Take Control of Your Activities
by Nancy Poma
During our third certified software quality engineer (CSQE) study group at my organization, EDS, we came up with a planning and tracking tool (see Figure 1) to help people manage their study time outside the weekly, two-hour review sessions. We used their ratings from another self-assessment tool and also asked them to record how much time they planned to study and the actual amount of time they spent studying. The average personal preparation time, based on 12 people from the last two study groups, was 75 hours with a range of 55 to 135 hours.
This year, we used the same self-assessment tool to determine how best to allocate time in the weekly sessions to the various topics. Though the planning and tracking tool was designed to help people study, it can be used to manage any set of activities or even a small project.
The planning portion of the worksheet asks a person to estimate the total number of hours he or she plans to spend preparing for the exam outside the study group sessions. The estimate is spread across the subject areas in the CSQE body of knowledge (BOK) and is based on the percentages of questions on the exam.
Each participant completes the self-assessment against the seven BOK subject areas, rating each area on a scale of one to five, in which one is low knowledge and five is high knowledge. The planned preparation time is then adjusted manually: The time for subject areas that were rated low is increased, and the time for subject areas that were rated high is decreased.
For example, if the initial total number of hours was set to 70, program and project management (PM) and verification and validation (VV) would each be set to 10.5 hours or 15% based on their exam weighting. The adjusted estimates, however, would be 12.08 hours for PM and 8.93 hours for VV because the self-assessment values were two (below average) and four (above average), respectively.
The tracking portion of the worksheet starts with the adjusted total number of hours each participant determined during planning and spreads them out over the number of weeks before the exam. The participant then enters the actual number of hours spent studying each week in the appropriate cell, based on the week and subject area. The cumulative estimates, actual values and differences are used to determine if the person is ahead or behind plan.
The individual in our example came close to his original 70-hour estimate by doing some extra studying the week before the exam. He also came close to my 80/20 recommendation for reading/testing time, with an 85/15 ratio from 58.5 hours reading and 10.5 hours testing.
Since most people are more familiar with spreadsheets than project management tools, you can start taking control of your activities with these planning and tracking worksheets. For example, you can use them to manage your time across a set of activities, including your typical workload for 40 hours per week. You can also use them to manage a small project with five to 10 tasks spread out over two to four months.
You should review the charts regularly to determine if you are making progress according to your original plan, if your estimates need to be revised or if you need to take other corrective action. As with any planning approach, some tasks will require more effort than you estimated and others will require less. If you start to plan and track your activities or small projects, you will soon get better at managing your own time.
NANCY POMA is a quality engineer at EDS in Detroit. She earned a master's degree in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Poma is a Senior Member of ASQ and a certified quality engineer, quality auditor and software quality engineer.
I would like to thank Robert Pietras of EDS Canada Inc. for providing the data used in this example.