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The Importance of Effort to Complete

What happens to projects when you don’t understand the ETC?

Maureen, a technical consultant, is halfway through a 60 hour project. Or is she?

Within that question we can find the key to project success – not just of this one project, but of upcoming projects as well. Here’s what you know about Maureen’s progress: The time entries she has submitted so far line up almost exactly with the hours the project management team had expected her to do so far, and she hasn’t raised any red flags, so it seems like this project will come in on time and on budget and Maureen will be ready to roll onto her next project when you expect her to.

But lurking in the shadows, problems await – Maureen has completed half of her allocated hours, but, unbeknownst to you, she’s only completed a quarter of her allocated projects, which have been increasing in scope at the behest of the customer. And these problems will affect not only the project Maureen is currently working on but also other projects Maureen could be working on.

And the best way to avoid these problems, or at least to make proactive, strategic decisions as you see them arising, is to be sure you have a consistent, repeatable, and reliable way of asking for and tracking effort to complete (ETC).

What is Effort to Complete?

Effort to complete is the estimated amount of work that still remains on a project based on the data currently available to you. Crucially, from project kick-off forward, this is often different from the amount allocated as part of the original project plan.

It is in tracking fluctuations from the original plan and, subsequently, in resetting expectations based on an up-to-date estimate of effort remaining that you help to keep your business on track. Without a mechanism for tracking ETC, you risk ceding control of projects because your team won’t see changing scope until it’s too late to do anything about it.

The Benefits of Prioritizing ETC

Admittedly, even if you’re not asking explicitly for updates on ETC, you do sometimes get insight into fluctuations in remaining effort. Maybe it comes up over the water cooler. Maybe you get a panicked email from a consultant about thinking they’re going to run out of hours.

But there are issues with relying on impromptu interactions to get a picture of ETC.

  • That’s inherently inconsistent. Some consultants will speak up, others won’t. As a project management team, having different methods of receiving input from consultants can be a struggle; having blind spots where consultants don’t know to speak up about discrepancies in remaining effort is definitely a challenge that will have major impacts on project profitability.
  • There’s no audit trail. You not only risk losing valuable information because it gets buried in email threads and forgotten after office conversations; you also lose the ability to track trends over time and better understand how to improve project plans so they better reflect the effort required to complete certain project stages.
  • These interactions will almost always be reactive. Most consultants will only raise an unprompted red flag when they think things have gotten out of hand; once this is the case, an opportunity has already been missed to avoid a problem. Now a problem needs to be solved.

The best way to get out in front of these issues is to enforce a process that prioritizes effort to complete, where consultants are asked to update ETC estimates when they submit their weekly timesheets. If this is managed in the right tool, you will be collecting and updating plans based on what’s actually happening according to a consistent, auditable, proactive process.

As an example, Kimble’s professional services automation (PSA) solution provides a utility for users to update ETC when they are creating a time entry, because this is the ideal moment for them to be thinking about their actual progress as it relates to planned progress. A core tenet of Kimble’s approach to Intelligent Time Capture involves the relationship between consultants and project managers: namely that the interaction between them leads to accurate and up to date plans that help your business make better decisions.

One benefit of project managers and consultants operating in a closed loop where plans are constantly being updated based on what’s happening out in the field is pretty obvious: projects will run more smoothly and your business will be better at protecting project margins. Effort to complete helps project managers take steps that get out ahead of scope creep and that keep projects on time and on budget while keeping customers satisfied enough to buy more in the future.

But it’s not just project managers who benefit from having a comprehensive understanding of ETC. The entire business benefits. Resourcing managers, as an example, will have an easier time balancing resourcing needs if they have an up-to-date understanding of how long resources will be committed to their current projects. Committing resources to upcoming projects based on out-of-date plans only to have them be unavailable because of unforeseen scope leads to delayed project kick-offs, dissatisfied customers, and demoralized consultants. By getting one step ahead of the curve and having an accurate understanding of resource availability, you can more confidently take on additional projects. You simply cannot run an effective, agile business if you don’t have up-to-date information on when resources will be ready to tackle new work.

By taking into account the effort to complete while the project is underway, you can spot red flags and more strategically allocate resources or adjust schedules. With increased visibility into actual project data, processes like resource allocation can be done in a much more forward-looking manner.