Last week we learned how to track and rate our billable hours in the previous article, we need to learn execution of projects to ensure we keep our clients satisfied while preventing ourselves from burn out and delivering high quality products (working increments).
It does not matter the type of project you are working on traditional, hybrid, agile or lean management of resources is crucial and time is one of these resources.
This week I want to focus on time management. In Leo Tolstoy’s book ‘War and Peace‘ he says “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time”. Time management is a key component in delivery of a specified project to a client. Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.
Benefits of time management
The benefits are enormous:
- Greater productivity and efficiency.
- A better professional reputation.
- Less stress.
- Increased opportunities for advancement.
- Greater opportunities to achieve important life and career goals.
Failing to manage your time effectively can have some very undesirable consequences:
- Missed deadlines.
- Inefficient work flow.
- Poor work quality.
- A poor professional reputation and a stalled career.
- Higher stress levels.
Good time management enables you to work smarter – not harder – so that you get more done in less time, even when time is tight and pressures are high. Failing to manage your time damages your effectiveness and causes stress.
We all get the same 24 hours in a day (unless you know something I don’t!) yet it seems some other people get so much more done. The key to this is in good time management. Being busy is not the same as being effective, in fact the opposite is usually true. We need to shift our mode of working from multi tasking to focus tasking.
Multi tasking was long believed to be a better way of working but studies have proven that its contrary to the truth. Multi tasking only makes you lose focus and start and stop may projects and at the end of the day nothing is completed.
Focus tasking means you work on one task at a time to its completion. Granted interruptions will occur, however, minimize as much as possible. Studies have shown that it takes approximately 15-20 minutes for you to regain focus after an interruption. Imagine if you were working a task A and you have only done 20 minutes of work then you are interrupted and resume back after 10 minutes, it will take an additional 15 minutes for you to refocus by which time you are probably being interrupted again and so on and so forth.
For us to visualize the time management principles and challenged management, lets build a car! (well obviously a theoretical car.)
Building a car
Building a car has so many components and steps involved I may need a whole book or two just to break down the tasks. So for ease I will focus on making the body of a car. The first step in this process would be to come up with a design. The design of the body would depend on a lot of specifications and what the target market is. In this seemingly small process, there are a lot of micro steps that need to happen before the final design is approved and then completed.
Once the design phase is completed, then you would ideally start building the body. This requires individual formed sheet metal components. Most factories usually buy some parts from other companies and make some for themselves to ease the process. Once these are done then you need to weld them into their final positions. Of course this is an oversimplified process flow into building the shell of a car but even in this simplification we can see the process is still very complex. It becomes even more so when you are working in a team.
The idea of using the car as an example to explain time management, is to bring to mind the various intricacies involved in each project. For example if the project lead has no clear vision of the final product they expect to have a lot of resources will be wasted in building a shell that may ultimately be rejected and the team sent back to the drawing board.
Further, if the team does not coordinate supply of parts as they are required then you find that parts have been purchased which may not even be used for the next six months, this ends up tying funds to the project that you otherwise be used for more immediate needs (more on planning). This is why Toyota introduced the KANBAN method.
Kanban is a scheduling system for lean manufacturing and just-in-time manufacturing.
A Kanban Board is an agile project management tool designed to help visualize work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency (or flow). Kanban boards use cards, columns, and continuous improvement to help technology and service teams commit to the right amount of work, and get it done!
If you read Stephen Covey’s book, The seven habits of highly effective people, then you are familiar with these habits
Habit 1: Be Proactive® …
Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind® …
Habit 3: Put First Things First® …
Habit 4: Think Win-Win® …
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood® …
Habit 6: Synergize® …
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw®
Habit 2, we must always begin with the end in mind. We know we want to design a car that is fuel efficient and that will appeal to lady drivers. The first thing we would ask ourselves is what do lady drivers like etc and this feeds to our design.
Habit 3, Put First Things First, when working on a project, we need to prioritize what we do into MUST HAVES, SHOULD HAVES, COULD HAVES and WONT HAVES.
Must Haves are the things that we absolutely need for us to deliver a fully functional product. For example to build the car you must have the engine, the body, the fuel tank etc. Without any other these the product is not functional.
Should haves are the things that are good to have and if time is available we can input them into our project. For example: windows, doors etc
Could Haves are things that are not necessary to the project but your client would appreciate them for example: painting our cars pink, or having automatic windows etc
Wont haves are the things from the get go that you decide, this project will not work on for example: transformer cars, self driving cars. These will be determined by the vision of the project in this case to design cars for lady drivers not to design self-driving cars for lady drivers. The reason for this is deviating from your main goal could have far reaching consequences especially in terms of time and other resource utilization.
We also want to keep our stakeholders engaged, our product owner approving stories, and our testers testing as early and often as possible. Don’t let the desire to stay “in-development” take over. Limit the Work-In-Progress (WIP) to get Focused Tasking.
The other aspect Stephen Covey defined is grouping our tasks against importance and urgency. We need to focus most of our time on the tasks that are highest importance and highest urgency but we find most of the time we spend our time on urgent but not important tasks or important but not urgent tasks. For example if your job is to determine the strategic direction of a company but you find yourself mostly focused on client complaints, you lose valuable time sorting client complaints and not building the strategic direction of the company. Granted, in a solo-preneurship it may be difficult to delineate your tasks because you do everything for your business but this is where time boxing comes in handy.
As explained above, time management is key as well as the vision of the project.
In time management, time boxing allocates a fixed time period, called a time box, within which planned activity takes place. It is employed by several project management approaches and for personal time management.
Time boxing is a very simple technique to manage time and become more productive. The idea is to allocate a certain amount of time to an activity in advance and then complete the activity within that time frame. One example is to plan a meeting agenda and determine up front, how long you want to work on each topic.
Most of us find ourselves working with to-do lists, the challenge with that is they just have a list of tasks but indication of how much time you have and how much time you want to spend on each task. A simple way to sort this is to put your tasks into a calendar format. This way you have assigned time to each task.
Looking at a study that was done on the 100 most useful productivity hacks, time boxing was ranked as the most useful. With time as you handle more and more projects you will get more proficient in estimating the time a certain task will take you.
For people who are managing a team of people this is especially important if you are delivery projects that are based on several contributions from multiple people. You find that when you task someone with a job most people will add a buffer. This is because in our nature we are trained to anticipate delays and we correct for that. This is brought about by having deadlines. Once you know a project is due 5 days from now but you can complete it in two days, student mentality (wait until the last minute to do the task), then at which point you realize its going to take even longer and ultimately causes delays to the whole project.
Imagine if you are the team lead for a project and multiple contributors tell you their sections are delayed then you have huge overall delays and cost implications on your project. The best way around this is to have a system of trust (Trust is the highest form of human motivation- Stephen R Covey) in the team where people can give the actual timelines then if anything comes along the way to delay release the entire team can band together and remove that block.
This way you can take advantage of a section completing their work early and move them on to the next section. However, when working with a deadline the team that finishes early will wait for the stated time and more often than not will not progress to tackle other aspects.
By Dr Judith Getugi
Head of Operations SysPharma
LinkedIN @Judith Getugi-Kerini