8 Dirty Secrets of Project Tracking

The video below may be useful for some.  Ray White of the Standard Time® Timesheet team outlines eight dirty secrets of project tracking.  These make a lot of sense.  Take a look!


What did you think?  Project tracking is a slippery game.  You’ve literally got thousands of enemies and obstacles that will bring your project down.  It takes a watchful individual to make sure those things don’t happen.  And a project manager who can do that is worth their money.

I was once on a project where the manager made us all sign a paper that said we’d finish the project by a certain date.  It was a big event where the paper was passed around for all to sign.  Honestly, most just laughed, signed, and mocked him later.  Here’s why: he never followed up with any real management.  He committed virtually every sin in this video.

Even though we signed the paper, he had no real end-game plan.  We just all worked on stuff we thought was cool.  The project blew through the ship date and died an ugly death from suffocation.  He didn’t track our hours.  He let the cool kids camp out on tasks they liked, which left the rotten tasks unfinished.

I never really know when the product would ship because it was always a moving target.  And like I said, the project died of suffocation months later.  Hummph.

Hey, I found the video transcription on this page.  Hope it helps!http://www.stdtime.com/videos/dirtysecretsofprojecttracking.htm





Microsoft Project Task Usage View

What is the Task Usage view in Microsoft Project?  The simple answer is: a daily breakdown of the hours for each employee. You’re probably familiar with the ‘Work’ and ‘Actual work’ columns in the Gantt view, right?  The Task Usage view just breaks those numbers down by day.  The video below illustrates that perfectly.

Standard Time® with MSP Task Usage

So let’s assume you have a task with 100 hours scheduled to you and another employee.  That 100 hours is in the ‘Work’ column in the Gantt view.  (Ignore the ‘Duration’ column for sake of easy explanation for now.  It has a different purpose.)  The ‘Work’ field tells how many hours the resources are supposed to work.  Here’s a picture of how that task looks in the Gantt view and Task usage view.

Gant View with Work Hours

And Task Usage View:

Task Usage View with Work Hours


These two screenshots clearly show the 100 hours for our example.  The Gantt view shows the aggregate while the Task usage view shows the daily breakdown.  Now watch what happens when we add ‘Actual work’ to the mix.  The Task usage view lets you enter hours for the exact day they occurred.  And again, the Gantt view shows the aggregate hours.  (The video above shows an automated way to enter those actual work hours.)

Gantt View with Actual Work

Task Usage view with actual work


Of course the automated way to enter these actual work hours is a timesheet.  (I like Standard Time® at www.stdtime.com.)  Employees use a variety of tools to enter and check their own timesheets.  Once correct, all the actual work hours from the timesheet are transferred to the Microsoft Project Task usage view in one quick session – all employees, all at once.  Pretty cool, huh?



Ten Tools For the PMO Office

Now, this is what the PMO office needs.  Have you seen this?

The video below lists ten cool tools for the project management office.  (Actually the term “PMO Office” is a little redundant.)  But I really liked this set of tools.  You start with a database that displays all your projects as peers — no more discreet files on your hard drive.  Under each project is a list of assigned to employees.  Those employees see only their projects and tasks in the timesheet where they record actual hours.  Go back to the project task view and you can compare estimates with actuals.

Of course, the PMO office wants more than a simple task list.  They want resource allocation, project revenue projects, utilization reports with percentages and effective rates.  And they want some daily scrum status.  To me… it all seems to be here.  Take a look!

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVJ1AYCJ9Rw


You Can Never Leave Your First Love

I do not believe a man can ever leave his business. He ought to think of it by day and dream of it by night.

— Henry Ford

That has certainly been true in my life.  To me, business has been something deeply ingrained in my life.  For many years, I wrote code on Christmas Day, New Years Day, Independance Day, and many other holidays.

Yes, I loved it that much.

I would do events I called “24-hour weekends” where I would start coding at 7 AM each morning and go straight until 7 PM on both Saturday and Sunday — two twelve hours days.  And then I would resume my normal 60-hour week on Monday morning at 5:30 AM.  That’s how much I loved my business.

