Chris Croft's Personal Blog

March 28, 2013

The key Time Management issues faced by Project Managers

Project Managers have to be good at managing time – theirs and other people’s – as it’s one of the big three variables at their disposal: time cost and quality. In fact they have two types of time in their project planning – actual hours worked, which is really money if you think about it, and elapsed time. Both of these can be managed.

The biggest issue they face is that urgent problems tend to cut in and reduce the time they can spend on important tasks like planning, and monitoring progress and quality. These urgent tasks might be from the same project, other projects (maybe the one you’ve started is affecting your planning of the one you haven’t yet started) or from The Day Job. How easy life would be if we were just managing one project, but usually we are managing several projects and a day job, and probably DOING most of the work on some of the projects! So juggling and prioritising is a key area to master. And of course finding ways to control interruptions, be they by phone, physical, or email, is key, or they can steal 20-50% of your day away.

Linked to the above is an ability to not forget any tasks, however small. The small ones have the ability to stop a whole project, so everything must be kept under total control, by writing it down on lists of some sort. Project Management systems have lots of lists – risk logs, issues logs, change request logs, monthly progress summaries, etc, but as we know the problem with multiple lists is that you can easily forget to look at one of them. So the PM needs a system where all jobs-to-do can be accessed and remembered, and the system has got to be very easy to view and update or it just won’t get done.

Of course not every task has to be done in life, though in a project they pretty much all do have to be done. So skills like Saying No are important mainly in order to keep the rest of life at bay so that the project can be done.

Negotiation is a key skill for PMs since most of the people they deal with, from team members and other functions within the organisation to customers and suppliers, don’t report directly to them. PMs often feel that they are always asking for favours and help and often don’t have much to offer in exchange, but they have to find some negotiating strength if they are going to get all the resources they need in order to complete on time.

Procrastination is another factor in projects; if you postpone sorting out tricky problems, perhaps telling yourself that the might fix themselves or go away, then they will probably get worse, and will almost certainly end up resulting in there having to be a last minute confession of lateness and overspend, which is never popular. The sooner problems are addressed the better, but that’s not human nature, so we need systems to reduce our natural tendency to put unpleasant things off.

Meetings are a key part of project management, whether they be a brainstorming meeting at the start to get all the tasks listed, meetings with your team to plan the order of tasks (maybe based on post-it notes and a critical path diagram), meetings regularly during the project to discuss progress and sort out problems, or the review meeting at the end. The PM needs to chair these meetings with authority, keeping them efficient and short, while getting everyone to contribute, and getting clear minutes out as soon as possible after the meeting.

Delegation is also a key part of any project where the PM has anyone apart from themselves working on the project, and delegation can certainly be seen as a time management skill. In fact I would say it’s the number one skill that ‘ordinary’ managers need to master, and if you care about the quality of the work, and/or enjoy it, it can be hard to let go. In the case of a PM I think planning is the number one skill, (and finding the TIME for planning) but on larger projects delegation comes pretty close. Certainly if you’re too busy, and you have people working for you, delegation would be the first thing I’d look at. Are you doing too much of it yourself? Are you monitoring progress closely enough but not micro-managing?

The ideal project manager would be pretty hot on quality and detail, verging on OCD in fact, but there are times when you can be too fussy, and a time management skill that helps is to be able to determine what deserves lots of your time and what can be done “Well enough”. For example you’ll never get EVERY risk listed, but if you can get the main ones then that’s going to cover 90% of the problems. You’ll never estimate every task 100% accurately, in fact you probably won’t even manage to list every task, but if you can get all the main ones listed and estimated reasonably accurately then your contingency factor should take care of the difference. Spending twice as long on listing or estimating may not be worth the time, when you remember that every hour you spend on this is an hour you could have spent on something else.

So to summarise, as well as learning about Gantt charts, estimating, risk analysis etc, Project Managers need to know about:

• Prioritising urgent vs important
• Handling Interruptions and emails
• Listing jobs to do
• Saying no
• Negotiating
• Overcoming procrastination
• Chairing meetings
• Delegating
• Being able to do things ‘well enough’

Good luck – check out all these subjects on my blog (index at the right of this article) and you’ll be fine!

March 14, 2013

The top ten time management mistakes:

Filed under: Lists, Time Management — Tags: , , — chriscroft @ 11:30 pm

1. Unclear goals
If you have clear goals for your home life and your work then you know where you’re going and you will be much more likely to do the things you need to get you there. If you don’t have clear goals you will end up letting others control your life: you’ll be reactive rather than driving things.
So the answer is to sit for half an hour and write down your goals – keeping them in your head is not enough. They can be a mixture of big and small, a mixture of enjoy and achieve, and a mixture of have do and be.

