Project duration and Task Estimations

 

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Hi,

how often did you hear questions like those two:

  1. How much time do you need to fulfill this Task?
  2. When do you expect Project to finish?

Those two questions are most common when we talk about time in Project. And yes, they are regular, and expected. Where is the problem then? The problem is that someone who ask those question will rely on your answers. And if you are going to be late, that person (we also call them: Management, Customers, Clients) will tell you: “But you told me that you will be finished until….”

Let’s face it! When you are in IT, you know that it is impossible to promise that something will be finished as you told. Why? Because when we are preparing answers on questions mentioned above we are doing estimations! Read again – E S T I M A T I O N S!

What is estimation, anyway? Estimation (or estimating) is the process of finding an estimate, or approximation , which is a value that is usable for some purpose even if input data may be incomplete, uncertain , or unstable. The value is nonetheless usable because it is derived from the best information available.

Based on definition above, you will find that estimation is always unstable, because you are estimating something what should be done, what is unique (no matter how many times you did a similar task before). Yes there are many estimation processes. PERT is one of them. In PERT you will estimate Optimistic, Pessimistic ans Most Likely time, and standard deviation. For example your Task has:

  1. Optimistic time = 1 day
  2. Pessimistic time = 9 days
  3. Most Likely time = 2 days

PERT is (Optimistic Time + Pessimistic Time + 4 * Most likely Time)/6 = (1+9+4*2)/6 = 18/6 = 3 days! And Standard deviation is (Pessimistic time – Optimistic time)/6 = (9-1)/6 = 8/6 = 4/3 = 1,333 days. So, your final estimation is 3+/-1,333 days which mean that in best case your Task will have 1,67 and in worst case  it will have 4,333 days of duration.

BUT! How did you get your Optimistic, Pessimistic or Most Likely time? You think, and think, and talk to you colleagues (if you have them, and if they have enough knowledge), and then – make an unreliable estimation. Something the real time spent on your Task will be very close to your estimated time, sometimes it will e far away, and sometimes (HURAAAA) it will be exact the same as estimated time.

Now, who should make the estimation? Of course – the person who will do the work on the Task (NOT YOUR MANAGER OR SALESMAN WHICH IS OFTEN A CASE). If there are many of them (persons who will work on the Task – not Manager nor Salesman :-)), then they should do the estimation together. But, what if estimation is made by senior or junior developer? They can overestimate or underestimate, and they often do (you know the story: “I am experienced and I can do it in a day, or I am young and I need 35 days). And what about risks? We are talking about technology here. So, we are talking about Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” How many times did you got something as: “Unexpected error c759$%lklk0400333%&&&”? Of course, clever guys will tell you that this should be in a Risk Register. And it should. But, you should also estimate contingency time for solving those errors. And then you are in the same problem: Estimation! What will you answer a person who will ask you: “If some unexpected error occurs on Task 345, how much time will you need to overcome this error”. Read this very carefully: For unexpected things you cannot estimate solving time? Why. Because they are UNEXPECTED, UNKNOWN, NOT PLANNED!

I could write about that a Bible. But I will stop right now. And I will tell you. When you are doing Task estimation, and then the whole Project estimation the only concern which you have is: HOW FAR AWAY FROM REAL TIME WHICH WILL BE NEEDED AM I?

And YES! Always expect delays!

 

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Junior Project Manager and expectations

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Hi!

How many times did you hear about job role called: JUNIOR PROJECT MANAGER? Friend of mine (who is very, very experienced Project Manager) always gets angry when he hear this. He says: “There is no such a thing like Junior Project Manager. It is Project Assistant”. But, let’s not argue about naming convention. Junior Project Manager is a person who has a little (if any) experience about Managing Projects. This person should become Senior when he/she will get enough experience to Manage Projects alone.

BUT! Very often I see an ad, when someone is looking for Junior Project Manager, and the job description is something like: “We are looking for Junior Project Manager who will be responsible for managing complex Projects in complex environment. This person should have a very good knowledge about PM and: SQL server, C#, Database administration, Network security, .net, UNIX, Windows,…..”. Yes, I’m not kidding. That is what I usually find. I would fire the person who wrote that kind of ad. Why? Because, no matter if you are junior or senior, you cannot have all this knowledge. And, btw, why should PM has those knowledge? To write a code? To administer network? To administer database? This is insane. Project Manager should Manage Projects. He/she is responsible to fulfill requirements, to be on time, on budget, to solve many issues which will come on the way. Project Manager in complex projects has enough work on this issues whole day, every day and other members of the team are responsible for the rest of the work mentioned above.

