Advice: Track Project Time

Project management advice: Track your project time.

Organizations perform projects for a lot of reasons.  Consulting companies perform the same projects (often with small changes) for every customer.  Manufacturing and engineering companies build things, requiring complex engineering projects.  Government organizations perform IT and data processing projects.  Every one of these can benefit from tracking project time.

Whether you use a timesheet or computer-based timer, tracking your time provides several advantages.  Some managers have no real idea how long their projects take.  They have a gut-feeling, but no hard numbers.  And trusting your gut only works when steeped in actual numbers from the field.

No more guessing
WIth actual numbers behind you, there’s no need to guess.  You have the hard facts, and they cannot be disputed.

Accurate finish dates
Assuming you have have performed a similar project in the past, setting a finish date will be a no-brainer.  You’ll have details to back up your outrageously long schedules.

Concise records
This is crucial for consulting companies.  Client billing depends on accurate numbers to back up your invoices.  But manufacturing and engineering groups also need good records to back up their project cycles.  In the end, clients and managers want to know what you have been up to.



Scrum Burn-Down

Have you ever used a scrum burn-down chart?  Funky name, huh?  It’s actually a pretty handy line chart.  The image below is an example from Standard Time®.  There, it’s called a project history chart. On the X axis, you see time (weeks, months, quarters).  On the Y axis (vertical) you see the number of remaining hours for your project.  As work is applied to the project, it burns remaining hours down to zero.  Team members can see the downward trend and predict when the project will finish.  This is the “light at the end of the tunnel” chart that helps people push for completion.  Show this in your scrum sprint meetings, and your team members will take heart.   Scrum Burn-Down Chart  As you can see, there are some up-ticks as well.  Those represent project scope changes.  Some bright individual decided the project needed a slowdown, and added some additional tasks.  Do that at your own peril, because this chart shows all. –ray

What’s In It For Me?

Something finally occurred to this week.  People care (mostly) for themselves.  I’ve been observing some people recently, and have noted their project participation.  When there’s something in a project for them personally, they go gangbusters to finish it.  And when there’s nothing, they lose interest and quit.  At least, mentally that is.  Be it financial gain, or street cred, or just looking good.  There must be something in it for them.

I may be a little slow, but I had never really studied this aspect of human behavior.  I just thought people worked hard for their company and that was that.  Not so.  They work strictly for themselves.  And now that I look back on my career, I see the same pattern.  My own career was carefully crafted to climb the ladder of success.  If a project didn’t fit that model, I found a way out.  If it did, I worked it for all I was worth.  I wasn’t greedy with my time, but eventually gravitated toward projects that benefited me.  That’s not selfish, it’s just natural.

Knowing that gives me something to work with.  It means I must find ways to help people succeed in the projects I expect their help with.  I must find a clear benefit for each team member.  If there’s nothing in it for them, I should expect them to grow disinterested and mentally quit.  Sounds like a real challenge!



Advice: Have a Project Champion

Project management advice: Every project needs a champion.

It took me a while to understand the nature of product development and the need for project champions.  At the beginning of my career, I believed projects just “got developed.”  I was working in a research department at Eastman Kodak Company, building cutting edge photocopiers.  Engineers buzzed around, building microprocessor-based circuits, image-enhancing emulsion, and writing software.  I did my part and just expected the product to come together.  Looking back, I now realize there was one man who made it all happen: a gray-bearded old dude who wanted to change the industry.

Products get developed, and projects finished, only when there is someone with the burning desire to see it happen – like the old bearded dude in the example above.  A paycheck is not enough.  You have to want it badly.  Only then will you fight through all the obstacles to make it happen.  Projects often take 2-3 times their original estimates, and some required several iterations to realize the full glory.  And only a true champion will endure the suffering to see it to completion.

Look around at your project.  Do you have a champion?  A person who refuses to give up?  If not, you have good reason to fear that the project could be canceled or back-burnered.  Have you personally ever been a project champion?  If not, give it a try.  Throw yourself into something that really engages your passions.  You’ll find there’s satisfaction in a job well done.



My Manager, When Projects are Late

Being consistent in your management style and personality is important for success. One of the first lessons in parenting is being consistent.  If you discipline your child one time for something, but then ignore that same thing a different time, you are sending a confusing mixed message.  Obviously, your project team members are not children, but the principle still applies.

Our teams depend on us for leadership and direction. As managers, if we are on a roller-coaster of emotion, our project teams will be all mixed up.

My manager when projects are late

Inconsistent behavior stifles creativity and does not allow a tolerable environment for ideas to be exchanged.  If a team member is not sure how you will react from one day to the next, they are less likely to be forthcoming with ideas and suggestions.

No matter how crazy a project becomes or how much stress leaders are under, we must be the model of consistency.  Like the commercial says, “never let them see you sweat.”



Define: Feature Creep

Feature Creep: Small product feature additions that unexpentantly expand a project scope.


Feature creep is one of the big reasons projects ship late.  Some people simply cannot deny themselves.  They want more and more features in their great new product, and can’t stop adding them  Here’s how it happens.

