A common question I get asked when clients are implementing a PM methodology or framework is “What level should our staff use to report time and progress against tasks?”.
The simplest answer (as any good consultant would say) is “it depends”.
For time reporting, consider the following two conditions:
1. How often are staff entering time? If they are doing it on a daily basis (What planet are they from?) then they may actually remember what they did at day’s end to be able to report time against one task vs. another.
2. How much multitasking are staff doing? The more activities a person has to do in a day, the more likely they will forget what they’ve done as well as how much time they spent doing it. For staff that are focused on a very few activities in any given day, task-level time reporting is feasible.
If either or both of these conditions are not met, then you are better off from both a compliance and data quality perspective to have time tracked at a higher level of detail – possibly by phase, work package or even at the overall project level. Now the purists amongst you will argue that this will prevent the use of these actuals for refining estimation practices and you are quite correct, but my rebuttal (and no, I DON’T have pointy ears!) is that estimate refinement based on perceived accuracy is illogical.
Let’s now consider progress reporting. The “right” way to do progress reporting on a task is to get an understanding of how much effort remains – this helps to eliminate the games that are played with reporting percent complete. Even if you are using the percent complete reporting method, the same question arises – at what level should staff report these percentages?
My recommendation is to always report progress at the lowest level of detail possible. A couple of reasons:
1. You will get better accuracy by having someone report remaining effort or percentage complete on an “atomic” task as opposed to a large module or work package.
2. While you might get occasional inaccuracies in progress reporting for some tasks, when more tasks are taken into account for overall progress calculations on projects, individual task progress inaccuracies cause less of a quality impact than when a progress calculation is done using the progress data for a small set of high-level tasks.
This recommendation assumes that you have a work breakdown structure that is detailed to that “atomic” level…
Therefore have staff track time at the highest level management reporting will permit (unless my earlier conditions are met) and have them track progress at the lowest level possible.