Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Time Management is Important

Like most people my age, I have dabbled in many forms of self improvement. Once I tried Franklin Quest (now Franklin Covey) and eventually gave up on it. Once Outlook became the first thing I did everyday, I would say to myself, "How can they still be in business? Outlook does everything I need." Well, I think I now know why they still do business.

There are roughly three types of workers on software projects:
A - those that take on too much
B - those that take on the right amount
C - those that take on as little as possible

Type A workers alternate between type A and C if they are not well managed. Type B workers are great, but can't step up in a moment of crisis (gotta love those type As then!). Type C workers (those that aren't just recovering type As) are usually unmotivated for reasons beyond your control...not that you should give up on them. It should be obvious that your most valuable resource are your type As (If you don't know this then you shouldn't be in management :-)

Let's see if I can get to my point with a personal story. One of the unseen advantages of my current job is I get to do more work than I can possibly do. This has led me to go through the typical type A overwork cycle:

1. Work all the time until one of two things happen: A. Someone who cares and that you trust(my wife usually plays this role) tells you to stop or B. You check out
2. Work as little as possible to recover (or quit...never done this one but I know people that have)
3. Go to 1.

As you can see it is never ending. So in a short moment of clarity I stumbled on (remembered) a way to stop:

1. Write down all known tasks (if you are just starting 2 as I am it might take a while) - meetings are tasks!
Each Day:
1. Set a hard stop to your day (5pm is mine for now)
2. Block off the last 30 minutes (so now we are at 4:30; 30 minutes might not be enough for some of you)
3. Start each day by prioritizing all known tasks
4. Work on the most important tasks until the day is done (4:30 for me)
5. As new tasks are added; put them on the list and do a quick and dirty prioritization (today...not today) If it is today then add it at the top and see if all Top priority items can be done. If not then the last one on the list just got bumped!
7. During the last 30 minutes make sure you have have all known tasks (usually this means reading email)

In other words - Time Management. Other than being cathartic for me what was my point? Well if you remember my last post, I am trying to find the principles of software engineering. I have been pondering this for a while and haven't had anything worth saying until now (you judge its worth).

What is the most important thing in a software project? This answer is easy - the people on the project. I know this sounds like a cliche. When I taught agile software development people would always scoff and say something to the effect of "Well I don't know where you come from, but were I work I get the people I get!" A team of talented software engineers will succeed no matter how many stupid decisions are made by the uninformed, but a misaligned team of unmotivated and mismanaged software engineers will fail not matter how good decisions are made. It all comes down to the people. I have never been on a team, seen a team or even heard of a team that couldn't succeed. I have been, seen and heard of plenty of failures. I think you have two choices: be a victim or do something about it.

Well the people on most software projects are a mix of the three types above. If you don't manage them accordingly then you will wind up failing no matter what else you do. Given that the type As are the most valuable resource and managing them should be priority one. One thing type As do poorly is....Time Management!

Thus my circle of logic is complete...kind of.

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