Things have changed a little since I’ve gotten older.  Economic downturns turn you hard.  Turn you bitter.  Make you cynical.  And you say, “What good was all that work?”  So yes… I’ve had times where I’ve quit and vowed never to do that again.  I’ve actually quit my business several times.  But like a dog to his vomit, I’ve always returned.  And after doing that a dozen times, I guess I’m here for the duration — a lifer.

I still love my business.  The current economic doldrums put a severe throttle on my work efforts.  It’s awfully hard to put your life into something (and that’s what Henry was really saying in the quote above) when customers don’t reciprocate with any degree of appreciation.  But I still work hard.  I might even pull a few of those 24-hour weekends from time to time just to remind myself of the love I still have for my business.

Small to Midsize Business Going To The Cloud

The CIO Insight article below explains that SMB’s are going to the cloud for simple apps like email and storage.  And they are not necessarily asking IT for permission.  I suppose that is because the cloud provider supplies all the support they need, and users feel they can get by without their own internal IT department.  Probably so…


Inexpensive cloud solutions are getting more and more attractive.  Not only do you get a great app, but you get external hosting and support.  So instead of spending your in-house resources on server hosting, patches, backup, upgrades, and babysitting, you can spend it on your core competencies.

Another up-and-coming cloud app is timesheets – check out a product named Standard Time®.  Their cloud-based timesheet is superb.  And just like the simpler apps described above, all the support is handled by the vendor.  But this is no simple app like storage or email.  This thing is loaded!  Check out some of the features you get for $13 a month!

Here are two videos on the Standard Time dynamic duo – Timesheet and Project Management

Cloud-based Timesheet

Cloud-based Timesheet

Cloud-based Project Management

Cloud-based Project Management


Of course you would expect this.  It’s a timesheet, after all!  But the timesheet is extremely flexible and comprehensive.  Employees only see projects assigned to them.  Project tasks are included.  Sub-projects and phases show a full hierarchical breakdown.  There is an expense sheet, and time off tracking.

Project Management
In addition to the timesheet, Standard Time gives you project rollups.  (Yes, this is all on the cloud!  Pinch yourself!!!)  They let you track actual work verses estimates.  Track percent complete.  Attach documents to tasks.

PTO Accruals
Need to track comp time for employees working over their scheduled hours?  Got it.  Need vacation tracking?  Got it.  How about automatic time off accruals on a daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.  That’s in there too!

Expense Tracking
What would a consulting tool be without cloud-based expense tracking?  It’s in there too.  In fact, you can run a client invoice that contains all the timesheet hours plus expenses.  Or, you can run a report that includes them both.  Or separately.  There are even custom reporting capabilities.

It’s a little hard to believe that cloud-based hosted services have evolved this far.  I guess somebody’s been hard at work.  Check out Standard Time if you’re a consulting firm, manufacturer, or government office.  Here’s a link to their YouTube channel.  New videos are posted all the time, so subscribing is a good itea.


Define: Preleveled Start

Preleveled Start: The starting dates of all tasks in a project plan before a resource leveling operation was performed.

If you use the resource leveling feature in Microsoft Project, you might consider adding the “Preleveled Start” and “Leveling Delay” columns.  These two columns help explain the effects of a leveling operation in MS Project.  The Preleveled Start field shows the dates that the tasks were before the level, and the Leveling Delay tells the amount of time each task was shifted to avoid over-allocation.

Consider the screenshots below.  They demonstrate the Preleveled Start field and Leveling Delay.

The first screenshot shows the fields before the resource leveling operation.  In this example, we have two tasks that occupy the same calendar date range.  Obviously the resource cannot complete both tasks at the same time.  We must move one, or split the tasks so they both can be completed.  But here you have a decision to make… can the resource multitask or must the second task follow only after the first has been completed?  Certain tasks like “Foundation” and “Framing” and “Roofing” cannot be multitasked.  They must be completed in sequence.  In this case, the normal leveling choices are best.

Preleveled Start before leveling
Preleveled Start is NA before leveling



In actual life, the resource will probably multitask both project tasks, which has the effect of pushing them both out.  The screenshot below shows the resource working 50% of his time on both tasks.  That doubles the amount of time the tasks take, but allows the resource the luxury to spend whatever time they want on the tasks.  This only works when the tasks are not mutually exclusive.  In other words, the second task can be performed at the same time as the first.  Or, they don’t have to be performed serially.

