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The 80/20 Trap And Project Time Management

May 15, 2008
Time Management and Project Management are closely related because in both cases you're managing time (yours or the team members) and how long it takes to get tasks completed.

Beyond simply being the guy in charge, a good project manager helps team members develop their own time management and scheduling skills. Another part of the job is reviewing the work done on the project and evaluating whether the project will be delivered on time.

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen when it comes to team members scheduling their time, is when they fall into what I call the "80/20 time trap" or more simply the "80/20 Trap".

Although I work with software developers, I believe that the "80/20 Trap" is something that applies in one form or another across many different types of projects and is important as a general concept for almost every project or time manager.

A common application of the 80/20 rule in software is described in these terms: "For any software task, the last 20% of the work takes up to 80% of the total time for the task".

Whether or not this is an appropriate application of the Pareto Principle (80/20) rule, it does appear to be oddly accurate in many situations. After a software feature is complete, there is often an additional amount of usability testing, and polish work that needs to be done. Sometimes this extra work can take up to 3 to 4 times the amount of time it took to create the original feature.

Smart project managers schedule usability and polish work as separate tasks from just implementing a feature, but most don't. Even if you do though, there is often a certain amount of debugging and clean up time a programmer needs to do just to get the feature ready for usability testing.

So think about this with me for a moment.

If a team member comes up to me and says "I'm 80% done with this feature and I'm on track because I spent 4 out of my 5 scheduled days so far", you now know as well as I do, that this team member isn't going to finish their feature within the scheduled time allowed (in this case it was a total of 5 days).

Programming can a difficult job, but when neither the programmer or the manager understand this 80/20 rule, software delivery dates can slip wildly and repeatedly until things get under control.

It's not actually that hard to fall into the "80/20 Trap". I've even seen it happen to experienced people. The best thing to do when you see it is to address it right away, in a calm cool and professional manner.

When you see it and don't address it, you're just pushing your problems in front of you, and things will get worse each day the project progresses. In other words, you'll pay for it at some point so you might as well deal with it as soon as possible.

The concept of the "80/20 Trap" can be applied across a wide range of projects. It makes sense to adopt it to whatever you're working on, whether it is a multi-million dollar project or just managing your own time.
About the Author
For more strategies on time management, make sure you check out Michael Adams' exclusive free expert guide on tips for managing your time and multi-million dollar projects. Visit us at www.smart-time-management.com.
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