Now, JUNIOR! If you are junior than you must have a mentor! On your first, second, third… Project your Mentor is to guide you, to teach you, to help you, to correct your actions. And only after you (as a Junior Project Manager) will pass few Projects with your Mentor you will be able to manage your first Project alone. BUT not large and complex one.

If you disagree with that, let me set a scenario for you. Let’s say that you have to go to surgery. And you have a young, junior surgeon. And you know that he/she is without experience (or with a little experience), and he/she will running very complex and complicated surgery on YOUR BODY. Will you agree with that? Will you let that unexperienced surgeon to tech himself/herself on your body? No, you will not! And did you ever hear that in a hospital junior surgeon is running complex surgery? No, you did not!

So were is the difference between surgery and a Project? In a surgery there is a great chance that a patient will die! And nobody what to accept that huge Risk!  In a Project, there is a great chance that a Project will fail and you will face angry client. But still we often see Junior Project manager running complex Project! Why? Because it is much cheaper to hire Junior than senior. Is it? At the end of the Project it is NOT! And second reason is because Manager has greater influence on Junior than on Senior. Senior will always fight back! And he/she should! That is the job of Project Manager. To protect the Project against anyone!

For the end, who is Senior Project Manager? Is it someone who run 100+ Projects, on which more than 90% failed? Or vice versa? Senior Project Manager is experienced person who know how to run Projects, who can proof that he/she has run a lot of those with success! Anything else is wannabe Project Manager.

Have a great day!

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Agile – is it possible or not?

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Hi,

I’ve got a comment from my friend and fellow MVP Peter Kestenholz:

“Hi Nenad, great article. I believe that not all in sales are like this. Especially the last years things have changed a lot. On the other hand, selling a timebox/agile delivery would solve most of the issues you address. However, this requires procurement to stay out of the negotiations as they are always pushing for a locked scope.”

Well, yes Peter you are right. And wrong at the same time. First of all, I think that Agile approach in Software development is great. Just great. And if you compare Agile approach against Waterfall approach it is even greater. BUT! For agile approach several serious prerequisites must be fulfilled.

First and most important is TRUST! and in this Post I will cover only this prerequisite, because without this one, everything else doesn’t matter, and with it everything else is much much easier.

When you have external project (e.g. Project with external customer for which will pay for the Project), than Budget, Scope and Time are important. In the region where I live it is very hard (I didn’t use the impossible word), to get approval for this approach. Why is it so? Because customers want to know upfront three things:

  1. Wat are we going to get (e.g. each and every Deliverable)
  2. Where are we going to get them (e.g. Project finish date)
  3. How much is that going to cost us (e.g. precise Budget)

And to fulfill those three thins you must have strict PROJECT PLAN, and Agile is exact the opposite thing. Agile is all about role wave planning. It means that, because in IT Projects, especially Software development one, the scope is impossible  to define upfront, and then it is also impossible to define End Date and Budget. Scope is define for few Sprints (iterations), and based of results of each previous Sprint, next Sprint with desired functionalities is created. And therefore it is impossible to predict Project End date, and Budget.

On the other hand if you have restricted budget and time, in Agile approach Customer will get what is possible to get in limited timebox and Budget. but he is able to decide what are the best functionalities (or TOP funcionalities) which will suit for him in those limitation.

But, when you have customers like I do which want to know EVERYTHING upfront, than the only thing you can do is to have so called Hybrid approach. And this approach is:

1. The whole Scope is predefined
2. The Scope should be split in Iterations (Sprint)
3. After each Sprint – Sprint Review should be don to show to the Customer what is done
4. If customer wants to change the Scope – follow strictly defined Change request procedure,and change the Scope. In that case estimate cost of those changes and Time, and do the negotiations to your customer and change the Project plan

In most western Europe countries, and USA, Canada etc. Agile approach is accepted and adopted, and this “chemistry” is unnecessary. But, here in my region there is a long way to accomplish that.

All the Best,

Nenad

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Project Management Task in MS PROJECT 2016

Hi,

very often I hear a question like: “OK Nenad, you are explaining how to make a good schedule, and how to assign Resources properly to Tasks!. But what about Task which are impossible to plan upfront, like, for example, Project Management Tasks?”

