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Project time management 101

Project Time Management

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Project Time Management 101

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Why you should care about project time management
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Why you should care about project time management

  • That impending feeling of doom you get as a deadline draws closer
  • The frustration of having a project spiral out of control
  • The panic of watching your budget go far beyond your expectations

These are just some of the consequences of poor project time management.

Team leads, freelancers, and employees may all struggle with prioritizing tasks and managing their work time effectively. That’s why many companies choose to hire professional project managers. The project manager’s job is to liaise between different stakeholders in an organization, making sure projects stay on track.

Time management is an integral part of project management. You can’t manage large, complex projects unless you understand how different team members are using their time. Below, we’ll delve into how these two fields fit together, why project time management is important, and how you can improve the way projects are managed at your company.

Project time management 101

To understand project time management, you’ll first need to understand two separate concepts: project management and time management.

What is project management?

Project management is the art and science of managing projects. Project managers use specific theories and methodologies in their work. They often have the professional designation PMP (Project Management Professional). This certification is offered by the Project Management Institute; it’s one of several different certifications that a project manager can earn.

The Project Management Institute defines project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.” Within this definition, a “project” is a temporary and unique endeavor performed for a specific purpose.

How is time management related to project management?

Time management is an important part of project management. The Project Management Institute lists “time” as one of ten key areas of project management knowledge. It is easy to see how time management fits into the bigger picture of project management. On an individual level, employees must learn how to manage their time effectively to be successful in their work. And for project management professionals, managing time is part of their job.

For example, a project manager at a marketing agency might be responsible for estimating how long a project will take, so that the sales team can deliver a quote based on that estimate. The project manager will then need to track the time each employee spends on the project. This is usually done with time tracking software.

If the project goes overtime, the project manager must determine why—was the project scope underestimated, were there communication issues, was it a performance issue on the employee side, or some combination of these factors?

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Project success with project time management

A project manager’s ultimate goal is project success, and their enemy is project failure. But what exactly contributes to project success?

Of course, having an effective project manager will increase the odds of project success. However, the project manager is hardly the only factor in how a project turns out. There are lots of other things to take into account, from team members’ individual skills to patterns of communication, planning, and even the software and tools being used.

One factor that almost always contributes to project success is time management. It’s difficult to imagine managing a large project without paying close attention to how time is spent. Here are some of the specific ways time management can help with project management.

Managing the phases of a project

The most macro-level way to think about project time management is to consider the various phases of the project lifecycle. There isn’t necessarily a fixed number of project phases—Harvard Business Review defines four phases, while Netherlands-based consultancy Projectmanagement-training.net uses six.

These phases require what are called processes or process groups, although the processes often correspond to certain phases and are thus sometimes used interchangeably. For our purposes, we’ll describe the five process groups outlined by the Project Management Institute.

It’s important to note that these processes can repeat themselves throughout the project lifecycle. Project managers may cycle through the processes multiple times before the project is completed. Here are the process groups, as defined by the PMI:

Project Initiation

The project initiation phase is when a project starts. In this phase, stakeholders try to figure out whether the project is feasible or not. This may involve evaluating project requirements, determining what resources are available, and ultimately deciding when the project is able to go ahead.

Project Planning

Once the team has decided to move forward with the project, the project manager must develop a plan for how it will be carried out. This is where time management starts to come in, as the project manager creates a schedule for the execution of the project. In this phase, the project manager and stakeholders work together to develop a budget, define deadlines, and plan resources to allocate to the project.

Another important aspect of this step is risk management. Every project has potential risks associated with it (like going over budget, or running into technical issues which cause delay). The project manager must identify potential problems, and come up with a plan to solve them if they occur.

Project Execution and Project Monitoring

The third process group is project execution. This encompasses all the processes that have to do with the actual start of the project, when team members begin working on it.

