Most project managers want to track actual effort and dollars toward the completion of their projects and deliverables. The goal is obvious and laudable. By knowing the actual cost of something we can provide more precise estimates the next time around.
However, I don’t find actuals useful. I have little faith in the quality of the data that gets collected. Low-quality data is, at best, not useful. At worst, it will lead you to wrong conclusions and bad decisions.
Four issues seriously degrade the reliability of actuals.
- We, as individuals, remember pain. And we are much more inclined to remember when we took 100 percent longer to complete a one-day task than when we went 50 percent under on a two day task.
- Professionals prefer producing results over pushing paperwork. Sometimes we don’t put any mental cycles to tracking and remembering our effort against discrete activities. When the time come to push out the paperwork we can do no more than look back at our estimates.
- Sometimes we don’t work in sequence. Tasks get entangled. Priorities shift. We deviate from our plan to help other team members. The work gets done, but there’s no accounting for where the effort went. Again, our only fallback is our estimates.
- There is an expectation that each of us contribute a minimum number of hours per week, regardless of whether one is an employee, consultant or contractor. Will there be a problem if my actuals don’t add up to 40 hours (or more) a week? What about meetings, email, chores and helping other teams — where do those things go? No matter what reassurances you provide, too many of us will ensure that our weekly actuals total to the company work week, regardless of our actual effort toward shippable product.
Is it really worth spending your team’s limited resources on this?