How vital is a comprehensive, flexible and functional time management planner? Consider this: for project managers, the most precious resource they have is typically not budget – it is time. And unfortunately for many of them, time is not on their side. For example, Harvard Business Review analyzed nearly 1,500 IT projects, and found that one in six had an average schedule overrun of nearly 70%. And the essential for an effective time management planner is just as dire for other types of projects, such as marketing, professional services, engineering, and construction (recall that Boston’s “Big Dig” was initially scheduled to be completed in 1997, but was unveiled in 2007!).
Planning and Time Management
Before exploring the core elements of time management planner software, it is helpful to look at the integrated schedule management processes endorsed by the Project Management Institute in its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide – Sixth Edition, 2017). These include:
Plan Schedule Management:
This is the process of creating policies, procedures and documentation related to planning, developing, managing, executing and controlling the project schedule.
This is the process of determining and documenting various actions that must be completed, in order to achieve project deliverables.
This is the process of determining and documenting various relationships across project activities.
Estimate Activity Durations:
This is the process of estimating the volume of work periods that are required to complete various activities, using the estimated resources.
This is the process of building a project schedule model by analyzing various activity sequences, durations and resource requirements.
This is the process of monitoring project status, updating the schedule, and (if necessary) adjusting the schedule baseline.
The time management planner that organizations choose must enable project managers (and associated team members, such as schedule managers, PMO staff, etc.) to develop, execute, manage and control all of the processes described above. This awareness is critically important, because some solutions in the market that hail themselves as “the best time management planner” lack the comprehensive and customizable time management planning tools that are necessary for enterprise-level project management. Instead, they are more suitable for small, simple and short projects with limited durations, activities and resources. They may also be more appropriate for individual use (e.g. a personal time/task management app), and not for teams.
Selecting the Best Time Management Planner
When evaluating various time management planning tools – and the vendors who build and support them – focus on the following:
- Cloud-Based: accessing a time management planner online enables remote workers and distributed teams to easily upload and download time-related data, regardless of where they are working, or the time of day.
- Real-time Tracking: this enables organizations to track how projects (and portfolios) are performing, and isolate the key factors that are contributing – or impeding – efficiency, productivity and progress.
- Built-in Timesheets: this makes time reporting simple and fast for team members. It also allows project managers and other executives to view a list of all reportable work items relevant for a particular duration, and use filters to drill down on a specific work item.
- Built-in Stopwatch: this enables workers to record in real-time the precise duration they spent on any work item that appears in their timesheet. When they are finished a task, the elapsed time is automatically saved as a timesheet entry. This is extremely convenient for workers and eliminates the possibility of human error. It also means that project managers do not have to experience the frustration of pleading with workers over and over again to submit their completed timesheets. Everyone wins!
- Full PPM integration: this enables all time and schedule information to be connected and synced with other pieces of the project management puzzle, including budget management, risk management, change management, resource management, and communication management.
Time Management Planner Template
It’s also important to focus on a solution that allows organizations to save a project as a budget and time management planner template, so that future projects can be swiftly created using the same basic structure (and customized as necessary).
Time Management Strategies
In addition to choose the right time management planner, project managers who do not want to deal with chronic schedule overruns – and irate sponsors and stakeholders – should embrace the following time management strategies:
- Know your personnel, including their skills, availability, cost, location/time zone, and engagement (e.g. employee, retained independent contractor, on-demand freelancer, etc.).
- Focus on creating a well-defined project plan, which includes task details (durations, due dates, etc.), as well as a clear and accepted scope statement.
- Develop a detailed work breakdown structure (WBS), by breaking down large deliverables into smaller tasks that are more easily understood, communicated and completed.
- Stay connected with relevant stakeholders throughout the project. If (or rather, when) it is likely or certain that a milestone or deliverable will be missed, then project managers need to proactively manage expectations.
Ensure that all meetings are necessary and have a clear agenda, firm start/end times, and are attended by all relevant team members and stakeholders.
- Resist the temptation to over-allocate resources, especially on projects that are falling behind schedule. Sometimes, “adding more bodies” to a project will not accelerate progress. On the contrary, it will worsen bottlenecks and confusion. This can also lead to worker disengagement and burnout.
The Final Word
There is no way to 100% prevent all projects from experiencing schooled overruns. Project management is inherently uncertain, and much of the work is iterative (i.e. more is revealed about a project’s actual requirements, opportunities and risks as it unfolds). However, organizations that choose the right time management planner, and which also embrace optimal time management strategies, will significantly increase the likelihood of more projects reaching the finish line or time. Or better yet, even a little ahead of schedule – which is always a welcome bonus!