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Here's the type of situation that I've been struggling with, and I'm certainly not the first:

  • Project has a budget based on the estimated time to develop the solution
  • Deadline to turn project over to the PM for QA is one some date
  • I am working on multiple projects at once, and each has a budgeted number of hours and deadline

Tracking my progress against a budget and deadline would be pretty straightforward if I knew exactly how I was going to implement it, and only had one or two projects to focus on at a time. However, I'm building websites with Drupal, and every project includes some functionality that might be available as module - or the available module won't work at all, and it will require significant effort to build that functionality.

What strategy have you found most helpful to keep track of where you are in a project so that you can accurately report to the PM how far along you are, and identify early on if the project is in danger of running late or going over budget, especially in cases where the time required for some parts is unknown?

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2 Answers

I ended up using a simple Excel file that I keep readily available and I update that with time spent on various projects throughout the day. I categorize the entries and then just use the Sort and SubTotal features to do reporting per project. Each week, I add a new worksheet to the file and track time for the week in that sheet.

It is hardly elegant but it is very simple and very flexible. I've tried other more complicated solutions but I keep ending up back at this because of the simplicity.

The trick to making this work (well, any solution actually) is to develop the discipline to update it as you are working on things rather than waiting until the end of the day and then trying to remember what you did all day. The more projects you juggle, the harder that gets.

If you mean to track your progress as in "Percent Complete" then good luck with that. As any project manager will tell you, all tasks are at 90% complete all the time. Its just that last 10% that takes all the time :) Seriously, Percent Complete is one of the most worthless numbers associated with project management because most of the time it is literally just pulled out of thin air.

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+1: Your observations on "Percent Complete" are >90% correct. –  Charles Bailey Aug 20 '11 at 10:56
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You'll have to factor in the following parameters and resources:

  • Skill set of your team members
  • Dedication of your team members
  • Cohesiveness of your team members
  • Availability of your team members
  • Your familiarity with the team members and how they work/act/behave (alone, with each other and with customers and PMs)
  • Your familiarity with the project tasks and requirements and ability to translate those requirements to your team
  • The familiarity your team members have with those tasks

No software or spreadsheet or database is going to supplant the human interface and human understanding aspects when it comes to managing a software development project. You can "guesstimate" all you want, but it's going to be a guesstimate, unless you know the team, the tasks and the resources at your disposal. I'm sure I didn't answer your question, but I've been managing software development projects for twenty-odd years and have been told dozens of times of a "new and incredible" software product that will nail down estimation and project management but none of them work unless you nail down the items mentioned above.

Start by itemizing tasks at the lowest or most modular level (conceptually). Assign difficulty values and estimated time durations (man hours, etc.). Assign candidate resources. Then work your way back to determine availability/overlap and you can use Project or a Gantt chart to lay out the scheduling from there. I'm leaving out a ton of steps getting from assessment to the task/work breakdown effort, but you get the point.

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