue, and don’t care either.  September is so far off, they can’t imagine it taking any longer.  The decision is purely emotional.  They can’t imagine is the key element in this scenario.  It’s not based on experience or logic, but rather the feeling that “future time” is next to infinite.  In other words, September will never come.

I’d like to know how you plan your projects…  Feeling or past experience?  Drop me a comment…

–ray

How to: Use Resource Assignment Percentages

This post discusses how to assign percentages to resource assignments.  Or in English, how to set how much each resource will work on a task.  By default, people in Microsoft Project are set to work 100% of their time on tasks.  But we know that’s not always practical.  People multitask their work, and may work on four tasks at once.  This post discuses how to multitask in MS Project.

Follow these steps to set assignment units in MS Project:

  1. Create a new task in MS Project
  2. Right-click before the “Start” column an choose Insert Column
  3. Insert the Work Column
  4. You should now have the Duration and Work columns next to each other
  5. Enter 16 hours into both Duration and Work
  6. Enter your Name into the Resource column

At this point, you should have a single 16-hour task that is assigned to you.  By default, it is assumed that you will work 100% of your time on this task.  But as we stated earlier, we wish to work on multiple tasks, spreading our time across them.  The steps below will do that.

  1. Right-click on your task
  2. Choose Task Information
  3. The Task Information dialog is displayed
  4. Click the Resources tab
  5. You should see your name and 100% at the right
  6. Enter 50% into the Units column and press OK
  7. Notice that the text [50%] has been added next to your name in the resource column
  8. Also notice that the duration column changed to 32 hours
  9. The finish date has also been extended to accommodate the extra time

 These steps demonstrate that the Duration column is affected by the assignment units.  Duration = Work * Units.  In other words, if you are only working half the time on a task, it will take you twice as long.  The following steps show what happens when another resource is added to the task.

  1. Right-click on your task and choose Task Information again
  2. Click the Resources tab
  3. Add another resource under your name
  4. Set the units for this new resource to 50% also
  5. Click OK
  6. Notice that the Duration went back to 16 hours because you have help
  7. Notice that the Finish date also went back to two days

We just learned that adding a new resource to a task can help it get done quicker.  Each person is working only half their time, but there are two of you, so the task is finished sooner.  You can use this technique to spread yourself around to many tasks.  But beware, this can become a little difficult to manage.

–ray