Project time tracking is critical. If you can’t deliver on time as a project manager, you’re not really delivering at all. Estimating how long it will take to complete a contract, and then hitting targets by using effective time tracking solutions, are at the very core of a project manager’s job.
When project time management fails it can be catastrophic. Perhaps the most famous example in the UK was the rebuilding of Wembley Stadium at the start of this decade. Construction firm Multiplex lost around £148m on the project, which was meant to be delivered in three years but ultimately took almost seven. In the month that Wembley closed for redevelopment, a “worst-case scenario” bill of £660m was announced. The project eventually cost £827m, following years of legal wrangles.
Although matters such as equipment and materials, as well as litigation, played their part in the Wembley saga, clearly there were huge failures in the pre-planning and tendering of the project which highlight wider issues. While failures can sometimes become front-page news, a tender that has built-in rewards for early delivery can be transformational for a business. By using time-tracking tools effectively throughout the process, a company can identify strengths and weaknesses to secure those bonuses.
Thinking ahead and preparing for all eventualities are central to success, according to Steve Wake of the Association for Project Management (APM). “Time-based problems arise generally from poor schedules,” he explains.
Here we look at five steps to avoiding catastrophes large and small…
1 Know your audience
“There are two types of estimate,” says Wake. “The truth and what you publish.”
The truth is effectively a stripped back gross layer which contains no risk, no contingency, no padding or optimism-bias. It should feature “no interfering noise,” as Wake puts it.
This figure is very important as a starting point, but then a secondary figure must be calculated that includes all of those potential disaster areas.
2 Know your stuff
So how do we come to the truth and the published version? The answer is a combination of experience and research.
“The biggest mistake is throwing it over the wall,” adds Wake. “Not discussing it.” Discussions with the client, peers and suppliers are a must. One should not be dogmatic about preconceived ideas, and be prepared to radically alter the estimate to suit the needs of the project and those engaged.
That said, experience helps one to understand the kind of information that needs to be gathered. It also helps to make judgement calls about the validity of submissions and data. One can learn from their previous successes, while also making sure that mistakes of the past are not repeated. They may consult time-tracking data from a previous project.
Research, which includes the discussions mentioned above, should also include the collection of information surrounding standards and metrics. Consultation of historical archives is helpful, because while no two jobs are the same, nothing in 2017 is entirely ‘new’.
3 Project time tracking
It’s not enough to play dumb or plead “I didn’t expect that”. If you’re in charge of a project your time management plan must feature wiggle room for uncertainty, from missed deliveries to snow.
Projections for these kinds of postponement could be included in the estimate, although they may lead to an uncompetitive tender. An estimate of their likelihood could be calculated and added to the published estimate, or they could be included as extra costs to be charged should they arise.
Time-tracking tools, such as the market-leading platform offered by TallyPro, could help to objectively illustrate the knock-on effects of these delays.
Some examples of these kind of uncertainties include:
- Accidents and emergencies
- Holidays and sickness
- Breakdowns in equipment
- Missed deliveries by suppliers
- Planning processes
- Quality control rejections
4 Make sure they know
If you have spent long hours putting together a proposal, it’s essential that the client fully understands what you are offering them. If they seem generally disinterested about everything other than the cost, it’s time to make them sit up and take notice.
While they may be the client, they are paying for your company’s expertise. Furthermore, it is the project manager’s responsibility to deliver in the best interest of both their company and the client’s.
“Do not work with customers who ‘don’t want to know’,” says Wake. “And with like-minded customers, figure out who you can go and talk to without a formal delegation. It’s all about relationships and a willingness to discuss and reach agreement. That’s why it says ‘manager ’in your job description.”
5 Know what’s happening
Don’t focus on just putting together a good proposal and the potential of champagne corks popping when you win the bid. Think about what happens when the real work starts. At the core of your document should be a focus on time management during the actual execution, and detailed explanation of exactly what you are liable to provide and when. Should any issues arise, time-tracking tools, such as TallyPro’s, can provide data that illustrates the situation for the client.
“Get reporting in the contract,” says Wake. “When things go wrong all the niceness disappears and it’s the contract that everyone looks at. Build in robust status reporting that can be understood up and down the line. Set objective measures of progress, and highlight trends before rather than after any ‘accidents’.
With the help of a project time tracking software that highlights strengths and weaknesses, it could also be that the company is in a better position to gain from faster and leaner delivery.
Wake adds: “The contract should include the opportunity to revise and to reward changes that improve things or make savings.”