Who Cares about the Cost of Time?



Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have,

and only you can determine how it will be spent.

— Carl Sandburg, American poet


The answer to the question in the title of this blog post is simple: we all should! It is, as Carl Sandburg wrote, the coin of our lives. Yet every time someone commissions a project, they are allowing others to determine how their most valuable “coin” will be spent. If we spend a dollar to create a widget, we can usually get that dollar, and more, back when we sell it. But we can never get back the time that was spent in designing and prototyping and manufacturing and testing and deploying that widget – it’s gone for good. How strange, then, that corporations have whole finance departments busily forecasting and tracking the spending of every dollar, yet the value of the time the project takes often slips by unmeasured in monetary terms. Time is one of the three constraints of the venerable Iron Triangle (discussed in this November blog post “Turning Iron into Gold!”). The other two constraints are Scope and Cost. Cost is the monetized metric of resource usage – the dollars (or yen, euros, rupees, etc.) one has to pay to obtain the resources necessary to create the Scope. Scope is the reason for doing the project: the value the Scope is expected to generate. The one thing certain thing about Scope is that the value it’s expected to generate is greater than the cost of resources needed to generate it! No sane person would ever knowingly invest money in a project expected to generate less value than it will cost (which, of course, is why every project is an investment!). So both the Cost and Scope sides of the Triangle can be estimated in dollars. That means that if we are to use the three-sided paradigm for making decisions and trade-offs across the project, we must have an estimate of Time that is also in dollars. On projects, time delay almost always causes value decay. How much would the same Scope be worth if we could generate the final product three weeks earlier? How much value must that fragnet of optional Scope add to the project’s expected value if it’s also adding two weeks to the duration? And how much better or worse off would we be if we spent an extra $20,000 on resources to avoid the schedule slipping by a week? The answers to all these questions are dependent on the interaction of Time on the value of the Scope and the Cost of the resources. ImitationGame A week ago, I saw a movie that contains a number of project management motifs: The Imitation Game. There is a very powerful bit of dialogue at one point (so powerful that it is featured in the movie’s trailer (at 0:30 seconds in). Stewart Menzies, the “sponsor” of the project to decode the output of the captured German Enigma encryption machine, is talking to the “project manager” Alan Turing: *** MENZIES: Mr. Turing. Do you know how many British servicemen have died because of Enigma? TURING: I don’t. MENZIES: Three… (All stare at Menzies) TURING: That doesn’t sound like very many. MENZIES: …while we’ve been having this conversation. (Checks his watch) Oh, look. There’s another. Rather hope he didn’t have a family. *** This brings home in human terms the cost of time, and the value of shortening the project. Yes, it is often particularly salient in wartime. But it’s also true on healthcare and pharmaceutical and medical device projects, and on national security, and on digging potable water wells, and on emergency response projects. If you are unsure of how to think about the cost of time, and how to use it along with critical path drag and drag cost to optimize an important schedule, I would urge you to read the chapter “Time Is a Murderer!” from CRC Press’s Handbook of Emergency Response. You can read it for free right on this site, under the REFERENCE tab on the front page (or just click on the hyperlink above). I feel as though writing that chapter was one of the most important things I have ever done. I hope it will lead to the saving of human lives. In my next blog post, I plan to address what a project manager should do in the (very likely!) event that no one has informed him or her about the value/cost of time. Fraternally in project management, Steve the Bajan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s