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[Donna Fitzgerald Video Series] Video 4 of 9: How to Change your Thinking when Transitioning from Excel

December 23, 2019 | By Sean Pales

Tune in to the fourth installment in our 9-part video series with renowned resource management expert, Donna Fitzgerald.

Donna Fitzgerald is the Executive Director at NimblePM. With over 39 years of experience in product development, operations, implementation and research, Donna is widely regarded as a premier thought leader in the resource management and project portfolio management spaces. Prior to founding NimblePM, Donna spent ten-years with Gartner Research as lead analyst in the PPM space where she covered a range of critical topics including IT resource capacity planning, demand management and strategy execution.

In this video, Donna explains why switching to a resource management tool doesn’t mean simply converting your excel spreadsheets, but rather changing the way you approach resource management. You’ll also learn:

  • Why transitioning from excel to a resource management tool means more people interacting with the data (and what this means for resource managers)
  • Why resource managers need to schedule time as hours instead of a percentage
  • How to organize data so that an organization can start talking about meaningful workloads

Transcript: How to Change your Thinking when Transitioning from Excel

One of the things that comes up a lot in terms of thinking about going to a resource capacity planning tool is not how to convert the Excel spreadsheet but how to change your thinking from what you’ve probably been doing in Excel over to how you should be thinking about what you’re doing once you’re in the tool so that you can start to provide data to management, so let’s be really clear.  Only people doing it ever look at the Excel spreadsheet.  When you move to a tool, other people are going to start seeing it and they’re going want to start seeing it in a way they can understand it and start to work with the data.  The very first thing you’re going to have to do is stop using percents.  Now you ask why.  It’s perfectly appropriate!  I could schedule somebody’s time as a percentage and I’m going to tell you, yeah you can, but what gets hidden from the human brain is what does that actually mean.  You might think that 10 percent actually translates into somebody’s ability to do something.  I’m going to tell you it doesn’t, and that’s critical.  You go to hours.  Why?  Because it’s the clock that’s sitting in everybody’s office clicking down and if you start to say to somebody, and I actually tested this out myself, if you are coding something for a project how much time, and we’ll give it a reasonable level of complexity, how much time is it going to take?  And if there’s an answer, 1) they’re not going to answer 20 percent of my time or 100 percent of my time.  They’re going to talk about something that every project manager understands, a work estimate.  So let’s just pretend they give us a work estimate of 40 hours.  Now if you have a human being and you assign that human being 30 percent of their time on maintenance and enhancements, 30 percent of their time on Project A and 40 percent on Project B.  We’ve got work of 40 hours for Project B.  How long is it going to take to actually do that?  Well, we know we’ve got some overhead factor, meetings, a lot of clients I’ve seen have used 85 percent as productive time.  That’s probably not really accurate so we start to lose time there.  Then we have task switching costs and the research on task switching is extremely interesting.  If you’re really doing heads-down work and somebody interrupts you, and I just read this a couple of weeks ago, even just having a conversation standing by you.  So you’re working hard and they’re talking about something over you, that can take you an hour to recover from because of the human brain.  In fact, when somebody’s standing next to you talking about something but not talking to you, your brain becomes even more engaged in listening to them.  That’s how the human brain works.  Now obviously we have a lot of IT departments where people have headphones, we understand that.  But task switching is real.  So there’s a cost.  We’ve got overhead, activities, meetings, other things so how much time do we really have?  We wrote 40 percent but we really want this work done in two weeks.  Ok.  There’s all sorts of ways we can do that.  We can let this individual work for a solid week because technically there aren’t 40 usable hours but most of the developers who’ve worked for me, as long as you don’t burn them out, if it’s something urgent they’ll just go ahead and get it done if you leave them alone and let them do it.  Or it could take a week and a day.  Doesn’t matter.  They can get it done, but if I’ve got all these other things competing plus interruptions plus none of this is necessarily going to go according to plan, so this 40 hours could end up being 48.  I really wanted this in two weeks.  I could be a month or I could be two months if there are other interruptions and other approaches.

It’s so easy to look at percentages.  If I look at 30, 30, 40 our brain says that this equals 100 percent of some number.  If I look at 40 hours, I know to my bones what that 40 hours actually means.  That’s one working week.  So if you keep doing this, you never get anything done.  It’s a hard thing to realize even though we live it every day.  Excel makes this easy.  It’s mathematically simple and I know it almost sounds pedantic to say you’ve got to work in hours, but if you really want to work with human beings, I’m going to tell you human beings only come for most jobs in a day in two units, one half or one whole.  If you want somebody to get something done, you probably need to actually schedule them for at least half a day and talking to developers they go no, no, no.  They really want as much contiguous time.  Now we’ve solved this problem in manufacturing.  None of this is new news.  For those of you who have been around a long time, fundamentally this is where critical change comes from.  But this is so seductive.  It’s so easy and it is so good at masking the problem that there is too much work in the system at any one time.

If you’ve got a hundred people, you can’t have a hundred projects.  It’s pretty clear.  I walked into an organization that shall remain nameless and they had pasted up at the top the start of a spreadsheet with all the projects that were going on in their organization, and it ran all the way down to the floor and they used to come in and look at it because nobody could figure out what to do with it because it was simply too much information.  What we’re trying to do here is start to simplify what the human brain can process so that when we use the system we can all start talking about meaningful workloads.

Thank you.

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