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Working hours per project?

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  • Working hours per project?

    In section 2.3 of the GTD book (The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work) David Allen wrote that you would have probably three to five hundred hours’ worth of current actions to do if you stopped the world right now and got no more input from yourself or anyone else. He also wrote that many of the actions that you currently have in front of you are created by the thirty to one hundred projects on your plate.

    If I divide 300 to 500 working hours by 30 to 100 projects, I get the result of 3 to 17 working hours per project.

    Did I get this right? Does the GTD methodology assume or imply that the size of a usual project is not more than about 20 working hours?


  • #2
    Every project is unique

    Rainer: In my experience, every project is unique. Of course there are similar or repetitive projects where you you can anticipate an average duration but I haven't seen a "mean value" for duration develop.

    As an example, I know that updating my company's web site for a new maintenance release of one of our software applications takes approximately 4 hours of my time, three hours for my webmaster, and four hours for my assistant. I know what the dependencies are (hand off from one of us to the other) and where the latency will come from externally (review by our editor, approval from our product manager, etc.).


    • #3
      Re: Every project is unique

      Originally posted by mochant
      Rainer: In my experience, every project is unique. Of course there are similar or repetitive projects where you you can anticipate an average duration but I haven't seen a "mean value" for duration develop.

      I am looking for an upper limit for the size of a project.

      At BrianK wrote:
      "I'm a litigator, so my work is case driven. I'm also an associate, so I work on several cases, assisting several partners. I visualize and record most cases that I'm on as a 20k area of responsibility, rather than a project. My projects are the components of each case that I'm responsible, such as drafting or responding to certain discovery, drafting motions, taking depositions, interviewing witnesses or experts, and other activities on that level."

      BrianK's statement somehow makes sense to me.

      It would be helpful for me to have an upper limit for the size of a project, a point where a larger project (more than 200 hours) should be better considered as a special item within an area of responsibility or focus , and should be separated into several smaller projects.

      My intension is: I wonder if I should treat my larger projects in a similar way, too. Not as law cases of course, but e.g. as issues within an area of responsibility. E.g. my current project "drafting, writing and intranetting several hundreds of safety guidelines for hazardous chemicals" at our hospital would become the issue "safety guidelines for hazardous chemicals" within the area of responsibility called "hazardous chemicals".



      • #4

        I agree with Marc that there's really no "right" or average amount of time to spend on a project. DA's two examples show the range: "Reorganize marketing division" could take hundreds of hours over a 6-month period or longer, while "Buy new tires" will take a couple of hours, tops. But both are projects - an identifiable outcome that will take more than one step to complete. (Reorganizing a division will probably have many subprojects: planning meetings, drafting new job responsibilities, preparing a budget, etc.)

        I generally distinguish projects from areas of focus by asking myself whether there's an specific outcome involved. Just like you can't "do" a project, you can't "achieve" an area of focus. "Personal Health" as an area of focus, or, for me, a specific legal case, doesn't really have a specific outcome that I need to be reminded about. Sure, I want to resolve every case, but I don't need to be reminded about it. I just need a placeholder there to remind me that I'm responsible for it. And I want to maintain my personal health, but that's not something I can really achieve - I have to achieve specific projects to get there.

        It sounds like your example, "drafting, writing and intranetting several hundreds of safety guidelines for hazardous chemicals" is actually more than one project. To me, it sounds like hundreds of projects. Thinking of it as an area of focus of "safety guidelines for hazardous chemicals" might work. If you truly have hundreds of them to do, I'd break them down into Projects (ones you want/need to get done first) and Someday/Maybes. Maybe even a separate SD/M list that you keep for SD/Ms under that specific area of focus.

        BTW, Ranier, I'm a big fan. Your posts are always thoughtful and helpful. Your reference to the Transforming Practices site ( ) was great.

        Take care.


        • #5
          Originally posted by CosmoGTD
          "any outcome you're committed to finish within the next twelve months that will take more than one action step to get there".
          Thank you! Transcribed into my world that would mean a maximum of 1500 to 2000 working hours per project, if one would be working on only one project per year.



          • #6

            thank you for your kind answer.

            I had already divided my monster project into hundreds of sub-projects. But going the way you suggested by breaking it down into hundreds of single projects and thinking of it as an area of focus will be much better , because that's what it virtually means to me: an area of focus.

            Fortunately I'm not obligated to finish it within the next twelve months.




            • #7
              Great discussion guys!

              Rainer - just as a followup on how I approach the monsters. I'm in the final stages of completing a complete overhaul of one of the product sections on my company's web site. This monster has taken a couple of months, has impacted dozens of existing pages on our site, has generated more than a dozen new pages (with the requisite content and graphics), and has also spawned a new database-driven application to help customers select an appropriate product.

              If I had approached this as one project with a series of NAs, I would have been lost! At times I had three or four "projects" under this monster umbrella running at any given time.

              So my approach has been to use "new VShell section" as a focus area, each component of that focus area as a project, and the very next thing I can/need to accomplish as a NA and it's been a very "good" project in terms of staying on task, gettting things done on a daily basis, and being able to report to my team and my boss on our progress.



              • #8
                Normal Curve - 6 sigma events

                When David wrote that projects take anywhere between 3 to 17 hrs (the math is right), he meant that most of the projects take around that time. But there always are projects that could take only a few minutes and there are projects that could take a few hundred hours. The new information does not in any way contradict what DA says. Statistically these events fall on the end of the bell curve (normal curve).


                • #9

                  thanks for sharing your success story. This strengthens my resolve to view my monster project as an area of focus.



                  • #10

                    I didn't know that those numbers DA gave us in his book where based on the probability density function. Thanks for this hint.