To be honest, Project Management Task is impossible to plan upfront? Why? To answer this question, let’s find out what Project Manager usually do in Project. He/she is preparing Project plan with the team. He/she will be at regular status meeting. He/she will prepare status reports. And so on. All of those actions can and should be planned in MS PROJECT as Tasks. BUI! Most important thing which describe Project Manager job is: SOLVING UNEXPECTED SITUATIONS / PROBLEMS. I am not going to describe what kind of unexpected situations / problems can arise in Project because of:

  1. If you are Project Manager, you know exactly what am I talking about
  2. If you are going to be Project manager, you will find out what am I talking about very soon Smile

Because of things mentioned above it is impossible to make a proper Task like Project Management. Why? Because Project manager should work on this kind of Task when the problem will arise, and that can not be planned!

Let me show you a simple Project:

image

As you can see I put this Task in MS PROJECT 2016. This Task is Manually Scheduled, without Start Date, End Date and Duration, because I really do not know when it will be ended. Only thing I know that I know is that it should be done not latter than the whole Project is done, but since Project plan is never fixed this Project Finish Date will be changed in the future, so I didn’t put it in Project management Task.

OK! Now Let’s say that I worked on this Task 4 hours at Wednesday, April 2018. I will use Task Usage view and I will put this 8 hours like this:

image

this is just an example of how do I handle Project Management Task. Once again, This Task can not be predicted or planned because Project manager will work on it in unexpected situations and unexpected time!

Best regards!

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Salesman, Company Owner and Project Manager

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Hi,

I’ve got complaints that I didn’t have any pictures in my previous post. So I will put one from now on. But remember that this post is not about MS PROJECT, it is about Project Management, and there is be no pictures, or graphs. Only text about my experience.

Today I will tell you what problems are Project Managers facing with Salesman and Company Owner!

Salesman has one task, and one task only. To sell! They will have bonus from each sell or if they reach they target at the end of the year, or the end of the month. If they do not reach their target they will be fired. As simple as that.

Company Owner has one main concern! Company growing. It means that he is concerned about revenue, about costs, and about margins.

Project Manager has one task. To Manage Project in the way that it can be successful.  That mean that he should have enough time, and enough resources, and money to fulfill all Tasks. And those Tasks should be clarified upfront if we are talking about Fixed Price contract.

Now, Salesman does not care if something is real or not. In most cases he simple does not! He want to sell the Project as soon as possible for the highest price. And that means that he does not have enough time or patient to gather all the information from the Client, future Project Manager, and Project Team. And that is why is scope almost always unclear. And, I face it all the time, if Customer want something to be done at certain time period, Salesman will promise that. But this is not all! If he knows that he can sell, for example 2.000 hours, and for fulfilling the Project, Teams need, for example, 3.000 hours, he will still sell those 2.000 hours, no matter what Project Manager or Team thinks. Why? Because, after he finish the selling process, he is “good guy”, and when trouble surface because of lack of time, PM is always here to be blamed.

On the other hand, Company Owner want’s to have great margin, which means that he wants that Project finish as soon as possible with lowest costs. And yes, he wants that, for example, one developer work on multiple Projects at the same time, so the costs are low.

Project Manager very often get a Project to Manage, when the deal is done, e.g. Contract is signed. And then he or she is responsible to fulfill all demands which are in contract. BUT! First he/she and the team has to make a, so called, deep analysis. I found myself, almost always in a situation like this. Salesman or/and Company Owners say: “We do not have time to make deep analysis, because we have to sign the contract ASAP! After it will be signed we will have time to make deep analysis” BUT! Even if you, as a Project Manager, have opportunity to make this deep analysis, the question is: “What will you have as a result of this analysis?”. And the answer is: “You will find out that you need more things to do then it was in a contract, you need more time, more people, and more money!” And you will not get it! At least you will get some of this but not all of these. And you are responsible for Project success.

Let’s face it! There is no standard, or procedure, or tool, which can solve this situation!

That is what Project Managers are facing all the time. No matter how much experience do they have. And that is real life.


