Monday, December 15, 2014

Manage Time, not Results! 2697.1 to 2715.3 Miles: 12/15/14

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Entered North Dakota
Completed Segment 40

Route 12 has wide shoulders in Montana, but they are narrow in North Dakota. It doesn't look like there is much traffic.

There is a small convenience store in Mamarth, ND about halfway through these legs. 

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Forward Planning and Progress Monitoring


Most people use deadlines to determine if they are completing a task on time. If they are writing a book, they plan time slots for each activity such as research, outlining, writing, proofreading, etc. Experienced writers know how long it takes to write a book and they may hit these deadlines closely. But what happens when they get ahead of schedule? Do they take some time off or continue working as hard. There is a trap in deadline planning that ensures many projects will be late.

Forward Planning

When I was in the Air Force, I'd sometimes go on six week deployments overseas. At the beginning of the deployment, they would advance us $25 a day to buy food. It was a long time ago, so $25 was enough.

Each day, I counted my money to determine how much I could spend a day during the rest of the deployment. This is planning by looking forward.

Children plan forward when on vacation. Did you ever hear a kid ask, "How long have we been traveling?" No, they are interested in when they will get to the destination. 

If someone is driving to catch a plane, do they ever ask how long they have been driving? No. They are doing a series of calculations to determine when they will reach the airport. Most people plan a buffer to arrive in plenty of time for parking, check-in, screening and boarding. 

Forward looking planing can help avoid the "deadline trap" that ensures many projects will be late.

The Deadline Trap

Take the case of driving to the airport. They decide to leave 30 minutes sooner than needed to allow for delays. Suppose the traffic moves quicker than the person anticipated. They have an extra 15 minutes and decide to stop for a fast-food breakfast. The line is longer than they anticipated and it takes them 25 minutes to make the stop. Then they get a few lights against them and they have eaten into 30 minutes of their buffer. Now, instead of being early, they are late. The line at the check-in counter is longer than expected. They are asked to step aside at screening. Then they have to run all the way to the last gate. As they arrive at the gate, the door of the plane is closing and they missed their flight.

4 x 440 Relay Race

This is important enough to warrant another example. It is inspired by "The Critical Chain" by Eliyahu Goldratt and "The Project Manifesto" by Bob Newbold and Bill Lynch. 

Compare a project to a 4 x 440 relay race where each runner will run one lap. The goal is to complete the four laps in four minutes.

The first runner runs their lap in 55 seconds. Instead of passing the baton, they weight until 60 seconds to pass the baton. The second runner runs their lap in 65 seconds and passes the baton.
The third runner runs their lap in 53 seconds and again waits until 60 seconds to pass the baton. The fourth runner runs their lap in 60 seconds. Total time: 4:05.

Everyone looks at the slow runner and blames them for missing the goal. Is that really what happened? Of course not. But this is what happens with deadline planning.

Deadline Planning Negates Early Finishes

When people meet a deadline, they often don't pass on the project to the next step. If they did, they would get a shorter deadline the next time. Meanwhile, they would get extra work to do.

The normal way of planning is to give a safety buffer at each phase of the project. The Critical Chain way is to put the buffer at the end. The project manager monitors when the project will be done, not how far it has progressed. Since the baton is passed as each phase is complete, it should run ahead of schedule on most projects.

Practical Application

At the start of a project, estimate the exact FOCUSED time in hours it will take to complete the project with zero delays. Add a 20% buffer to the ENTIRE project and have no buffers to the individual steps. Track the FOCUSED time spent on the project. Do not panic until you've used up 10 to 15% of the buffer. 

48 State Hike Application

The walker will have to average 24 miles a day which should take about 7 hours at walking pace. Instead of tracking miles each day, track the hours at walking pace. This will keep the benefit of good days which will offset the bad days. About once a week, determine how many hours a day are needed to arrive on time.


Tracking a project by time instead of progress is a new concept to many. Try it on something non-critical like house cleaning or yard work. I've been using this method for a couple years and it does help me complete projects quickly.

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