The Truth About Project Management Packages
By Tim Bryce
Do they truly support project management or are they glorified punch clocks?
I was recently researching project management software for a client. Such software is certainly not new and can be traced back to their origins in the 1960′s with mainframe based packages. Some of the earliest applications of computers in the 1950′s were for such purposes, particularly estimating and scheduling. Nonetheless, I was looking for a PC based package that could also be implemented on smart phones, and geared to reporting an employee’s time. Frankly, I was disappointed with what I found.
I looked at dozens of packages, some free, others for a price; some were PC based, others were “cloud” based, and some were implemented over the Internet. The graphical input was easy on the eyes, but virtually none could implement what I was looking for, regardless of how well they were evaluated by software researchers. Frankly, I think they were looking at the wrong features. Instead of determining their suitability for project management, they only consider the programming, and by doing so, they have missed the boat.
The biggest problem I saw was they all supported the concept of “Man Hours,” which has long been considered a fallacious concept in project management circles. “Man Hours” is nothing more than “Elapsed Time” which doesn’t consider how time is utilized, for example, real work (Direct time) versus interferences (Indirect time). The differences are important. Since Direct time represents worker effort, it should be up to the worker to estimate and control. Indirect time keeps the worker away from his/her assignments and, as such, is up to the manager to control. The analysis of time in this regard is considered an “Availability Rate” matching the Indirect time against the total available time. Office workers typically have a rate of 70% (approximately 5.6 Direct hours in a business day), and construction workers typically have a rate of 20% (approximately two direct hours in a day). By analyzing time this way, more realistic project estimates and schedules can be calculated. As an aside, in no way should Availability Rate be considered a measure of productivity or efficiency; it is nothing more than an analysis of the use of time.
This concept originated from the construction industry back in the 1950′s. As simple and effective as it is, virtually none of the software products I studied took this into consideration, consequently they deal only in “Man Hours” and I suspect their customer’s ability to complete project assignments on time is weak. Further, by not distinguishing the differences between Direct and Indirect, it is likely their customers are micromanaging their workers. In other words, workers are managed top-down, not bottom-up where worker input is used to formulate estimates and schedules.
I also observed some of the packages clung to the concept of “percent complete” for a given task, another fallacious concept. Instead of asking workers the amount of time remaining on a task, they are asked to input the duration of the task thus far. As history shows us, even if a task is 99% complete, the last one percent can seemingly take an eternity. For more information on this, see “Estimate to Do versus Percent Complete.”
Again, all of the project management packages I researched looked slick, but virtually none could solve true project management problems. As such, they were nothing but glorified punch clocks. I find it rather ironic that despite the advances we have made in computing, perhaps the best approach to project management is a paper based solution. I guess I’ll just have to keep looking.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and management consultant located in Palm Harbor, Florida. http://www.timbryce.com/. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2014 Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.