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Project Management – perspective from an old Project Manager

Hi,

If you follow me, you already know that I’m writing my Posts about MS PROJECT for 6 or 7 years. I will continue to do that. But, I decided to share my long, long experience (30 years overall, and 25 years as a Project Manager) as a Project Manager with you. Why am I doing that? Because I found tons of books about Project Management, a lot of standards, guidelines etc, etc. And NO, I’m not going to write something similar. I am going to write my experiences. I was and I am Project Manager for a lot of Projects. Some of them were successful, some of them were awful. Some of them were awful because of me, some of them were awful because of lack of money, some of them were awful because of Management who thought that something coul be done when the whole team knew that it was impossible, and so on.

What do I want to achieve with my posts? Discussion! Thinking! Similar experience! That is what I want.

Be aware that I’m going to share my experience which is limited. In which way? I run Projects in Europe, particular in Southeast Europe! OK, so what?  you may ask yourself. What difference does it make? Well it does. Each and every part of the world has different people with different habits, different culture, and different approach to work. Whit that said, I do not mean that some people are more valuable than other. No, I just want to say that different habits, different Legislative, different cultures need different approach. And when you will read some of my further post you will often ask yourself: “How is it possible?” But it is. It is! And, last but not least, my experience is connected exclusively with IT Projects.

For the end of this first, introduction post I will tell you a story.

There was a customer who needs a brand new IT system. That was a huge Project. Vendor made an estimations:

  1. What has to be done? Everything was straightforward without any doubt. Everything was well known upfront, and there was no such a thing like – RISK.
  2. What kind of people do I need (I mean, developers, Database administrators etc.), and he conclude that he has got the best team in a world, and he can hire more of them, because they are easy to find. And, of course, all of them was and will be a great team who will work together in a best way, without any fight and intolerance
  3. How much time do my time needed for finishing the Project? Because scope was clear, and I had the best team, time estimation was perfect, without any discrepancies.
  4. How much money do I needed for this Project? Because scope was clear, team was well know, and time was estimated without discrepancies, I got a budget which was accepted form the Customer without any negotiation

After that Customers accepted the offer., and project had started. Everything went perfect. Team members were available all the time, no one had ever interrupt them, no one had ever even think about engage any team member on any other Project, or any other activities outside the current Project. And Project finished on time, within budget, customer did not had any Change request, and he was happy.

This story has a name. Fairy tail. This will never happens in real life. Every Project has number of problems. And that is exactly why I’m running this posts.

Till my next post,

I wish you all the best

 

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“Real” daily work on Tasks in MS PROJECT 2016!

Hello,

today I’m going to deal whit one significant question which basically has many answers, or none. How many hours to assign to Resource per day?

Let me show you one very, very simple example. Let’s say that we have a simple Project with one Task, 5 days duration in MS PROJECT 2016:

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OK! Task has to have Resource (or Resources), to work on it, to finish it. If I assign John to this Task, and John is 100% available, and he is working 8 hours per day, I will get:

image

Let’s take a look at John’s working time:

image

As you can see, John is supposed to work from 08:00 AM to Noon, then he has a break (1 hour), and then he is supposed to work from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM, e.g. he is supposed to work 8 hours per day.

Let’s face it! No one will work all the time. During your work each and every day, you have to go to the rest room, you will grab a cup of coffee or tea, you will make few phone calls, you will be interrupted from your coworker, boss, name it!

What is best thing to do? Well, there is no magic answer on that question. I will show you what I do, but this does not mean that you should do it! First of all my Project is set up like this:

image

and:

image

As you can see my working day is 7 hours per day!

I also set up Standard Calendar, which I use like this:

image

Now I will create Task again and I will assign John and I will get:

image

Is this what I wanted? Not at all. Now I’ve got that John will work 7 hours per day, and that it will be enough 35 hours in total for the Task. But! since I work with IT projects, I always estimate hours needed per Resource to accomplish the Task, and Duration is calculated. So, let’s say that for accomplishing the Task John has to work 40 hours in total. I will assign him like this:

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and I will get:

image

As you can see, Duration is now 5,71 days, and john will work 7 hours per day from Monday to Friday, and the remaining work of 5 hours will be done next Monday. And Duration? It is 5 days (from Monday to Friday), and 5/7= 0,71 day!

Why I use this approach? Because it is most realistic. I know that john will work 7 hours max on a Project per day! I know how many hours do I need for the Task. And Duration is calculated!

But what if Task has fixed duration, for example 5 days, and still 40 hours are needed for this Task:

image

I will get:

image

I this case John is overallocated, which is perfectly logical.

So, you should choose your own approach to deal with this “problem”. Every one is good one if it suits you.

Regards!

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