Wednesday, April 4, 2007

April 4, 2007 – It’s in the Game – Information Overload Part

One of the advertising campaigns for EA Sports is “It’s in the Game,” referring to the fact that the games are technically accurate as well as fun to play. Actual statistics are included to make their games as realistic as possible.

While I was managing a project for Electronic Arts I began playing more of their games. Depending on your perspective the level of detail included can either be great or a real pain. If your favorite football team was on the top of the heap when the stats were taken it is great. But what if, like me, you are a Buffalo Bills fan? Not so good, eh? If you are from the United States, FIFA World Cup can be extremely frustrating. No matter how you play the game you are unlikely to pull off a major victory based on statistics. Hard core players can change the stats and build a better team but maintaining that much detail can be overwhelming.

Managing a project can cause much the same information overload. The key is to identify the right balance between enough and too much. Let’s take a look at that balance for 3 areas: Project Schedules, Meeting Minutes and Messages.

Project Schedules. Project Schedules are notorious for either a complete lack of information or radical overload. When planning and tracking your projects there are a couple of things that can help make it manageable.

  1. 4 – 80 rule. Ideally task effort should be between 4 and 80 hours per resource. Instead of having 1 hour to review a document, 1 hour to make changes, 1 hour to review it again, and 1 more to approve, combine the effort and create one task to “Review and Approve.”

    Task over 80 hours per person are difficult to truly estimate. If I’m asked to do something that it is more than 2 weeks of effort I need to break it down further to fully understand what is expected. An exception to this rule is fixed duration tasks like support where you know it is a certain amount of effort and no more. If 80 becomes too granular for tracking purposes, make sure to include a separate checklist of items that make up that task. This allows progress to be tracked and keeps the team from burning the entire budget without accomplishing anything.
  2. Avoid recurring tasks. Don’t set up a task for each meeting. MS Project allows you to create a “Recurring Task” for things like status meetings. This actually creates multiple tasks that you will need to track against. Too much detail. Instead, create a single task for each meeting that spans the entire project. You may even be able to combine all meetings into one if it is clear who should be charging for which meetings.
  3. Off load. When you manage multiple vendors or departments push some of the effort to the PM or Team Lead for those groups. Set expectations for the timelines, deliverables and level of reporting you are expecting but let them handle the details.

Next time we will continue with ideas on how to avoid information overload with Meeting Minutes and Messages.

1 comment:

Josh Nankivel said...

Great post Tom, I hereby find myself guilty of too much detail in some of my project schedules by including single tasks that are less than 4 hours in duration.

I think I can find opportunities to consolidate in some cases, and in others the task may be distinct enough that it deserves its own 2 hour block, etc. It still comes down to making the process fit the project, but this is a great rule of thumb.

Josh Nankivel, The PM Student