This really is Part 3! Even regular readers are forgiven for not remembering Parts 1 & 2 which were posted in, um, August 2004! The last line of Part 2 read: More to follow... I must admit I didn’t think it would be several years later!
First a Review: What were Parts 1 & 2 about?
Those posts covered how I track projects and activities with a combination of MindManager and Outlook. They showed how MindManager links to Outlook with the map topics creating and managing Outlook Tasks:
I use the same techniques today but my “work map” has evolved over the past couple of years! The structure is similar but there is a little more content and a lot more colour! What I didn’t show in 2004 is how I then use the tasks generated to fill in my Outlook Calendar to record activity and time.
Using MindManager/Outlook Tasks & Calendar to track time:
While some have dedicated time/billing reporting systems I suspect many more don’t but could benefit from a simple system that uses software you probably already have. I don’t need to bill time in my current role but this habit was formed when I was a contractor, used for tracking billing, so it’s just a natural part of the day and takes literally a minute or two to complete.
It relies on Outlook’s Tasks and Calendar but I now generate the tasks directly from a linked MindManager Map. The reason is I’ve never really liked the list format, even arranged by category, used for tasks in Outlook. I can’t relate them to projects or see how various tasks relate to people, dept’s or divisions. Besides Outlook can’t match MindManager for graphic richness and ease of editing.
Create a topic, add % Complete, tick the Categories then MindManager will synchronise it to Outlook creating a task list ready for further use. Meetings and other calendar items not generated by MindManager can be tagged in Outlook and linked back to the map if required but it’s not essential to do that as long as you match the categories. That’s easy as it’s just matter of copy/paste the text string in the category field from a linked project task. I don’t use/maintain the “Category List” in Outlook as it’s not required. I have categories which enable tracking project/activity and “customer” which for me means person, department and division.
I typically track 15 minute blocks and it’s simple to highlight the time period in the calendar and drag ‘n drop the task, created by and linked from MindManager, to record it. I keep the task in MindManager topic fairly generic, often just a project/activity name, and add any task specific notes to the “calendar drop” in Outlook.
For example the generic “CAD Management” in MindManager/Task could become “CAD Management – Space Data” for 30 minutes in the calendar. This keeps the map manageable but you can still find reasonable task detail if you need it. Don’t worry if you want to tag a single task with multiple categories, just decide on a name format to make sense of them. I have Project/Activity, G-Group, D-Dept, I-Individual categories and tag one task with multiple categories. Adding it from any of them in the task list results in the same calendar entry. In fact the example below shows a category “!!On Going” which I only use to filter a few often used tasks, with preset categories, to the top of the list.
Now the big question – What do you do, who for, why and what did it achieve?
It’s performance appraisal time and I suspect I’m not alone in finding one challenge presented by appraisals/competency/ development plans for CAD Managers is figuring out what you do, who you do it for and what value it adds. That may sound absurd but the role is generally cross-functional, multi-discipline and often, if things are going well, virtually invisible.
As an example consider what could happen on the average day;
- I’m not a Full-time Designer but I do Design work, hey I’m a CAD user too!
- I’m not a IT Support Technician but I support CAD & related applications…
- I’m not a IT Infrastructure Architect but I may do that or work with them on server/user/security and database structures…
- I’m not a IT Hardware Technician but I may build or repair CAD related hardware…
- I’m not an Application Engineer but that’s what I do for CAD…
- I’m not a Printer technician but I might fix printer/plotters…
- I’m not a Tutor but might be planning, taking or doing training… and on it goes
To complicate things further I may be doing this for CAD or other users in my department, other departments, sometimes even other divisions or companies (working with consultants).
Over the years I’ve attended excellent sessions on CAD Management & Training, both at AU and local events, hosted by CAD’lebrities like Ralph Grabowski, Hugh Bathurst, Robert Green, Yoshi Honda, Mark W Kiker, Matt Murphy and others and there has been a common thread to all of them. Talking to management comes back to simple examples, facts, figures and quantifiable benefits. That can be tricky when you manage a complex system, have multiple roles, multiple “clients” which may span the business. To make things worse some time may be spent working on development/research into systems that will not be in use for weeks, months, even years – perhaps never!
Reporting: From Detail to Summary in a click, OK a few clicks...
While I don’t have the complete all answer to this I do have a fairly painless strategy to sort out the “What did I do” and “Who for” portion. It relies on those tasks that I’ve been dropping into Outlook throughout the year. At any time you can File>Import & Export>Export to a File the Outlook Calendar data to spreadsheet or database for analysis. I just use a spreadsheet hiding most columns to create a simple Task | Time | Category list.
Why not do this in Excel to start with? It’s likely Outlook is already tracking part of your day – meetings etc – so make the most of that and just fill in the gaps.
Its then easy to create a high level summary of Division, Department and Task (type) activity with the confidence that it’s based on actual data rather than just “gut feel”.
I keep these reports fairly generic, mostly talking percentages rather than actual time, as it’s usually the mix, rather than the detail or quantity, that’s important. If something does stand out you can review it at task level to examine the cause. For example it’s possible for a “Design Project” to create a load of back-end system related work as you create/change content and tools to provide the desired “Design” results. Because of this I track all activity not just directly project specific tasks.
Testing and research, yep even beta, is an important part of keeping ahead of the curve, technology or business, and meeting current/future needs. It may help you avoid a lot of wasted production time doing work rendered obsolete or irrelevant by a feature in “the next version”. Get involved then it’s another thing you don’t have to guess about!
So, have I found the perfect solution for Appraisals?
Well no, but a solid report of what you actually have been doing and who is creating that demand is a good start. It’s certainly better than a guess! You can then forget about that and concentrate on why things happened, what you’ve achieved and how to improve. More to follow in Part 4… (hopefully before 2010!)