Project success today is threatened by the fallacy of 80 percent resource availability for project work. A look at your typical employee’s calendar, full of recurring meetings, would prove that assumption wrong. Yet this erroneous assumption still persists. The net is that we are being overworked. Studies show that personal productivity rates fall dramatically when an employee works over 40 hours per week for a long period of time. It doesn’t have to be this way. Leveraging the data we collect as a data-centric organization can light a path to greater productivity.
Lessons from the quantified self approach
Organizations need to increase project time while reducing recurring and ad hoc work. These work types were introduced here, as part of the OPRA resource capacity model. Organizations need to collect work data to understand the demands of recurring and ad hoc work.
I’ve gained weight as I’ve gotten older. I’m the same height as I was in high school but I weigh significantly more. Most of this weight gain occurred because I stopped paying attention to what I was eating.
I’ve since adopted a “quantified self” approach where I track what I eat. I’ve lost 10 lbs. since I started writing down what I eat. Why? Because writing down three donuts in my meal tracker looks bad. Data creates awareness and awareness changes decision making.
This awareness issue exists in our organizations. Recurring work consumes greater amounts of our time. We stop thinking about these tasks because doing them has become a habit. When’s the last time you gave more than a passing thought to the time spent on this week’s team meeting?
In a perfect world
Organizations would know how much time it takes to run the business. Understanding the time commitment for recurring and ad hoc activities enables management to better assess, select and prioritize new project investments. These activity time budgets would function much like financial budgets, providing targets for management to maximize project throughput.
This ability to select the most valuable projects is the promise of portfolio management. Yet many companies attempt to do portfolio management without the underlying data to support their decisions. Assumptions about work demands lead to suboptimal portfolios.
The quantified workplace
Adopting a “quantified workplace” approach empowers you to prioritize the most important work to be done in the regular work week. This prioritization eliminates the stress of fretting about how many hours it will take to get all work done this week. The identification and potential elimination of low value work frees up time for rewarding and valuable tasks.
Eighty percent project availability is doable if you are mindful about doing what is absolutely necessary in the remaining 20 percent of your time.
Three quantification techniques
The first step to 80 percent is determining where your organization stands today. The first step is potentially the easiest. Have everyone keep a work diary for the next three weeks. It won’t be complete or precise and that’s OK. The point of the exercise is to call attention to the routine work. These diaries can simply be a list of tasks written on a sheet of paper.
The second step is to identify, classify and address low value work. After the three weeks, the teams should analyze their teammates’ diaries. This collaborative review should note recurring tasks and any time that seems really long for the given task. Many organizations waste time in extended work preparation. Teams may also find they are handling tasks better suited for another team.
Once you’ve identified some task candidates for optimization, the third step is to fix them. Once, we found a weekly fifteen-minute task was taking over six hours to complete. When examined, an average of six hours was spent gathering the requisite information via email to perform the task. The team invested an hour to create an electronic form for employees to request the task. The form required all of the information before submission, eliminating the six hours per week work. That’s one task change that saved seven person-weeks of effort over the course of a year. Repeat this process often to keep the team focused on the highest value work.
Constant monitoring of recurring work ensures that the effort level stays managed long term. Data-centric organizations track recurring task effort level via time tracking. If the effort level exceeds the norm, management attention is warranted.
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