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When can I count time as project time?


I was on the train looking at a ad. I realized that the project management space is not dead and buried, but continuing to evolve everyday. While many of us spent years using tools like Jira, along comes an upstate to make project tracking simpler.

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The trouble is, I never felt it was the project management software that made tracking difficult.

For me there was always endless nuance, around tasks and tracking.

1. Time spent commuting or thinking off the chair

For me, when I get deep into the weeds of a customer and their technology stack, I’m thinking about problems as soon as I wake up. How can I tag those resources so they are region independent? How can I create the right S3 bucket policy so the application can write, but the world can’t?

What’s more if you’re like a lot of people, there’s some slack going on after hours, and emails too. Some of this may get tracked but inevitably there are hours not tracked.

An amount of estimating will probably happen. And creating a team policy on how to handle this ambiguity, is probably a good plan. Each project and company will be different, in terms of where to draw the line.

Read: What did Matt Ranney discover scaling Uber to 1000 microservices?

2. Crossover between projects or even customers

Sometimes there is a task which requires a bit of research, for example what’s the exact syntax in Terraform to create an IAM role, and attach it to an instance? You may spend an hour digging in, and then experimenting, to make sure you have the code right.

Then you may use that same snippet on another stack that you’re building, for department B and the same company, agile team C, or another customer entirely.

When you think about it, you carry a decade of learning into each new customer you work at. And they get all that learning, which translates into efficiency. And that’s effectively free.

So there is all sorts of ambiguity. And in each case you have to make a judgement call, when you’re tracking time.

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3. Tasks grow and change

As you continue to work on a project, some tasks have a tendency to themselves unwind. As you dig deeper, you find vast caves yet to be explored. More excavation that needs to be done.

From there subtasks may hatch from the parent, and on it goes. But this will surely blowup initial estimates, and makes tracking progress often more of an art than a science.

Read: What happened when I offered advice outside my pay grade?

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iHeavy Insights 73 – It’s Easy

In the business of technology consulting, there are times when I’ve heard this statement.  It’s Easy!  Perhaps the single biggest thing I’ve learned through a decade and a half of consulting is, people use this phrase when they are feeling overly confident.

What do I mean by that?  Well it turns out in psychology there are all sorts things we communicate with our spoken language & body language.  Some of those things we aren’t even conscious of.  In the case of the statement “It’s easy” your first thought may be about all the intricate details that have yet to be ironed out, all the hiccups that may happen along the way.  Or you may just simply be thinking of Murphy’s Law that always seems to rear it’s ugly head at the worst time.

Truth is when you hear this statement, you may also be inclined to think of it as a statement of fact.  The person saying that they have reviewed all the facts and ascertained that task x is in fact a trivial one.

Of course one doesn’t want to be the naysayer either, but you can raise concerns while still acknowledging both sides.  My tack is first to repeat what the person said in more detailed language.  By reiterating all of the details, it can sometimes illustrate right there some hidden complexity and weaken the sense of triviality to the task at hand.

A Software Developer

A few years back I had subcontractor developer working on a project.  We went over some details about what changes needed to happen.  A web-based analytical tool needed some additional search functionality.  We went over how that search would index documents in the site.  The developer explained to me “That’s easy.  No problem”.  I was suspicious.

As development unfolded we hit a bump in the road.  Besides the database indexing, additional xml documents needed to be indexed in order for the search function to work properly.  That added quite a bit of additional complexity because the search solution developer had envisioned couldn’t deal with that xml data.

A Business Prospect

I was recently reviewing a contract with a prospect, and going over items and deliverables.   They explained that for the database portion we’ll just use Amazon RDS, instead of installing MySQL and configuring the server manually.  “This piece will be easy”.  Unfortunately using Amazon’s solution is still not  push-button  in any event.   These types of oversimplifications are fine if you’re working on a time and materials basis because the complexity of the project will unfold organically, and the process will educate everyone involved.  But if you are trying to do a fixed fee project, these can be a harbinger of trouble later on.


When you hear people say “That’s Easy” understand that they are only expressing their confidence, despite their assurances.  If you are not equally confident,  you’ll both need to discuss details until you reach a middle point.  If it scares you to hear someone say something is EASY, think of it as a warning flag that you are not both on the same page.  Then remedy the situation with ample communication.

BOOK REVIEW:  Satyajit Das – Traders, Guns & Money

Financial Times has very high standards, and with an endorsement by Gillian Tett on the back, you know you are on the right track to some excellent material.  Das’ expose explores the inside world of derivatives, the so-called WMD of the financial world.   Along the way you’ll enjoy wacky stories of rogue traders, $70,000 meals, LIBOR numbers, delusional thinking, and even more about financial risk.  It illustrates exactly why Warren Buffet said “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”