Resource at 50%Multitasking means working both tasks during the same calendar date range


But if you really want to use resource leveling, you’ll find that MS Project pushes one task out past the first one to that it starts when the first one ends.  Use this approach when you cannot work on the second task until the first is completed.  In other words, multitasking is not possible for these two tasks.  The screenshot below illustrates this.

Preleveled Start after leveling
Results of Leveling: Preleveled Start and Leveling Delay


Follow these steps to level resources:

  • 1. Choose Tools, Level Resources…
  • 2. Click Level Now

This dialog box is displayed to help choose the leveling options.

Resource Leveling Options 

Project Management Doesn’t Have to be Hardcore

When most people think of project management, they think of crusty PMI propeller-heads sitting in a back office analyzing complex columns of project metrics and arriving at lofty strategic conclusions.  (Did I pitch that nerdy enough?)  In other words, project management is out of most people’s realm of understanding.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Consider a simpler model, as demonstrated by the videos below.  The stuff I’m seeing here is simple – something any average manager can wrap their brains around.


How to Read a Gantt Chart:

Project Management:

Resource Allocation:


Really, this is pretty simple project management.  From what I see, you’ve got a simple hierarchy of tasks that employees can track time to.  For each task you set up an estimated duration that you think the task will take.  Then you release it to the wild for employees to enter time against.  When they do, it puts the actual work into the task so you can compare it with the estimates.  Pretty simple so far… no propeller beanies required.

Another video showed how you can give each task a starting date that tells when employees should work on the task.  Since you have a duration for each task, and you have a proposed starting date, you can then see how much work has piled up for any given employees.  After all, you are telling how long and when his work should occur.  The video shows a nice graph telling how much work is scheduled for each time period (week, month, or quarter).  It may have a fancy name (resource allocation) but it’s really pretty simple from my perspective.

Why not give these tools a try?  You don’t have to be a propeller-head to set up a few tasks and start tracking time to them.  You don’ t need a degree in project management or sit in a PMO office with all the bean counters.  To me, this looks like project management for the non-project managers.

You don’t have to be hardcore to manage a few tasks.  Give it a try!

Why Use a Timesheet?

If you’re a consulting or contracting company, the answer to that question is a no-brainer.  Or so says the video below.  In this video, the author asserts that consulting companies absolutely must use a timesheet for the job.  I tend to agree.  Consulting has become so complex, and the margins so slim that you can’t afford to lose a single hour of billable time.

Consultants regularly check their utilization rates to make sure they are making money.  Utilization is the ration of billable to scheduled hours for the employee.  For example, if the employee is scheduled for 40 hours and only works 35, then he is only 88% utilized.  And because he hasn’t worked the full 40, he is not billing as many hours as possible.  Therefore, his effective billing rate is lower than what the company actually charges for his work.

Here’s an example of a poor effective billing rate.  Suppose a consultant bills at $100 per hour.  But he only gets 10 hours per week of billable work.  His effective billing rate is now only $25 per scheduled hour.  And if you miss any of those hours, the rate goes down.  So using a timesheet to collect and account for all the billable time is probably a no-brainer.


Manufacturing companies like to track project hours using a timesheet.  It allows them to connect with their employees and see where their time is going.  But it has more value than that.  Manufacturers who track projects want to improve their deliverable schedules, milestone predictions, and task duration estimates.  This obviously lends credibility to their project management efforts.  The only way to get good project task estimates is to use a timesheet.  They must collect actual employee hours so those hours can be compared with the original estimates.

And finally, even if you are not a services-based company that tracks time for client billing, and you are not a manufacturing company that tracks project management metrics, you may still just want to see employee status and weekly hours.  That’s a good enough reason to use a timesheet.  Simply keeping an eye on employee activities is a worthwhile management practice, even if you don’t have a hard reason to use a timesheet.

All these reasons are illustrated in a nice little YouTube video.  Check out the ScoutwestInc channel for additional timesheet videos.  Some of them make a lot of sense.

Improve Task Estimates, Multiply by Pi

Trouble with poor task estimation?  Introducing the three-point estimating technique.  This might help.