2. Putting urgent before important
Urgent tasks shout for our attention, and it’s tempting to get them all out of the way first, but if you try to do this you will never finish them, so you’ll never get around to the non-urgent but important things in life. Then you won’t make progress towards your personal goals and after a while you’ll feel frustrated.
The answer is to start by keeping a list of important tasks to be done, and then plan half an hour into every day (actually put it in your diary) for working on important tasks. Also, mix urgent and important tasks during your day so you get some of each done.

3. Keeping things in your head instead of writing everything down.
If you keep anything at all in your head it will block your creativity. Ideally you would focus fully on the task in hand with no distracting thoughts of what needs to be done in the future.
As well as blocking your creativity, keeping things in your memory will mean that you forget some of them from time to time, and even a small failure rate is unacceptable where customers (and bosses) are concerned.
So free your mind and set up a system where you can write everything down. For this I recommend a master list of the big projects, a daily list just for today, and a diary for time-fixed tasks and appointments.

4. Mixing master and daily lists
Ideally you would have a master list of all the big tasks you plan to do at some point, even though the exact time when you’ll do them isn’t known yet.
You would also have a daily jobs to do list, with a maximum of ten items on it. (Any more and you won’t do them). This list helps you focus during your day, and should include some small parts of big important projects as well as the urgent tasks you need to get done today.
A common mistake is to have one list with all of the above on it, which results in you cherry-picking the easy tasks and leaving the big ones, and then the list gets messy and unmanageable and you get depressed because you never tackle the big tasks.
If you keep the lists separate you will have a tidy master list and a doable daily list, and you can gradually move parts of the master tasks across onto the daily list when time allows.

5. Jobs to do list not done every day
You should have a jobs to do list every day. Most people only write these when things are out of control, and then, once it has worked and they have caught up, they discontinue it again.
The result is that half the time they are out of control, and, more importantly, they don’t ever get around to the important tasks, only the urgent ones.
If you write the list every day, ideally written the evening before, you can fill any space on the list (on quieter days) with jobs that are important rather than urgent. This will encourage you to nibble into those big projects that you really want or need to do.

6. Filling up your diary completely
If you book appointments into the next available slot, without any gaps, you will have a full diary by the time you reach each day. This will result in you running late for your appointments, because extra things always crop up, and you may even have to cancel some appointments.
Much better to keep some free space in your diary every day for things that come up. This means you need to say no to appointments BEFORE your diary is completely full, not after. Remember, you’re not lying when you say you have no time available, because that spare time in your diary will be used up on the things that are cropping up on the day.
Appointments can always wait till the next day – indeed they would have to if the day was full, so push them into the next day anyway.

7. Worrying too much about being liked – leading to not saying no
We all want to be liked, but in the end you have to look after number one as well. If you let guilt, or fear of others’ disapproval, push you into saying yes to things you don’t want to do then your life can get filled up with things that don’t make you happy.
Saying no is important if you are to maintain control of your life. And you’ll probably find that saying no doesn’t make people think any less of you – this is an unfounded fear.

8. Letting procrastination exist in your life
Procrastination is easy to allow to become a habit, but it comes with a large cost because it’s the important but non-urgent tasks that are affected, and they are the ones that would add most value if you were to do them.
So it’s important to develop an ability to notice that you are putting things off and then to have strategies to get yourself to do those tasks. It’s an internal battle between your conscious and subconscious mind, and tricks like doing just the first part, booking a time in your diary, or bribing yourself with chocolate, can help you to win the battle.

9. Being a perfectionist
If you allow a habit to develop where you take longer than a task deserves, because you want to make it perfect, then you end up being obsessed with the small details which aren’t important, and you’ll then neglect the things that matter in your life.
Therefore it’s important to realise that you are doing this and that it’s not productive, and to set time limits, allocating time according to importance, and to tell yourself that letting it go as it is won’t kill you, in fact probably nobody will even notice.
Suddenly you’ll have more time for the things that really matter – and you might even be less annoying to work with!

10. Trying to fit too much in
Going faster and faster isn’t what time management is about. You’ll never finish everything, so you just end up going faster and faster and then never smelling the roses. The answer is to force yourself to take some leisure time, maybe go for a walk, or sit in the sun, or take some exercise.
Also rather than planning to arrive with seconds to spare, plan on arriving really early so you have less stress and get some time at the far end to think or chat to people. Maybe this is what life is really about?

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