The discipline of project time management is quite vast, but eventually, at the micro-level, it really boils down to tracking the relationship between task progress and work time, on a daily basis.
Later in this blog, we will specifically discuss Sup, a slack standup bot, that can easily build timesheets—to track the rate of work done on a daily basis. But before, let's briefly understand the idea of Project time management.
What is Project Time Management?
Project time management essentially includes processes that facilitate the timely completion of projects. Processes that are concerned with developing a realistic project schedule and controlling changes to the schedule.
Project management is divided into ten project management knowledge areas, including project integration management, project scope management, project time management, project cost management, project quality management, and more. Each knowledge area further includes multiple management processes that are categorized into 5 project management process groups-
- Initiating process group.
- Planning process group.
- Executing process group.
- Monitoring and controlling process group.
- Closing process group.
The processes involved in project time management fall in the planning and controlling groups.
What is a project schedule?
The time dimension of the project plan is reflected in the project schedule. The project schedule includes information like when an activity has to start and end, in what order to be completed, and by when the project should be completed.
The project schedule is usually graphically represented for a better understanding. The Gantt charts are one of the most popular ways of representing project schedules. The Gantt charts are simple bar charts representing start and end dates of activities, and inter-task dependencies; the bars are usually percentage distributors representing the task completion percentage.
Other popular ways of representing project schedules are network diagrams (Precedence Diagramming Method) that use a flow-chart-like diagram, using boxes and arrows, to define activities and their inter-dependencies; where the boxes represent the activities and the arrows represent the dependencies.
Project Time Management Processes
1. Plan schedule management
The plan schedule management process is responsible for defining the procedures, policies, and documentation that guide the planning, development, management, execution, and controlling of the project schedule. This process is included in the planning process group.
The project management plan, project description & guidelines, organizational culture & infrastructure, and process assets (like procedures, policies, data, and template,) act as inputs in the plan schedule management process. This process is mostly conducted through project meetings and analytical procedures (like rolling wave planning, using scheduling software to simulate “What if” scenarios, and analyzing scheduling techniques like fast-tracking and crashing.)
The final result of this process is the schedule management plan. This plan establishes all requirements to arrive at the project schedule.
- Rolling Wave planning: This is an iterative scheduling/planning technique with progressive elaboration. In this technique, the activity/task details of the near future are defined elaborately, whereas, the activities in the distant future are defined at a larger level.
2. Define activities
A critical process of project time management that identifies and documents precise actions, that are required to generate the project deliverables. This process is also included in the planning process group.
The facilitators and the impediments to project deliverables act as major inputs in this process. Organizational culture & infrastructure, and process assets are also valuable inputs in the process. Finally, the previously established schedule management plan will act as a reference/guideline for this process. The Rolling Wave Planning is once again a popular choice of tool in this process as well. The “Define Activity” process yields, Activity list, Activity attributes, and Milestone list.
3. Sequence Activities
The “Sequence Activities” process establishes and documents the relations between project activities. This process identifies the order of execution for the activities. The “Sequence Activities” process also falls in the planning process group.
The outputs of the previous process, Activity list, Activity attributes, and Milestone list, are all main inputs of this process. Sequencing the activities is a complicated process, and thus, relies on multiple inputs--including, the schedule management plan, project scope, organizational culture & infrastructure, and process assets. Precedence Diagramming Method is quite a decisive tool in this process.
At the process completion, the project schedule network diagrams are established. These diagrams are graphical representations of the activity sequences in the form of a network.
4. Estimate activity resources
As the name suggests this process is about estimating the resources that will go behind the scheduled activities. The process estimates both the types and quantities of the resources. The estimating process falls in the planning process group.
The schedule management plan established in the very first process will act as a guideline for almost all other planning processes in project time management, including the “Estimate activity resources” process. Further, the activity list and activity attributes will act as inputs when estimating the activity resources. The risk register (or the assumed risks of the project,) resources availability, activity cost estimates, organizational environment, and the organizational process assets are all considered when estimating the resources.
Apart from project management software, techniques like Alternative analysis, Published estimating data, and Bottom-up estimating are used to finish the process. Activity resource requirements and Resource breakdown structure are the end products of this process.
- Alternatives analysis: A technique where different alternative ways of completing an activity are analyzed. This technique leads to the optimization of resources.
- Published estimating data: Many companies publish and archive their previous estimating data, routinely. These data can act as a reference for present planning.
- Bottom-up estimating: In this technique, the activities are decomposed and studied in minute detail. Many minute estimations are made at the micro-level, and then all the micro estimations are put together to establish the final aggregate estimate.
