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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…)

In a recent blog post, Jennifer 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.

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Comment by Dina Garfinkel on October 2, 2010 at 8:46pm
I guess the message might not have been clear to all, but it was meant to be a joke. Of course I would not want to micromanage my team in this way (or any way for that matter). I would never want to follow them around all day with a clipboard, I'm sure they would toilet-paper my desk if I did!

Yes, we should just make a guess at what the distraction factor would be, something around 2-3 hours of lost time per 8 hr work day. Just suggesting some way to have fun doing it.... (but just for fun of course).
Comment by amz on October 2, 2010 at 5:09pm
Isn't creating a D.F. for every team member a waste of time for the PM?
I want to ask also about the virtual teams, and do you think this rule can be applied on different cultures or regions or countries?
Comment by DAVID ESPINA, PMP on September 25, 2010 at 7:49am
This is not new. This is an estimating given and work performance variance since...I guess forever. We all fight waste in a given work day, but I would argue that if someone was able to turn wrenches the full eight hours, the work result would have less value than something less than eight. This is because non productive time has value in other work areas, e.g., relationship building with the team and customer, politics, and simply rest. The law of diminishing returns plays here.

I would also caution in trying to micro-manage your resources day. This is way too low for any serious leader. Incentive coupled with constantly rising goals would be far more productive than punishing coffee breaks.
Comment by Bruce Lofland on September 24, 2010 at 9:52am
Like William, I just use duration, not effort when creating a project schedule. Person-hours are not charged to projects unless provided by an outside vendor or on very large projects when we are required to use EVM. All of my team members work on multiple projects and also have production support responsibilities, so me trying to calculate their duration based on effort is not realistic. I just have them estimate the duration. For some team members I might pad this a little if they usually underestimate.
Comment by Elga Elena Mellado Quinones on September 18, 2010 at 9:41am
When creating a schedule, I take this in account using the availability percent. I never assume more than 75% of availability for each team member, no matter if his/her functional boss says that he/she will work only in my project. A higher allocation may happens, if the professional is working in more than one project at the same time, but this situation is a risk and should be close monitored.
The problem is that functional managers supose that every slice of time has to be used doing some work, and they often allocate people in more than one project at the same period, thinking that they are doing a better use of resorces.
Comment by Dina Garfinkel on September 13, 2010 at 1:18pm
What I've heard is that it's somewhere between 5 and 6. And yes, there absolutely are legitimate distractions. Of course when it's not relevant to OUR project it's still annoying to have to lose that time.

William, I like to consider my DF time spent on sites like these and twitter - #PMOT as professional development (and I log time to it that way!), so not as bad as wasting time on Facebook :)
Comment by Craig Blakeley on September 13, 2010 at 12:18pm
Also keep in mind that there are "legitimate" DFs--reading coprporate email; reading and responding to project email not related to the particular task being worked on; attending project meetings not related to the particular task, etc. It would be great if some think tank, or doctoral candidate did the actual research that talk about and came up with an "average" that could be used as a good rule of thumb, i.e. 8 hours of work = 5.4 hours of focused effort.
Comment by William Pirkey on September 13, 2010 at 9:44am
Joke or not, it is true. The "rule of thumb" that I've worked with is that one will provide 6 hours of productive work in any 8 hour day. Those remaining 2 hours cover FB + AIM + SMOKE + SHMOOZE. Unfortunately, you have to count "unnecessary meetings" as productive (just not on YOUR project).

I work mainly with absolute duration, since that sets the release date. The customer only cares about when they will see something. If I tell them "160 hours" (as in effort), they will be confused--and frankly won't care!

One distraction I have is replying to posts on

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