As a project manager mistakes are inevitable but some mistakes cause major set backs and really hurt the project. One thing that is coming up quite frequently is time and materials. Our system does not allow for people to properly track their time so when setting deadlines for VIP clients we usually end up eating the cost for our mistakes. I believe there is a fine line between privacy and productivity. I am resisting the urge to micro manage but I cannot allow my team to miss deadlines. What is an ethical way to go about making a more accurate timeline without jeopardizing my teams personal privacy?

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    What does personal privacy have to do with it? If you hire someone to work 8 hours a day, you have a right to them doing so and not for example surfing facebook all day. However, whether or not they are doing so has little to do with any mistakes you make as a project manager. Can you maybe give an example of what you mean?
    – nvoigt
    Jul 9, 2022 at 5:39
  • The best way to make up for lost time depends on the reasons for which you lost time (assuming you lost time for real and not just being unable to work in time to unreasonable expectations). Based on how you phrased your question it seems your people are slacking off, or that's the conclusion you have drawn. In this case you either explain to them that's unacceptable and you will do something so that the situation stops, or you get rid of them and replace them with people that actually do the work they were paid to do.
    – Bogdan
    Jul 9, 2022 at 7:48
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    I think I am also reading into your post that the customer is refusing to reimburse under the T&M for time spent linked to errors and rework?? And you have to remove those hours from your invoice? Or is this strictly missing deadlines? Jul 9, 2022 at 11:06

2 Answers 2


Don't Ignore the Elephant in the Room

As a project manager mistakes are inevitable but some mistakes cause major set backs and really hurt the project. One thing that is coming up quite frequently is time and materials.

This is 100% an X/Y problem, and is due to one or more of the following:

  1. An overly-optimistic scheduling process. If you always assume the happy path, and don't take sufficient account of foreseeable delays or predictable constraints, your projects will often be late. Q.E.D.
  2. A lack of sufficient slack in your processes. Queuing theory requires slack for optimal throughput; the 100% utilization fallacy often creates bottlenecks and slowdowns.
  3. Estimates based on sales objectives or management targets rather than realistic estimates from the task performers. Only the people actually doing the work can accurately (or even effectively) estimate the amount of time it will take them to perform any complex work. If you're getting your estimates from anyone other than the development/delivery team, you're going to get inaccurate estimates.
  4. Failing to inspect-and-adapt your process. You routinely have projects that are late due to scheduling and procurement issues, but you keep creating the same Pollyanna-like project plans. At this point, the organization is simply refusing to learn from past mistakes, doing the same thing over and over, and somehow expecting different results.
  5. Failing to perform a real root cause analysis. You obviously have over-ambitious fiat targets, fail to involve your team in accurate estimating, have persistent procurement or supply chain issues, and yet somehow have decided ab initio that the problem is that you aren't holding the development team "accountable" or tracking their time closely enough. That's clearly a prima facie fallacy, but likely feels more comfortable to you than having to address the organizational dysfunctions related to unrealistic sales or supply chain problems with senior leadership.

In short, based on the data you provided in your original post, you're blaming the development team for a systemic problem at your company and choosing micromanagement and deadline-driven death marches over solving whatever the real problems are with your organization's processes. That seems self-defeating.

Fixing organizational problems requires the involvement of senior leadership. If senior leadership can't or won't take ownership, they aren't doing their jobs. If you aren't confident enough in your role or lack sufficient influence to address a broken process with them, then the problem is at least partly you. In either case, the only real fix will require sufficient courage on your part to make the underlying problems visible and transparent to the organization, have honest discussions with everyone involved (including other organizational stakeholders besides just your project team), and a commitment from the entire organization to address the problems systemically and systematically rather than playing The Blame Game℠.


You need to fix your timekeeping system. Privacy is a nonissue. All types of professions track time in order to bill their clients.

All work is probabilistic while planning values--such as task duration or how much the task costs--are deterministic. So where you set your planning values that fall somewhere in the probabilistic outcomes matters. Most of the human error and other types of performance variability that we all exhibit are considered random, or aleatory-type uncertainty. You cannot reduce this type of uncertainty. You cannot control what is random.

The only way to cope with this type of uncertainty is through margin. This goes to #1 in Todd's answer, which I think is the most important driver of the issue you are experiencing. This means building in more pessimism into your planning values so that you can allow normal, randomly occurring human errors and other performance variabilities to run their course. No need to micromanage, no need to consequence an individual. Just monitor to ensure that errors and variability are within normal limits and that you do not have a chronically underperforming individual or capability that falls outside expectations.

My answer is not consequence-free. There are costs to this that you need to manage including higher cost estimates that your customer may not like and that may cause you to be less competitive in a bid. There are also other phenomena that take place where workers have a tendency to consume the additional "runway" you provide in your estimates and, over time, this can reduce your efficiency with your capabilities.

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