5. Estimate activity Duration
This process is of paramount importance to project time management. This process is all about estimating the time required to complete each of the activities. And the completion of this process will be a fundamental requisite for developing the final schedule. This process belongs to the planning process group.
Almost all the inputs used in the previous processes and the outputs yielded by the previous process are used in some way or the other for establishing the time estimation for the activities. You will also need employee performance reviews and historical records of daily work progress--these will prove quintessential inputs in making future estimates accurate. Timesheets maintained by companies are useful instruments for evaluating employee performance and daily work progress.
Estimating the time required to complete all the activities is a complex process, and thus, requires multiple tools & techniques like- Three-point estimating, Group decisions, timesheets, Reserve analysis, Analogous estimating, and Parametric estimating. The most obvious output of this process is the activity duration estimates. The estimates are usually given in a minimum-maximum range. Note that as the project progresses there will be more clarity on the estimates, and thus, the estimates should be updated accordingly.
- Three-point estimating: This is a technique where three estimates are established instead of one.
- Group decisions: An activity will require professionals with different expertise. Hence, when estimating the time required to complete an activity, the opinions of all the involved professionals are required. This is why duration estimation is more of a team exercise done with group decision-making techniques.
- Reserve analysis: Reserve analyses are made to add a buffer window to the project schedule. This helps deal with uncertainties.
- Analogous estimating: A technique of estimation that is based on previous estimation data.
- Parametric estimating: This method uses historical records and previous data, and casts them into mathematical models to project the estimated duration.
6. Develop schedule
This is an iterative process of developing the model for the project schedule itself. The process analyzes activity sequences, durations, resource estimates, and schedule limitations. Develop schedule process is also included in the planning process group.
The Develop schedule requires a lot of inputs, including risk estimates, project scope, staff allocation, resource availability, organizational process assets, organizational environment, schedule management plan, activity list & attributes, resources requirements & breakdown, activity duration estimates, and project schedule network diagrams. The inputs are usually fed into a scheduling software that generates a schedule with activity completion dates.
The tools and techniques used in this process are the Critical path method, Critical Chain method, What if scenarios, Resource optimization techniques, Three-point estimates, and Schedule compression. The final outputs are the project schedule, schedule data, and project calendars. The project schedule is represented through tables, bar charts, or network diagrams.
- Critical path method: It determines the critical path on a project schedule. The objective of the critical path is to determine the shortest time required to complete the project.
- Critical Chain method: A critical chain is determined based on the resources and dependencies between the activities.
- What-if scenarios: Simulates the impact of varying a certain parameter on the schedule.
- Resource optimization technique: The technique to generate a schedule that optimally uses the resources. Ideally, this technique attempts to minimize resource utilization without compromising the project deliverables dramatically.
- Three-point estimates: This is where the schedule is generated by considering three scenarios for each activity, the worst-case scenarios, the realistic scenario, and the best-case scenario. This technique is also called the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT.) The technique combines the estimates of three scenarios and generates a single schedule by using the special PERT formulae.
- Schedule compression: This technique involves crashing certain activities to reduce the project duration. The technique weighs the pros and cons of all the activities and accordingly decides if the project schedule can afford to crash certain activities.
7. Control Schedule
The control schedule primarily monitors and determines the status of the project schedule. The project schedule in its initial form can never be absolutely realistic. As the project flaws in the schedule will be noticeable. This process aims to monitor such flaws, correct and manage them in real-life activities, and accordingly update them in the schedule. This process is included in the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group.
The project schedule is the primary input in this process. Additionally, schedule data, project calendar, work performance data, project management plan, and organizational process assets act as vital inputs in the process.
The most useful tools and techniques in this process include Scheduling and Project Management software, performance reviews, resource optimization techniques, and schedule compression. The outputs generated in this process are work performance information, schedule predictions, organizational process asset updates, project management plan updates, and project documentation updates.
Project time management in remote working
Remote working adds additional challenges to the struggle of project time management. When working remotely, you will have to rely on software for each and every process of project time management. Thus, in remote working it's not just about getting the processes right, but also, finding the right software.
When it comes to project time management software, we are more used to software that takes in data inputs and churns out estimates and graphically represented schedules. When working remotely you cannot solely depend on such software, for accurate estimates. In remote working the complication arises much before analyzing the data; the problem arises particularly when collecting the data. This is why apart from the traditional project management software, you will need to hunt for support software that will aid you with the accurate and flexible collection of data.
The most important process in project time management
If you want to achieve timely delivery of your projects, then at first, you will have to set a realistic deadline. And to set a realistic deadline you will need to make realistic estimates of activity duration. Thus, one might say that the most important process in project time management is estimating activity duration.
