From accounting for hours to being the boss of your own schedule
Empower your employees
In some organizations, such as architecture firms, we find that employees on long-term projects are scheduled for an average number of hours per week for the duration of the project. These independent professionals are then allowed to decide for themselves each week when and how much time they spend on each project. The result is that the hours actually spent rarely correspond to the number of average hours scheduled.
This is not a problem if an employee is working on one project. In our example of architecture firms, however, employees often work on multiple projects at the same time. Thus, a proportionate ratio of the hours to be spent spread across multiple projects is not realistic. Employees also often experience peaks during projects and due to this disproportionate workload, deadlines are sometimes compromised.
Planning an average number of hours per week in the long term is sometimes unavoidable. The more we look to the future, the greater the uncertainty and, after all, you have to do some sort of planning. When it comes to short-term planning for the next 3 to 4 weeks, it can be done more accurately. This is often ignored. People regularly stick to the average number of hours per week that were initially determined. In this post we will first consider the disadvantages of this method and then take a look at a better approach.
Working with averages has its disadvantages
It can be suggested that a man with his head in the oven and his feet in the freezer is comfortable, on average. This illustrates how unrealistic it is to work with averages. Moreover, we have already established that the average number of hours per week is a guideline and that employees then decide for themselves what they are going to work on each week. This method has the following disadvantages.
1. Employees live from day to day
In general, most employees live from day to day using this method. They work on whatever comes into their “in-box”. As a result, they often neglect long term planning. That is not their job, after all. They are heavily invested in their careers to perform as well as possible in their particular field of expertise. Planning is often not included in that.
This situation encourages multitasking, because people are dictated by the issues of the day and because employees want to make as much progress as possible on all projects. Multitasking is not efficient. You can read more about this in the blog “4 time wasters in project planning“.
Capacity planning is being neglected in the short term, while in actual fact the short term is ideally suited to it. Because when it comes to projects, you can often estimate the work for the coming weeks quite accurately.
2. Project managers lag behind the facts
A second disadvantage is that project managers often lag behind the facts. Employees report their actual hours spent, but this only provides insight into the past. As a project manager, you want to look ahead and anticipate the future so that you are able to make timely adjustments.
The problem is that with this method, employees do not have clear planning in place for the short term. This makes it difficult for project managers to make timely adjustments. They will naturally want to make fixed arrangements with the employees regarding their efforts. This is not formally structured with capacity planning for the short term, because employees are allowed to organize their week themselves.
In addition, a single project manager is just one of many project managers who “pull” employees to deliver results for their project. As described above, this kind of situation encourages multitasking by employees.
3. Time keeping is relatively time-consuming work
Although it’s not planned in detail, employees are asked to account for their hours in detail. The project is divided into several phases and there is a budget for each phase. Project managers must be able to keep a close eye on projects to ensure that they remain within budget.
Because employees work on many projects at the same time during the week or the day, it can be rather time consuming for them to account for all the actual hours worked. When working on multiple projects per day, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to exactly remember the actual hours spent when it comes to the end of the week. This results in inaccurate information for the project managers.
The solution: empower your employees
The solution is to let employees plan their own schedule in detail for the next 3 to 4 weeks. That shouldn’t be a problem for them. Generally speaking, it should be clear enough to them what their immediate weeks ahead will look like. Of course, there can sometimes be a rush in between, but eighty percent of the weeks can be planned ahead. This allows you to achieve the following benefits:
1. Employees become more aware
Employees will look ahead more and become aware of all the work that will be coming their way in the coming weeks. By letting them do their own capacity planning for each day, they will be making conscious choices.
They will also be in a better position to keep track of the deadlines that the project managers have set for them. This allows employees to focus on a single project and prevents multitasking. Inevitably, multitasking leads to all projects taking longer. Thanks to this approach, employees will be less stressed and be a lot more productive.
2. Clarity for project managers
When employees do capacity planning for the short term, it becomes clear to the project manager when his or her project will be worked on. It’s almost like a contract agreement that both parties need to stick to.
In this way, project managers know where they stand and can let employees do their job in peace. That makes for less stress on both sides. It also prevents the situation where project managers regularly breathe down the necks of employees.
Of course, short-term planning cannot be set in stone. We are dealing with projects where things may change on a daily basis. It’s advisable for project managers and employees to meet every week. They should use the time to discuss the status of projects as well as priorities, so that employees can adjust their schedules accordingly.
3. Shifting from accountability to independence
Finally, this approach ensures that there is less emphasis on “accounting” for the hours actually spent. No one ever feels the urge to jump for joy because they had to do timekeeping.
When an employee plans in detail, keeping track of time becomes a breeze. Every block that an employee places in their schedule, simultaneously gets entered in their timesheet. So that’s two birds with one stone. To submit his or her timesheet, the employee only has to adjust some minor details before sending the information.
This ensures that there is a shift from accounting for hours to independent planning. And even better: you are empowering your employees by putting them in charge of their own schedule. They do their own short-term planning while you show complete confidence in their ability to do so.
Do you work with long-term projects where you plan an average number of hours per week for independent employees? Let these employees do the capacity planning in detail themselves for the short term. This will empower your employees and ensure a positive change in their mindset: from being retrospectively accountable, to being in control of their own schedule.
It is a good idea to coach employees in this respect, especially at the outset. In this way you can see whether an employee has the tendency to work on many projects at the same time during the week. This would immediately be visible because you will see many different colour blocks in their time schedule.
The role of coach could best be filled by a department manager or team leader. To a project manager, the interests of his or her project comes first and that could very well lead to multitasking. You want to avoid multitasking in your organization as much as possible.
Mark de Jong
Mark is Sales & Marketing Manager at Timewax. He has a background as a project and resource manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers Management Consultants with expertise in the field of Professional Service Automation (PSA).