The fourth process group is project monitoring or controlling, which occurs at the same time as execution. Project monitoring describes the project manager’s role during execution. The project manager must keep an eye on the progress of the project, making sure that everything stays on track. They can do this through meetings, regular status updates, and time tracking. If the project manager notices problems such as scope creep, tasks going overtime, or blocks in communication, this is where they must intervene to keep the project on track.

Project Closure

Finally, the last process in the final phase of the project is project closure. This is where a deliverable is sent off to the client, or the project is wrapped up.

At this stage, the project manager should evaluate how the project went. Did everything go as expected? If there were any hiccups along the way, how can these be rectified for next time? Conversely, this is also the time to reward team members for their hard work and successes

Further Reading

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Scope Creep: What It Is, Examples, and How To Avoid It

A practical guide on avoiding this dreaded project killer with time management.

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Team Time Tracking for Every Kind of Team

Here’s what you need to know about team time tracking, whether you’re a team of one or 100.

Helping people communicate

Beyond the phases of a project, time management also relates to project management in many other ways. For example, part of a project manager’s responsibility is to help people from different areas of a company communicate, so that the project stays on track.

Miscommunication is one of the easiest ways to derail a project. The more people involved in the project, the more possibilities for miscommunication. For example, if not everyone knows what’s going on, two people or teams might accidentally end up working on the same thing, wasting valuable time.

You may also have situations where people don’t know what they should be working on, or aren’t able to prioritize effectively due to a lack of information. All these contingencies can eventually lead to delays and project failure.

To effectively coordinate teams, project managers must have a way of understanding what each team member is working on. The more granular detail here, the better—knowing each team’s high-level objectives is great, but it’s no substitute for knowing exactly what everyone is doing each day. That’s where time tracking comes in.

With time tracking software, each team member can keep track of his or her own daily activities. In Toggl Track, team leads and project managers can use this data to understand the overall status of their project.

The Reports feature, for example, can help you break down how people are using their time based on their team, client, or project. You can also see a breakdown of billable and non-billable hours for each day of the week.

Making smarter estimates

One of the most important parts of project management is risk management. Project managers typically carry out a risk management analysis before beginning a project.

A risk management analysis involves identifying problems that could occur during the project, and creating a plan for how to solve them. For a typical project, risks might include technical issues, client roadblocks, scope creep, and so on.

The great thing about time tracking is that it provides a clear solution for risk management on future projects. In some fields, projects can be very difficult to estimate in advance—who knows how long it will take to write a blog post, create an infographic, or develop an app when there are so many factors involved?

By looking back at time tracking data, project managers can get an idea of how long these tasks have taken in the past, so they can make better estimates in the future. Making more accurate estimates will lower the risk of missed deadlines and scope creep, ensuring that what is sold to the client aligns realistically with what the team can actually produce.

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To Do List

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Empowering people to do their best work

A final reason that time management is important for project management is because it helps people work more efficiently. Even the most skilled project manager can’t drive a project to success all on their own—they rely on the team’s cooperation and skills to get the job done. A project manager’s job is made easier when the team is able to consistently hit deadlines.

If teams are struggling with deadlines, this may not necessarily be due to lack of willpower on any individual’s part. It may just be a time management issue. Perhaps non-urgent priorities are being allowed to surpass urgent ones. Maybe teams are being asked to attend too many meetings, or spend too much time on tasks like email, which interrupt deep focus. Time tracking can help root out time wasters and identify productivity blockers, making it easier for teams to hit their deadlines.

Project time management tools

Everyone makes use of tools, methodologies, and frameworks to do their job. Project managers are no different.

Project management methodologies

There are an enormous number of project management methodologies out there. Below, we’ll go over just a few of the most important methodologies that project managers use today.

PMBOK

PMBOK could be considered the most important project management “methodology,” because it is connected with the widely-respected PMP certification from the Project Management Institute. The acronym PMBOK stands for “Project Management Body of Knowledge.” Rather than a specific methodology per se, this is more like a set of standards and best practices that have become industry standards for project managers.

