Make Sure Your Project Plan is Realistic

Check that your project plan is realistic

There’s something I do on a regular basis when it comes to my project team. I like getting a “reality check” on where things stand. This is a conversation or two where I touch base and confirm my facts, explain my understanding of where things stand, and make sure everything is in sync with the IT project plan.

It’s not a formal meeting with a lot of people involved. It may be just a chat or two with a team member that I run across in the hall, but it gives me enough confidence to know that I have a good grasp on reality and the IT project plan we implemented remains realistic. But, what do you do when your entire project plan is based upon a false reality? It’s hard to get a reality check on something that’s not real in the first place. One of the main culprits for this type of inaccuracy and uncertainty lies in unrealistic work-effort estimates.

There’s a certain bravado that comes into play when you ask someone how long something is going to take. Some people don’t want to run the risk of sounding inept or inexperienced and will wildly underestimate the amount of time something is going to take. This gets plugged into the IT project plan and dates and deliverables quickly begin to unravel as the truth becomes known.

It’s up to you as the project manager to make sure your IT project plan is realistic. You can do this by looking at the Effectiveness and Efficiency of the people that are on your team.

Measuring Effectiveness when Creating Estimates

Measuring successThere are a number of factors that come into play on whether a resource on your team is effective or not. You should consider the following questions when determining whether the estimate someone gave you is based in reality:

  • What is this Person’s Knowledge and Skill Set? – You want to ask yourself whether this person has the aptitude, education, and training in order to perform this particular task. If they have gone to school for what they are working on or attended some recent training sessions then you can have a higher level of confidence that what they come back with is a realistic time frame.
  • What is This Person’s Prior Experience –In addition to formal education, and arguably more important, is the person’s level of experience with what they are estimating. If someone has had 20 + years of experience in a certain field and working on this particular deliverable, then you can feel very confident that their estimate is based on reality. You may be a bit more skeptical if this is their first time up to bat.
  • Is This Person a Good Multi-Tasker? – Multi-tasking is the scourge of most work environments these days. It is, however, an unfortunate reality in which we all must operate. Determining whether a person is a good multi-tasker doesn’t necessarily come into play if you are looking for a reality check on the duration of the task. For example, someone may say that a task may take 40 hours of effort. This will be spread over 2 weeks of time to accomplish. If they are not a good multi-tasker, they may quickly be pulled off track or take longer than usual to ramp up again to get things going. You need to know this for your IT project plan because it may actually take them 3 weeks to accomplish this task rather than the 2 weeks they originally estimated.
  • How Motivated is This Person? –You need to know whether this person is driven to deliver the results in the time frame estimated or whether they just go along with the flow and just allow things to happen. You can have a higher level of confidence in the accuracy of the estimate by someone who is driven, focused, and concentrating on what it takes to get the job done.

The answers to the questions above play into the productivity of a particular team member on the project. The next area you need to focus on is how efficient a resource is in order to develop a realist IT project plan.

Measuring Efficiency when Creating Estimates

Measuring efficiencyA common misperception, especially for newer project managers, is that if someone is working a 40-hour week then you can bank on 40-hours of time being spent on a particular project. It doesn’t take long to determine that there is nothing further from the truth than that statement. In order to develop a realist IT project plan you need to factor in the following distractions when it comes to efficiency:

  • Non-Project Related Work Activities – You need to understand how much time a person is being pulled in different directions in their current position .They may be asked to attend company and departmental meetings, training conferences, or just keep up to speed with what is going on in the industry. These are all activities that take time that you need to factor in when it comes to putting a plan together that is realistic.
  • Personal Activities – Today’s work environment is no longer the sweat-shop mentality from generations ago. Knowledge workers today have a lot of freedom and flexibility to come and go as they please as long as the work is getting done. You need to account for this time and make adjustments if this freedom and flexibility begins to be abused. Other things such as breaks, getting work areas organized, or chatting with co-workers all need to come into consideration when you are determining how much time to bank on from this particular resource.
  • General Availability – Most companies today have relatively decent vacation or personal time off policies. This is another area that must be factored into the time this person has available to perform their tasks. You can delude yourself into thinking that they won’t take advantage of this part of their compensation package, but that’s what you are doing…deluding yourself. Factor this time in when putting your IT project plan together.

If you keep your eye on the effectiveness and efficiency of your resources and have a clear understanding about what this means, you’ll find that your project estimates are grounded in reality.

Is There a Reasonable Utilization Percentage?

Since we like to follow certain rules of thumb as project managers, you may wonder what would be a reasonable utilization percentage to plug into your plan. Typically, the more experienced and higher up the seniority chain a resource is, the less time they will have for direct project related work. Their utilization percentage may fall to as low as 40%-50% with all of the other meetings they need to attend and responsibilities they have acquired through the years. A newer resource, however, with minimal distractions can realistically be in the range of 70%-80% utilization.

With a solid plan in place based upon real work-effort numbers, you can now get a true reality check when you walk down the hall and run into someone on your project team. This will allow you the opportunity to dig into other details that may need your skills as a project manager to resolve so the project can move forward!

Not sure how long anything takes on any of your projects? You say you’ve never been able to successfully track time in the past? Our software makes it easy to get your time tracking system up and running. ProjectManager.com allows you to track time using timesheets, view all of your timesheets online, identify planned vs. actual time spent, see progress against schedule, and most importantly keep your project on track!

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