Distractions and confidence? What do they have in common?

I said a little while back that I was going to review some of the Project Management software out there.  Funny how quickly things become a little while back, then turn into a longer while back, then it becomes too embarrassing to even bring it up again.

This is a good segue into one of the first products that I thought had some really interesting features.  A company called Devshop has focused their sights on planning for Software projects.  Even though they have a narrow focus, that doesn’t detract from the value of some of the features they built into their product.

The first one, which relates to why I’ve been remiss in updating this blog, is all about distractions.  Who doesn’t have distractions these days with the ability to be contacted by almost anyone in numerous ways throughout the day.  When you’re trying to focus on completing project tasks the amount of distractions that come your way directly affects productivity, your progress and then of course the on time delivery of your project.  This is handled in Devshop by allowing you to tag tasks as distractions.  These are non-project related tasks that pull your resources away from completing their project tasks.

I remember my days when implementing PeopleSoft at customer sites back in the later 90’s.  Using a mouse and Windows was often a new experience for some of our manufacturing customers.  They were used to the green screen systems.  So a large part of my time was spent teaching them how to use a mouse, how to open and utilize multiple windows, where to find the Solitaire game, etc etc.  Being able to show my PM all of the distractions that happened during the day would have been a great way to raise the visibility of those time sucking tasks.

Also, by being able to track the distracting tasks and make them visible to project executives, it makes it easier to get change control items approved.  Of course anyone could create new project tasks to track distracting activities, but I like how Devshop has considered this and built it right into their product.Another key feature I think they’ve built in is the confidence factor.  Anyone can create a plan with dates and say when they believe the project will be done.  That doesn’t do PM’s or executives any good though when dates keep shifting as the project moves along and tasks slip.  If decisions are made based on those dates, wouldn’t you want to know how sure the PM is that those dates are truly achievable, and how much of it is pie in the sky, best case scenario?The confidence factor in Devshop is directly tied to how many requirements, designs and time estimates are in approved or unapproved status.  The more that are approved, the higher the confidence level and therefore the more ‘confident’ you can be in your plan dates being hit. 

The simplistic beauty of this confidence index number is that when someone asks a PM for a finish date on a task or the project overall, the PM can give them an answer along with a caveat based on the confidence number.  Now you’re giving more information to the decision makers.  Do they want to go ahead and order some expensive new equipment when a dependency task has only a 10% confidence factor that it will be done on the current scheduled date?  If that confidence factor is 80% how would they feel?

The other important thing to remember is that these confidence scores come from actual work being done and approved.  They aren’t just a best guess of the task owners collectively so you can put some faith in the number.

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