Select Page


Deliverable-based Project Schedules: Part 6 (#6 in the series Deliverable-based Project Schedules)
By Thomas Cutting

All the tasks have been laid out, sorted into deliverables, aligned with predecessors and estimated for effort. If you are using an auto-scheduling tool like MS Project, the length of the project has been stretched out as if one person was doing everything at 100%. Now we want to set realistic expectations on the duration of each task.

Estimate Duration. “Why are we worried about the duration before we add the resources?” you might ask. Good question. The reason is productivity. It is easier to bake it in up front than to try and force it in later.

Mentally everyone knows that, unless you work overtime, an 8-hour task takes more than a day to complete. This is a factor of our productivity. Over the course of a year people are, at most, about 80% productive. This is based on the following calculation.
2080 hours in a year (52 weeks * 40 hours / week)
– 72 hours for holidays
– 80 hours vacation
– 48 hours sick time
– 24 hours training (non-project related)
– 52 hours status reporting (1 hour / week)
– 52 hours team meetings (1 hour / week)
– 88 hours interruption (1.5 hours / week)
1664 hours remaining (80%).

Obviously some people have more vacation, others don’t get sick, some have more training, etc. but in general this holds true. Without taking this into account at the task level you are setting yourself up to be late.

Some project managers do this by assigning all of their resources at 80% available. In MS Project there is a resource field named Max Units that they set to account for the productivity factor. Unless someone is assigned to my project only part time, I keep them at 100% available and set the duration of the individual tasks to account for the extra time. After all, they are still expected to work 100% of the time.

MS Project allows you use a custom field to automatically calculate the 80% rule. To do this use the Duration 1 field and create the formula [Work / 0.8]. This will calculate 8 hours as 1.25 days and 40 hours to be 6.25 days. If you place the Duration 1 column in the schedule beside Duration, you can easily copy and paste the estimated values into the Duration column.

You can also type it manually for each task using the 8 and 40-hour duration estimates as guidelines.

When we add multiple resources to a task, they are each assigned at 80% to it. They will still be assigned 40 hours of effort for the week, but the tasks will be spaced to account for interruptions, status reporting, overlapping tasks, etc.
The resulting durations are starting points. After you add resources and begin to use and refine your schedule you can make adjustments to them.

Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge ( and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (

Recommended PM App

Recommended PM App