Monthly Archives: May 2012

Time Estimate of a Task

I the beginning of the project, project owner will always ask for the ETA of the project. The word ‘ETA’ is borrowed from the airline business which referred to ‘Estimated Time of Arrival’ of a flight. The ETA of a project means when the project will be completed.

In order to come up the project ETA, we need to start from the time need estimate for individual task by the following means:

1. if it is a brand new task not even done before, we would consult the business unit (it would be the team / line manager) about the time needed for the task

2. otherwise, we can also consult old project documentations and find what it normally take to complete the task as a cross reference

When we gather the information (whichever means #1 or #2 above), we should also look for 3 estimate:

1. Most probable amount of time needed

2. Best Case scenarios

3. Worse Case scenarios like weather and other un-controllable factor like ‘time to debug’

During this process, we would also try to find out how many resources (i.e. people and materials) is need for the tast, e.g. 3 workers and 1 foreman; 4 computer programmers and 1 quality assurance personnels.

With all this information, the work breakdown structure will be ‘3D’ – not just list of task, but also the resources as well the time information associated with individual of them. As a project manager, he/she would feel more solid and confident at this stage towards answering the question – what’s the ‘ETA’ of the project.

Work Breakdown Structure – building block of a project

A lifespan of a project can vary from short a week, a few months and even a year. For general 3 to 6 months project, it may involve tens of tasks and hundreds of sub-tasks, which is not easy to plan and manage if treat each of them as equal in term of importance.Therefore, we would group  some project tasks into groups and reduce the number of items we have to look at at the same time. If we need to know the details, we can drill down to the task into sub-tasks within that group.

Work Group > Tasks > Sub-tasks

Now, we should have a clear picture about the hierarchy of the project task. This is what we call the ‘work breakdown structure. You might have a question if there is any optimal number of task under a work group.I would say ‘no’, the magic number I would use as a guidance is ‘6’ and ‘7’. It is similar to answer of optimal number of direct report for a manager. There is no definite answer, but it should be around ‘6’ and ‘7’.

Another note I would make here is how to group those tasks into a work group. We should always group tasks with some attributes in common. It can be ‘place’ where those activities will happen; or ‘team of people’ who will carry out all the activities, or ‘period of time’ that all those tasks need to be completed.

With this building blocks setup, we can start the time estimate for individual work group.

Project – progressive elaboration

One headache problem for a new project manager would be the keep of changing of the project plan. They may complain to their colleagues, friends and family about this. However, a more experienced project manager, ‘change’ has been their companion and would no longer complain it any more. In fact, they will also put ‘change’ or ‘change management’ as part of the project plan. But I want to focus on talking about ‘progressive elaboration’ here.

Progressive elaboration means you will not know the whole picture on day 1. More details would be found as we talk to more stakeholders, dig into task list behind each milestones and also get the resources and other commitment from the stakeholders.

In the first day of the planning meeting, perhaps you will only get the framework and can barely identify the milestones of the projects. After talking to some senior project manager and review the lesson learn documentation in another projects, you will start to identify and interview those stakeholders. Two weeks late, after consolidating all stakeholders requirement and advice, your project plan will be more solid than before. Then, you have to breakdown those task into small sub-tasks; identify the interdependencies, define the critical path and task sequence. At this point, your project plan will be in a better shape.

However, don’t put this as the end of the project planning work. There are still a lot more to do, e.g. human resources planning, communication planning, risk management planning, change management plan and so on. We will talk about it later.



Win-Win for stakeholders

Sometimes projects are stuck in the middle of the initiation stage and it would become deadlock of nobody is willing to give way.

It would happen if the interest of the a stakeholder is jeopardized by the project outcome. As a result, that stakeholder may create a lot of troubles / hurdles for the project. No matter how hard we push, there will not be much progress.

Under that situation, we need to think about alternative solutions which can strike the balance of the interest of different stakeholders. In a nutshell, we need a win-win solutions in order to push the project forward.

We always heard of people taking about win-win. So, what are constituents of win-win solutions:

  • the solution is proposed by a trustworthy person, not the representative of any stakeholders.
  • think of your feet and see what the stakeholder values and concerns the most and start from there

In addition to a good win-win solution, it is also important to establish / create the environment / occasion for all parties to agreed on the new solutions without putting any stakeholders under the spotlight that he/she was the loser who gave in. For this piece of work, it is more an arts than a science thing.

Sometimes if time the limiting factor, we can also try to another path – escalation. Don’t think that you are impotent and thus you need to escalate. Sometimes, the boss or project sponsor will admire your escalation and they are more than happy to help if the problem can get fixed in any earlier stage before it slipped. Talk to the higher management, get your opinion and rethink your strategy to resolve the deadlock – that’s the way to go!

Good Luck!