When a new product feature is complete, there are oohs and aahs from all the project stakeholders.  They love it!  Why?  Because they are sure customers will find it useful and reward the company with more business.  That’s only natural.  But then something else happens…  One of the stakeholders steps up and says, “That’s cool, but can it do one more little thing?”

All the other stakeholders agree.  The new feature you added is nice, but the product should do one more thing to be complete.  And they may be right.  So you add that.  And a few more things.  And a few more things after that.  That’s feature creep.

Little additions creep into your product features until they consume a major part of the project timeframe.  The extra features are nice, but can you afford the extra time?  After all, you now have less time to implement all the other cool features you were asked to do.

Stakeholders often don’t understand this problem.  Later, they’ll come around and ask why your project is behind schedule.  You can’t say that it’s because of all the little things they asked for.  Why?  Because they won’t remember those or they don’t see them as a major time sink.  See the problem?  You can’t win with feature creep.  🙁



The Bluebird: Model of Efficiency

Just for fun, I’ve posted a picture of a bluebird one of my customers sent me.  This picture was taken with a nest-cam outside one of his birdhouses.  Did you know that baby bluebirds go from hatchling to flying machine in only 18 days!  That’s a model of efficiency!


That’s right!  This bluebird is only 18 days old!  Like a machine, every cell in its body knows whether to contribute to flesh, bone, or feather within three weeks.  And then it’s off.

I want our project management organization to work this efficiently – like a machine.  Ever hear of Intelligent Design?  The theory essencially says that when a thing looks like it was designed, then it was designed.  To me, the bluebird looks like it was designed.  So who was the designer?

Can our projects run like they were designed?  Like a grand plan set forth in seven days and then implemented with flawless execution?  That’s the way I want our products to flow.  Wasting time “figuring things out” slows growth and limits potential.  Instead, let’s model our projects after the bluebird!

Okay, that’s a litte simplistic…  Which one among us is God?  We are flawed beings, and our products and projects reflect our limitations.  But we can still strive for it, can we not?  Flawless project execution…  That’s my new goal.  🙂



How To: Calculate Costs in Microsoft Project

This post will illustrate how to calculate costs in Microsoft Project.  As you will see below, each tasks has a total cost and an actual cost.  The actual cost are those costs that have actually been incurred during the execution of the project.

Costs in Microsoft Project and Standard Time® are very different.  Each task in Microsoft Project may have an arbitrary dollar value.  We’ll assign some below to demonstrate.  This is not true of Standard Time®.  Standard Time calculates task costs by multiplying hours times rates.  (C = H * R)  There are various rates a project may have, but the formula is always true.  Microsoft Project is different.  Follow the steps below to calculate costs in MSP.

Create some tasks:

  1. Add a task named “Task 1”
  2. Add a task named “Task 2”
  3. Set the Duration to 100h and 40h respectively
  4. Remove all columns by the Duration column (right-click and choose Hide Column)


The results look like this:


Insert the following columns:

  1. Cost
  2. Actual Work
  3. % Complete
  4. Actual Cost


The results will look like this:

Microsoft Project Cost Fields


Experiment with the Duration, Cost, and Actual Work fields, and you will see updates costs values.  The image below illustrates this.

Updated Microsoft Project Cost Values


Advice: Get Corporate Buy-in

Project Management Advice: Get Corporate buy-in for your projects.

In other words, make sure the corporate executives are active stakeholders in your project.  I suppose this goes without saying, but I’ve seen lots of projects where this is not the case.  Project teams somehow come to the conclusion that their project will be funded and accepted, even though corporate has not explicitly said so.

Just because your team is developing a new product or in-house tool, doesn’t mean corporate will stand by you.  Without vested stakeholders at the highest level, your project could easily be canceled.

The name “Harold” comes to mind when thinking of this subject.  I worked with a man named Harold who was researchinig a product for his company.  Months went by as he studied the features and benefits.  He eventually took a job with another company and I discussed the project with his boss.  His boss said he never knew what Harold was up to, and had no intention of adopting the product!



Project Managers are Coaches Too

Many people know that Phil Jackson coached 9 teams to NBA titles and Bill Walsh was a football genius with many Superbowl wins.

Do you ever hear about Project Managers who take multiple million-dollar projects to the finish line and bring home the victory?  Of course not, but they are critical in setting the tone of a project, defining clear objectives, and pushing all the right buttons to get a Project Team on the same page to accomplish their project goals.

People alone, with all of their various personalities, are tough to manage.  Project Managers are responsible for setting project task dependencies, trying to stay within project budgets, and work to keep a pulse on all the project resources.  Man, that is a lot of responsibility!

In sports, coaches use video tape, advanced scouts, and many other tools to accomplish their goals. In the project world, we use tools like MS Project or a good time tracking/project management tool such as Standard Time® software. Standard Time automatically e-mails Project Managers if a timesheet is insufficient and will warn a project team if a project is over budget.  It allows you to visually manage your resource allocation. It is a very effective tool.

The bottom line is that championships are not only won by pushing the right buttons. The foundation for winning starts with having the right tools. Are you still using antiquated spreadsheets and verbal discussions to win your championship?  If so, you may be setting yourself up for failure.