How Not to Start Off Behind Schedule

Filed under Best Practices | Posted by MMeloni

Last time we discussed strategic reserve time and now we are taking a closer look. If you want to make schedule promises that you can keep then you want to make sure you are really allocating your resources accurately.

Project managers all complain that they and their teams are handed unrealistic deadlines. Did it ever occur to you that you might be guilty of setting an unrealistic deadline? It’s true. If you do not know how much time you really get from your resources then you could be causing your own problems.

That’s why last time our talk was “What is strategic reserve time?” Strategic reserve time is the amount of time the resource has to really work on your project once he or she has attended to their other regular commitments. To know this you need to start off by looking at how much time a resource is completely available.

Available – Not just available to you. Available to do his or her job. Some people do not like this approach because right away we need to define how many hours are in the work period. Some people like to just say our resources work until the work is done. And you know what? That sounds great! What a great dedicated set of resources. And what an unrealistic way to plan. We need to set an expectation of how much time we expect someone to give and use that as the basis for our time available. Do we expect him or her to work 40 hours, 50 hours, or 60 and beyond?

Next we have administrative time. Everyone has things they do every day that are part of being at work. These things are not necessarily part of a specific project. It could be answering calls, it could be responding to e-mails, it could be answering questions or attending staff meeting. Just part of life at work. And since that’s the case we may as well plan for it.

We also want to consider catch-up time. Think about it. When you are away from work and you return you have things you need to do before you are fully available to complete other work. There are things that occurred while you were gone that people have stacked on your desk be it physical or virtual. All kinds of great things just waiting for your time and attention. It’s important to remember that and plan for it. It’s this catch-up work that makes it so hard when you return from vacation. Sometimes this is why after you’re back from vacation for a few days you feel like you need a vacation again. This is true for your project team members too. We need to plan for catch-up time.

There are some special things that require attention – special projects. Don’t think of these as projects as in the kind of project that you are managing. Think of these as the special requests that come sometimes from other management. A request to pull together data for a special executive presentation or a request to fill-in for the boss at a meeting or event.

To really know how much someone can work on your project you need to know if you are being given their strategic reserve time OR the portion of their available time without considering admin, catch-up time and special projects. Because they’re strategic reserve time is really their available time minus the admin time and catch up time and special projects.

Strategic Reserve Time = Available – (Administrative time + Catch-up time + Special projects)

When you find out that you have someone for 50% of their time and they are available for 40 hours a week does that really mean you get them for 20 hours a week? Because it could mean you really get them for 10 hours a week.

Should a project manager have to do this? Isn’t this the job of a resource or functional manager? Well I have to tell you that I did make one of my students mad one evening when I was having this conversation. He raised his hand and said “I’m a little mad at you right now. “ And of course I asked why. He said, “It is because you’re telling project managers to do my job. I’m coming these classes to understand project management but I’m what you call a functional or resource manager. And how my team spends their time is my business.”

I didn’t disagree with him. I don’t want to cause trouble. I also know that not everyone understands this concept and that you and I are the ones who live with the outcome of it.

Let’s not cause problems but let’s know this anyway! Let’s work with our fellow resource and functional managers to make sure that we that we share an understanding of how much time resources are really allocated to our project team.

That way we don’t have to start off behind schedule because we are accidentally telling lies about our project teams availability.