The Achilles’ Heel of project management is time. Every project can succeed when time is not a factor, right? But there is always a delivery date, milestones, and hard deadlines to meet. Project time management is a key component of successful project management. Without it, a project will drift, hit delays, and eventually collapse. What goes into project time management?
Project Time Management
Managing work time is the process of assigning and tracking the time spent on the project. Every project manager engages in this, over a variety of different tasks. Setting a project plan and calculating workflow requires setting deadlines for tasks. Calculating team loading requires managing the work time of every member of the team. In order to schedule milestones, a project manager needs to know the flow of time per task and team work time. Almost every aspect of project management touches on managing time.
Project time management falls into two different spheres: managing the time spent working on the project, and managing the deliverables of a project across deadlines. The first sphere, managing deliverables, includes milestones and project scheduling. The second sphere, managing work time, includes task management, progress reports, and status updates. Let’s break them down.
The project plan, stripped down, is the mapping of tasks over time towards a goal. Whether you use Gantt charts or some other timeline maker, the project plan is a map of tasks over time. Starting with the delivery date and moving backwards, every stage of the project is defined by time. Milestones are always dates. Tasks are always defined by start and end dates, if not broken down even further into hours. Time defines projects as much as their goals.
When it comes to deliverables, project time management is key. Savvy project time management tips include:
- Think in buffers, padding estimates to buy time
- Schedule milestones at the end of the hardest tasks – give your team a fixed goal to work towards during crunch time
- Plan your project with momentum in mind
Managing Work Time
Managing your team’s work time is vital. Overwork your team, or individuals, and you’ll create delays and ruin team morale. Underwork your team, and you’ll ruin team morale just the same – plus train your team to drag their feet. You need to monitor your team loading, and find the optimal balance for productivity and morale. More importantly, you need to make sure people are working.
Simply put, you could use time tracking software to monitor project time management, but you’d be missing the key parts of the data. Time spent on a task doesn’t tell you how hard someone is working, for example. Or if they’re working the whole time instead of leaving the timer running. Tracking time also misses out on creative processes, which aren’t timed. And running team member ragged is a sure fire way to run them into the ground, too. Time tracking software is impersonal, Big Brother like, and doesn’t actually help you. You want your team to work smart more than work hard.
The key is to occupy approximately 80% of each team member’s working time with tasks. The remaining 20% is a buffer, a grant for creative time, and the capacity you want to keep in reserve in case you need extra man hours to throw at a problem. This 80/20 keeps everyone occupied, loose and easy, and working hard on the project. Good for productivity, good for morale, and the reserve capacity is a life saver when needed.
Project Time Management: Executive Summary
There are two parts to project time management: managing time for deliverables, and managing team work time. The former is for planning, the latter for the management stage of the project. Plan around buffer time when scheduling deliverables. Use milestones strategically around the difficult task stretches. Stick to the 80/20 rule for team loading. And ditch the time tracking software.