Waterfall

The waterfall methodology is a linear approach to project management. It has been around for a long time, and is now considered a legacy methodology.

With this methodology, you “cascade” from one part of a project to another (like a waterfall), with little room for changes and adaptations in between. Essentially, the project manager defines requirements and makes a plan, the work is completed in linear phases one after the other, and then the entire project is delivered at once. The problem with the waterfall methodology is that if mistakes are made early on in the process, there is little room to go back and change things.

Agile

Agile is often presented as a newer alternative to waterfall methodology, but the origins of agile actually date back to a manifesto published in 2001. The main tenets of the manifesto are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Over time, these general tenets developed into a framework for iterative project management. Basically, agile methodology emphasizes flexibility, adapting to change, and developing in shorter cycles with ample opportunities for testing and feedback.

For example, waterfall development might mean developing an entire software application at once, while an agile approach would be to develop one feature at a time and test them before delivering the final product.

Scrum

In Rugby, the word “scrum” refers to players packing together into a group to try to get the ball. In project management, Scrum is a specific methodology designed for software development, where work is divided up into short cycles called “sprints.” According to Scrum.org, a Scrum team should be made up of one Scrum Master, one Product Owner, and a group of developers. The Scrum Master is responsible for leading daily scrums (meetings), while the Product Owner prioritizes what needs to be worked on during a sprint.

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Schedule

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Project management software and tools

In recent years, many tools have become associated with project management methodologies like agile and scrum. Some examples of project management tools include Jira, Asana, Trello, and Teamwork. Most companies also use other tools for communication, including email, videoconferencing, and chat software.

Not all project management tools offer a robust time tracking option. That’s where Toggl Track comes in. Our browser plugin integrates with 100+ tools, including most of today’s popular project management software. Teams often spend their day switching back and forth between multiple tools; Toggl Track can help you easily understand where your time is going, no matter what software you’re using.

PERT

Diagram of project charts

We’ve already discussed some common project management methodologies and how those fit in with time management. However, there are actually some project time management techniques that directly make the link between project management and time management. One of these is known as PERT.

PERT stands for “Project Evaluation Review Technique.” Originally developed by the US Navy, this project time management technique involves creating a complex flowchart to visualize how time and resources should be allocated. Here is what a PERT flowchart looks like:

Source: Wikipedia

In this chart each circle, or “node,” represents a project goal or milestone. The lines between the nodes (“vectors”) represent tasks to be completed in order to meet those milestones. “Dependent nodes” (those linked by a vector) must be completed one after the other. On the other hand, “parallel nodes,” which are not linked by a vector, can be completed at the same time.

You’ll notice that in the chart above, each vector comes with a time estimate (t=4 months, t=3 months, etc.) The PERT framework provides four definitions of time, which project managers can use to estimate project time needs. These are optimistic time, pessimistic time, most likely time, and expected time. For the purpose of these definitions, “most likely time” refers to a probable time estimate if there are no problems, while “expected time” refers to a probable time estimate if there are problems.

There are several clear advantages and disadvantages of using PERT. As you can see, PERT charts can be difficult to read and interpret. They also involve using subjective time estimates, which may be more or less accurate depending on a project manager’s personal experience.

However, PERT charts are still a useful way to visualize project timelines. They can help project managers plan for contingencies and create efficient project plans.

The dangers of poor project management

We’ve now covered what project time management is, why it’s important, and how project management and time management fit together. But what happens when project time management goes wrong?

Time management is a crucial part of project management, and ignoring it can cause serious consequences for a project. Scope creep, inefficient use of time, and communication breakdown are all consequences of poor time management. Ultimately, this can lead to project failure.

As any experienced project manager knows, managing a large project is complex. There’s more to project management than just time management—communicating with stakeholders, creating plans, and evaluating risks are all part of project management too. But time management is such an important part of the field that it’s hard to imagine project management without it.

By investing in the right tools for time management, you can increase your team’s effectiveness, help them meet deadlines, streamline communication, and increase the odds of project success.

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