Time - is it really our greatest asset?

by Mark Nicholls, Managing Director

Management Guru, Peter Drucker once stated that
Time is the scarcest resource; and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.
There was a discussion raised in a LinkedIn discussion forum recently (let me know if you want to know which one). It asked a question about time, time management, and in particular time recording of projects.
Justin asked "In your organisation do you cap project team time reporting to the employee's standard available hours, or allow staff to report additional hours worked as 'over-utilisation'?"

There were a number of excellent responses.  I said:
Time reporting supports a number of management reporting objectives such as costing, utilisation, work volume validation and planning, project stress and morale levels.

Of course we all want all of these in every project. But whether this is practical for an organisation is another matter. Considerations include: what happens now, what the culture is, what the management maturity is, who in the organisation will support changes to time capture.

Remember that the project is there to do some change for the business. Taking on an unexpected battle of introducing extensive timesheeting for the sake of having perfect management information in a project can become a big distraction and sometimes just does not make sense. This is the judgement only PMs (and Sponsors) can make.
Hayder asked "I have heard concerns from some HR folks that in the US, they don't like to capture or document more hours than 40 for salaried employees, due to fears that they might get sued. Has anyone else dealt with this argument?"

I replied:
I have heard that argument here in Australia...it is a real one. If company policy says people cant work more than a defined nr of hours, yet employees insist on doing so (and perhaps feel obliged to do so) then it can create this internal conflict within an organisation.

This is a perfect example of project delivery pressure placing a test on the capacity of an organisation to work effectively under certain conditions. Projects are the ones who typically surface these types of issues in organisations and can get distracted/delayed/impacted by them.

This is where a smart PM chooses their battles.
Paul made some points about the need for PMs to have to worry about overtime anyway, saying "It's not project managers' jobs to track overtime, although they must be sensitive to the issues when assigning tasks. It's the job of the line managers to be concerned with overtime. It's the job of project managers to track effort - all the effort.

The executive management of the organizations you serve should easily understand the absolute requirement to track all effort."

I countered that:
Where overtime impacts project costs, which in some organisations, they do, then it is an area that could be of interest for PMs, in reconciling project costs / average rates. I have seen organisations where overtime costs do land on the project. This can skew average rates for some teams quite markedly.

I agree with the need and the theory re: capturing effort levels...however there are also cases for PMs where the organisational practices and culture means that the executive management should but doesnt necessarily understand this requirement. Hence an additional challenge for some.
Paul then talked about the need for overtime (or the likelihood of it) to be taken into account during project planning. Paul also referred to the deadline imperative and this being one of the most critical factors, and therefore costs can become less of an issue in some organisations.

I agreed, stating that:
This is an excellent demonstration of where organisational costing practices need to be known during project planning. Often they are not, or sometimes they are changed for expediency within an organisation with little regard for the impact on the very measures they are keeping PMs accountable to, i.e. performance against budget. Of course this could be both in favour or not of the PM. Either way, it makes the measurement of project financial performance something that is not always a simple measure.

And yes, deadlines are deadlines, but as you know, we can never uncouple that from cost...and as PMs we sometimes need to be putting cost/time/quality options back to the executive team. It reminds me of the old PM saying on the choices available....cheap, quick or high quality...pick any two.
Once spent, be it time, money, or quality of product, which one can you recover and get back.  I would argue that you can create more money, you can create more products but you can never create more time. This is the scarcest resource of them all.  Use it wisely.

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