I am thrilled to announce that I have a new acronym to add to the Project Management lexicon. Let’s squeeze some more space into PMBOK to make room for:

“DF”  – the Distraction Factor!

(You can contact me through the blog if you’re interested in ordering t-shirts…)

Distraction FactorIn a recent blog postJennifer Russell discusses the idea of work effort vs. work duration. These two things can be very different. Work effort is the number of hours it would take to complete a task and work duration is the number of work days that will pass until the task is complete. So, if a team member tells you that his task will take 8-16 hours to complete, that’s the effort. If he is able to spend only half his day on your task, then its duration is 2 – 4 workdays.

This is always a big disconnect between upper management and the project team.

“The task is 8 hours?  So he’ll finish it today!”

The first problem here is that upper management will ignore the fact that you provided your estimate in a range, and then they will assume your team member is both 100% allocated and 100% efficient. Factoring in resource allocation is easy to do when using effort to come up with duration. You’ve only got that guy on your project 50% of the day? Ok, assume the 8-16 hr task is now stretched to 2 – 4 days. But that’s only the beginning.

What about productive working hours? This is where things get interesting. Let’s assume the team member is required to be at his desk and ‘working’ for 8 hours. We’re all human–is it realistic that he’ll get 8 productive hours of work done? As project managers, our job is to minimize distractions, but some are inevitable.

Maybe what we need is a term to describe this “leak” of productive working time – this is where my new term ‘The Distraction Factor’ comes in. I propose the following strategy to come up with the distraction factor for each of your team members:

1.    Spend the day watching him work. Make up some bogus reason why you need to, and I’m sure he won’t mind. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy having someone look over his shoulder all day, right??

2.    Log the time he spends working on his task, and the time spent doing ‘alternate activities’, i.e. time being distracted.

3.    Be sure to label each distraction. You will probably notice a pattern among your team members: some like to shop online, some are Facebook addicts, some instant-message with their friends all through the day, some tweet. You can come up with code names for your team members, like ‘The Facebooker,”or “The Shopper.”

4.    What about distractions away from his desk? Once he gets up, follow a few steps behind him and go see what he’s doing!
a.    Smoke break?
b.    Phone call to his wife?
c.    Long argument over the phone with his contractor?
d.    Extended visit to the bathroom?

All of these distractions must be noted.

5.    Then there are those coworker distractions…chatting with a coworker, gossiping about his boss, helping someone recover a crashed document, lending a hand while the office manager cleans all of the science experiments out of the office fridge.

We don’t really care here about what’s ‘ok’ and what’s not, we are accepting the reality of your team member’s habits and tracking them as closely as possible. One idea is to spend a week monitoring each of your team members, so that you can get a low/high range estimate of each of their distractions. We like ranges here, as you know.  Once the monitoring is complete, (assuming you still have a job and your team members haven’t all quit on you or firebombed your house) you should be able to come up with a formula that looks something like this:

True Availability = (Hours per day resource allotted to you) – (Distraction Factor)

Where Distraction Factor = (FB + AIM + SMOKE + SHMOOZE + UNNECCESARY MEETINGS)  [in Hours Per Day]

This is just one example of the Distraction Factor formula, but of course you’ll be able to come up with a unique formula for each of your team members.  Now, with LiquidPlanner you can apply this new knowledge to the Availability area and enter in the number of hours that the team member is really available to work. This will allow the LiquidPlanner schedule to be even more accurate than it was before!

Be sure to repeat this process every few months or so. As personal life and other situations change for your team members, distraction factors will of course fluctuate.

Happy calculating!

*Obviously, this is a bit of a joke. But accounting for overhead in order to understand the true number of hours people have to spend on project work per day is no joke.  It’s a critical part of building an accurate schedule. Just a friendly reminder.

What’s Your Distraction Factor? was last modified: June 27th, 2013 by Dina Garfinkel