Te = (To + 4Tm + Tp) / 6

Here’s the problem: engineers are never good at estimating task durations.  Not even close.  When asked how long their tasks will take, they usually just say, “They’ll be done when they’re done!”  As a project manager, you have to coerce an estimate out of them.  And then multiple by Pi for the real number.  But there may be a better way.  Read on for a possible solution.


                It’ll take about two and a half months.

                Multiple by Pi

                Result: eight months

First off, Engineers just don’t like estimating time.  They have technical issues to deal with, and are not practiced in the arts of time estimation.  They feel uncomfortable in fuzzy areas like this because they don’t spend any time thinking about such things.  The traffic in mathematical and logical conundrums, not project scheduling.  You might just as well ask them how much their tasks will cost, or how much the company will make from the product, once marketed.  It’s just not something they spend any time considering.  That means you have to take their task estimates with a grain of salt, or perhaps with a more scientific calculation.

What could be more scientific than multiplying them by Pi?  🙂

The three-point estimate technique below first appeared with PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique).  It has some merit when dealing with task durations, and might be more accurate than multiplying engineer estimates by some arbitrary number.

Start by taking this three-point estimate below from the engineer for each task.  You must get them to tell you the most likely duration for each task, which they will understate by a longshot… then you must try for an optimistic estimate, which they will assert is the same as the first estimate… then finally you have to get them to spit out a pessimistic duration, at which point they will argue is also the same as the first two, and that you are stupid for asking… now go away!  But if you can get these three numbers, you can plug them into the three-point estimate calculation below.

  • 1. Tm – Most Likely estimate (example: 6 months)
  • 2. To – Optimistic estimate (example: 4 months)
  • 3. Tp – Pessimistic estimate (example: 12 months)

With these three estimates, you can run a calculation to find the mean estimate.  (Find this calculation on page 150 of the PMBOK.)

                Te = (To + 4Tm + Tp) / 6

                Example: (4 + 4(6) + 12) / 6 = 8 months

The results are a good prediction of human estimations, assuming that most people under-judge the duration of most tasks.  They simply forget or don’t consider all the possible details in executing their assigned tasks.  This calculation makes up for that lack of detail.

Hope it works for you!

Closer to the Source

The sooner employees record actual hours worked, the more accurate they will be.  Some companies require team members to record their project hours.  Sometimes this is for client billing, other times for engineering or manufacturing projects.  Whatever the reason, I’ve seen firsthand that recoding hours soon after the actual event ensures accuracy.

Most people cannot remember what they did last week.  So if asked to fill in their timesheet for last week, they will not be able to pick out individual tasks.  Sure, they remember which projects they worked on, unless there are more than two.  But they cannot reliably remember which tasks.  It gets impossible when asked to assign actual hours to those tasks.  That is the primary reason DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency) requires timekeeping every day.  Even filling out timesheets at the end of the week is against the rules.  I don’t normally like government agencies, but in this case there is truth to their overbearing policies.

Standard Time® is an example of a professional timesheet with a built-in timer.  The image below illustrates the Quick Task window.  A link to a video is also included.


Standard Time® Quick Tasks

In the Standard Time Quick Task window, you simple click project tasks to start and stop the timer.  Time log records are automatically entered into the timesheet.  That solves the problem of entering hours after the work is finished.  Actual work is sent directly to the timesheet; there is no delay.  And since you are clicking the checkbox to start and stop a timer, the actual work is as accurate as it could possibly be.

Most companies do not require minute-by-minute accuracy, unless you are charging them for time worked.  Only consulting companies really need this level of granularity.  For them, it’s much easier to justify invoices when the time accounting accuracy is beyond impeachment.  Simply print out the actual time log report (with records down to the second) and there is no disputing the accuracy.  Of course you can still milk the clock, but consultants are rarely accused of that.  But still most manufacturing companies that track projects for earned value purposes don’t need timer accuracy.

Whether your company needs timer accuracy, daily accuracy, weekly, or monthly, tracking time is almost always a good thing.  There is so much value in knowing how much time projects take.  Consider a few good reasons: comparing estimates to actuals, estimating future projects, assigning cost and estimates to new activities, or even know what employees are up to – all good things!