Hello All—I'm a marketing and communications professional, but not a PMI-certified project management expert. Obviously, though, PM is a big part of my work, and I've managed countless projects over 3 decades in the industry.
Recently our organization has struggled with capacity issues—the usual: too few staff, too much work. Prioritization based on our mission and strategic plan are, of course, important. But I'm finding that capacity—as expressed in how many hours are assigned/available to each person on a weekly basis—is at the core of our difficulties.
What I'm looking for may already be a part of many PM systems and apps, but let me describe it briefly and see if anyone has a recommendation. This is my idea of how an app like this might work:
• The app starts with 40hrs/week for a single individual
• Estimated project hours are entered into the app, which automatically applies them to the weekly schedule—not to specific days or times, just as a bulk quantity of hours—which are then subtracted from the starting 40hrs/week.
• As the step above is repeated, the app keeps track of the total hours (either estimated or committed) applied to work weeks in the future; the app would also retain info about which project the hours are associated with.
• If a new project is entered with no deadline, the app simply adds those hours to the running total (after all previously-entered hours)—and shows how many full weeks you already have (e.g. without a deadline, the app just assigns your project to the next available hours—which could be a month from now).
• (Here's the really useful function): If a project is entered and has a deadline prior to the next available free hours, then the app alerts you with a message like "Something has to give! You have already committed 40hrs to other projects this week. Please choose the project (or projects) you'd like to take hours from this week for this new project."
• Finally, in the case of the above step, the app would then bump (or juggle, or cascade) all the other project hours further down the calendar.
The idea behind this app is that it's not a full PM app, but rather simply just a capacity-awareness app; a way for you to see, at a glance, how booked you are (for the next X weeks or X months), and it does the "hour juggling" for you when you have to force more than 40hrs/week into the schedule.
I realize that this can probably be done using traditional task- and project-based PM apps; but it would be more difficult. What's different about my envisioned app is that its "basic unit of currency" would not be tasks, to-do's, or projects—but hours, plain and simple. (One could continue using another PM app for all the tasks and projects—informed by the underlying capacity awareness this app would provide.)
What I'm envisioning might be accomplished with a cleverly-design Excel spreadsheet—but I have no clue how you would build the functionality of cascading all hours forward on the calendar when additional hours (beyond 40) are added?
Finally, what motivates me to try to find (or build) an app like this is that no matter how well-managed projects are in a given environment or organization, PM systems invariably fail to take overall capacity into the equation. Most PM apps (I'm talking about apps like Asana or Basecamp) let you keep track of projects, tasks, and deadlines...but they don't address overall capacity. And the only way I know of to address overall capacity is using hours—because we all have a finite number of hours to work in every week.
And in my own prioritization, I often find this lack of "total committed hours" in a given week or month makes knowing what my capacity is very difficult (often leading to over-committing). So if I had something that would "babysit" the hours for me and tell me at a glance how many hours are already committed for this week or that week, it would be very easy for me to say "if I move this project up the priority list, it will push my schedule out X days or X weeks for all these other projects."
I hope this makes sense. And I'm hoping someone will say "Sure, you need [insert app name here]; it does exactly what you're looking for. LOL
Thanks for the replies all. I'm not at all familiar with planning software, so that may be something to look into. Our organization is small (25 full-time staff). And if an app like this was developed, I'm sure there are plenty of details to resolve. For starters (in our situation) I'd probably only begin with 30 production hours per week (maybe less) to account for the inevitable meetings and other random things that sap time from every week. :-)
And it might make sense to combine this with a time-tracking app (so that actual hours can be added as well as estimated).
To add to my earlier post, I believe an "Achilles Heel" of small businesses (maybe larger ones?) is that nobody ever really knows how many hours per week (or per month) are being used by ALL projects. In every workplace I've been for decades, overcommitment is a common problem. While project-level awareness is generally good, global awareness is usually bad. This often leads to all sorts of problems—like frustration in upper management (why aren't these things getting done?), burnout in employees, etc.
The answer, though it might sound simplistic, is clear: do NOT overcommit! I would submit that it is, in fact, better for a business or organization to have "not quite enough" work than to have too much.
I have come across some apps that do a fantastic job of tracking actual hours spent. This would have to be combined with a spreadsheet solution in order to review the planned hours remaining.
[Note to reviewers: I am providing specific app names as it is requested in the OP. I am not affiliated with the developers and do not gain in any way from mentioning the apps here. I am not sure if I am allowed to post app names in the forums - please let me know if I have crossed a line here]
For Windows: ManicTime (free download available, upgradable to extra features for a price). This app runs in the background and records the duration of every active window. It also records the title of such windows -- which is extremely helpful if your organisation has a naming convention that can make it easy to tag project work and non-project work. The free version needs to be installed on every individual computer and reports must be drawn individually.
For iOS: Eternity: Again, free. Very strong application to record start-stop times for every activity. This app is again individual - there is no central reporting, collection of data, or oversight.
For Android: 'A Time Tracker': Free and Open Source from the F-Droid marketplace (not the Google Play Store). Again, individual reporting.
All these apps provide adequate reports on hours spent (on which project, etc.).
I personally use A Time Tracker now (my organisation's IT policies are very strict now for 3rd-party Windows apps and I no longer have an iPhone) to keep track of how much time I spend on which project. We have a centralised mega-solution covering every aspect of project management -- so I don't need to worry about individually tracking every team member's times (well, unless they bill insanely). Saving Changes...