Now estimating activity duration can be a tricky thing when working remotely because you won’t have access to traditional instruments of estimation like group discussions, decision makings, and analysis. Virtual meetings are an option, but they can get complicated when dealing with a large team. So practically, you will be restricted to software for tracking projects, employee performance, and daily work progress. Thus selecting the right software will definitely be a decisive factor in successful project time management.
Finding the right data logging software for estimating activity duration
The right software will give you the features and tools that can accurately (and flexibly) let you log the information necessary to track employee performance and daily work progress. Flexibility, automation, and customization are three qualities that you should be looking out for.
1. Flexibility: In remote working, your team will be spread across different geographical locations; maybe even different timezones. In such a scenario, you want a tool that allows all your employees to log data at a time of their choosing. The software should not just be flexible in logging the data, but also in maintaining the record (should be able to update any data at any time,) and accessing the record (access any information at any time.)
2. Automation: Automation reduces the rate of inaccuracy and saves time. You want software that can automate the process of data (on both employee performance and daily work progress) collection.
3. Customization: Finally, you don’t want software that limits you to a specific variant of data collection. You should be able to customize the software to collect the type of data that is more relevant to your project.
What are timesheets, and their role in project time management?
Traditionally timesheets were sheets where employees log their daily working hours. However, in modern work cultures, they log additional information as well, including tasks performed, the percentage of each task performed, and even time spent on a particular task. This timesheet information is stored, and later, evaluated and analyzed when estimating activity duration in project time management.
Timesheets in the remote workspace
In the remote workspace, timesheets have become a very powerful instrument for tracking daily work progress and employee performance. There are different software that allows you to personalize your timesheet templates, and make them more specific to your business process. You can add multiple work-time queries to your timesheet form, and log complex information for deeper insight into your daily work progress and employee performance.
You can even create separate timesheets for separate projects and separate employees. You can break down the overall project into many smaller activities, and then log the daily progress for all the smaller activities separately. Eventually, you will be able to make micro-level activity duration estimates, and consequently, establish an accurate schedule forecast. The software can also store the timesheet information, and over time, generate an archive of data.
Building your timesheet on Slack with Sup
In remote working, Slack, with its API features and third-party integrations, has become a platform where you can find an app for all your business processes. Sup is a Slack standup bot that can conduct standup/follow-up surveys on Slack, maintain a response history, and generate reports & timesheets.
How does Sup work?
Sup works directly from your Slack Workspace, but you can use the web-based app interface as well. You can set up Sup to conduct surveys automatically on specific days and times. You can write up questions for your surveys, schedule the survey on certain days of the week, and set a specific time for conducting. You can also add only selected users to the survey. Finally, for scenarios where your employees forget to take the Surveys, you can add multiple reminders.
Once the surveys are conducted the responses are stored and archived. However, every user can update their previous responses at any time. You can also view any specific response (or responses) at any time. Finally, you can select any specific survey and convert its saved responses into reports. The reports are exported to your local device in CSV files.
To create a timesheet with Sup, you need to simply schedule a survey with work-time-specific queries. And then, generate a report on the survey. When creating your report you can even select a specific time span. Sup will export the timesheet report into a CSV spreadsheet to your local device.
1. Track daily work progress
Schedule a generalized survey that logs the daily working hours of all employees and all tasks performed. Use such a general survey to track what all work is completed and how much work is done, on a daily basis.
2. Track employee performance
Different employees have different job responsibilities and tasks. Thus, tracking the performance of all the employees with a single generalized timesheet can be difficult. Schedule multiple surveys throughout the day with unique work-time queries and add relevant employees to each survey. Generate unique timesheets for different sets of employees.
3. Track time spent on a specific project
Create surveys specific to a project and only add employees who are involved. Ask questions like time spent daily on the project, tasks performed, and percentage of the task completed. Generate the survey report and get the timesheet to track the progress of a specific project.
What Sup is and What Sup is not!
Sup is a light Slack standup bot for remote teams. It will ask quick questions, store the answers and generate reports from them. And on the side, it provides a few nifty features that make the application easy and accurate, like question customization, response editing, and survey reminder.
When using Sup for project time management, note that Sup is neither a project management software, nor a time tracking software. So it will not automatically churn out time estimates or automatically track employee working hours. What it will do is simplify the process of logging work-time information, and increase the accuracy of the process. You don't have to manually enter data into spreadsheets; you simply respond to surveys that can be automatically converted into spreadsheets.
- Anubhav De