How do project managers keep projects within a time budget?

How do project managers keep projects within a time budget?

Good time management involves revamping the internal systems of a business rather than focusing on individuals' self-discipline. Find out what more there is to know about time management beyond looking at a calendar, and how successful project managers use these time-tested strategies. 

Time management: Less an individual problem and more an institutional one

Too many people think of employees who continually miss deadlines as failures. However, if it's more than one person who keeps getting behind, it's more likely than not a systemic problem rather than an individual failure, according to McKinsey and Company. The structure and culture of a company are where the real problems may lie. 

Luckily, there are ways around this issue; if the problem is institutional, then the solution can be implemented on an institutional level.

Back to the basics: what is the aim of the project, and how will you achieve it?

Establishing the aim of a company initiative is important because it determines how much time you should put into managing it, Harvard Business Review writers advise. 

What is the plan and the end goal? Do your employees know? x 0 0 0 14108843 800What are the end goals of a project? Do your employees know?

Therefore, the first three things you want to do is to figure out:

  • What problem the project aims to tackle
  • Who and what resources will be needed
  • What will be done by when

This will prevent "scope creep" later on, as Nick Coons, technical director of Hyperion Works, calls it. 

"Scope creep is the major cause of a big business undertaking getting out of control," Coons says. But "spending the time up front to lay the groundwork and clearly define the scope will help keep the project on track." 

While establishing the scope can seem tedious, it may surprise many employees what the actual aim is and how a company plans on achieving it. This saves your team from unnecessary confusion that could've easily been cleared up at the beginning. 

The benefits of oversight 

After discovering how the new venture ranks in terms of importance, you'll be one step closer to pinning down how much oversight is required and who should provide it. The more important the project, the greater the need for oversight. Guiding a major task force along keeps the pressure on and prevents easy mistakes from happening.  

Oversight keeps the pressure on employees and prevents easy mistakes from happening.

The overseer should be attune to details and continually be vigilante about evaluating how a project is progressing. McKinsey and Company studied a large health system that did this well by forming a governance committee. 

The objectives of this committee were to approve and monitor activities and make sure a initiative stayed within the agreed-upon time budget. They also oversaw how much a project demanded in terms of leadership capacity. Original proposals also had to include time commitments made by leadership and proof that leadership had the skills to run the venture. If it was found that any factors affecting leadership were out of whack, they lightened the leader's other responsibilities.

The example of the health company that McKinsey and Company provides shows that good oversight ensures that a company is focussed in regards to its objectives and time budget.

Putting formal processes for communication in place

The importance of formal processes lies in confirming that people are constantly communicating and that everyone is on schedule and on the same page throughout the project's duration.

Therefore another key part of oversight is communication, according to Gideon Kimbrell, a Forbes contributor and founder of InList.com. Kimbrell cites the exemplary time manager Steve Jobs, who was relentless in his emphasis on communicating with his team to assure that everyone knew the aim of a new development and was on track to completion. Jobs was also very clear about communicating deadlines for annual product releases and software updates to everyone.

Boston Consulting Group also discusses a strategy they used to keep their new ventures focussed and chugging along within time constraints called PTO (predictability, teaming and open communication). 

Formal meetings were an attractive alternatives to confusing and long email chains.

Now, PTO is used in every single Boston Consulting Group project because it has proven to be so successful. It sets out a plan for working norms and priorities so that low-value work doesn't creep into any high-value personal and professional time. The PTO roadmap also sets out collectively agreed-upon breaks for each team member to guard against burnout – which is often the cause of delays later on. 

The PTO process also established a periodic forum for sharing each team member's progress and needs. This is just a formal check-in process in case someone needs urgent help with a task or needs to leave early for personal reasons. Gideon Kimbrell explains how Apple likewise found that frequent meetings prevented unexpected delays from arising and were attractive alternatives to confusing and long email chains. 

Establish formal measures of how on schedule everyone is 

During formal meetings, there should also be a way of measuring just how on track (or off track) everyone is. Then, a discussion of why someone isn't on track should follow. 

This is a way to sniff out any time lags or else provide assurance that all is going according to plan.

CIO cites Ken Leland III, vice president of Engineering, Monmouth Telecom: "Keep track of the time spent by the key personnel responsible for the completion of major parts of the project. This will alert you to inaccuracies in your original estimates early on and give you more time to deal with the consequences," he says.

Do you have formal measures of progress? x 0 0 0 14105759 800Do you have formal measures of progress?

Formal measures should be used both to encourage goal-setting by employees as well as put a positive spin on the sometimes cumbersome task of scheduling. 

How Line Management Institute of Training can give you these skills and more… 

If you're interested in a career in project management, Line Management Institute of Training has the Certificate IV in Project Management Practice, the Diploma of Project Management as well as the Project Management Professional Certification. With any one of these qualifications, you'll walk away with a knowledge of formal processes and leadership skills that will make you a master of time management with big projects.

So, don't waste time; contact us today to start your career in project management.

Published by: LMIT