The Automated Project Manager


Stephen Thomas gave a talk at the Digital PM Summit that mentioned Harvest as a way to help bring some creativity, flexibility, and innovation to your projects and work life. Here he shares his tips and insights.

Portrait photography by John Cairns

How long before the robots attack?

One of the great things about working at White October is that I am continually inspired by the work of our amazing creative designers and developers. In all of the projects I’ve worked on there has been a continual drive to find more efficient ways of completing tasks so that budget and time can be saved for tackling more complex problems.

Modern web and app development is an extremely creative vocation. The designers and developers I work with relish solving problems and finding innovative ways of giving users an amazing experience.

Development isn’t always regarded as creative. There are so many essential yet relatively mundane tasks a developer may have work on in a day. Tasks like, deploying code, running tests and provisioning servers are generally quantifiable, repeatable and unlikely to challenge an experienced developer. It’s no surprise then that most of these tasks become automated over time, but I’m continually inspired by how much automation developers (and to some degree designers) bring to their day to day jobs to reduce the burden of the mundane and make space for the creative.

Why then should Project Managers and other non-technical roles be exempt from automation? Many of our tasks are quantifiable, repeatable and relatively straightforward. I beleive Project Management too is an very creative role, so I set out to find out whether I could begin to automate more of my job.

What was great, is that I already have a day to day record of every task I do in my job: my daily timesheet in Harvest.

Personal metadata

So I started to add my own metadata to my Harvest timesheets. In each entry description I would add my own code depending on whether I had enjoyed the task and whether I felt it had potential for automation or it could be delegated.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 13.11.03

My code was very simple:

  • (M|+) – meant a manual task that was positive
  • (D|=) – meant a task that could be delegated and was emotionally neutral
  • (A|-) – referred to a task that could be automated and was emotionally negative

Various combinations of the above gave me a rich set of data to work with.

Job-audit analysis

I was then able to use Harvest’s detailed export function to get all of my data in one place. Then using simple COUNTIF statements (e.g. =COUNTIF(F2:F19,”*M|*”), I could aggregate and analyse the data I had built up over time.

This opened up new possibilities for how I used my timesheets. In theory I could track my mood, the type of work I was doing, and even my stress level – anything I could quantify could then be tracked.

Looking at how I felt about tasks and whether I thought they could be automated, I found a number of interesting things:  

  1. I like my job – broadly my day to day job is positive which is great to know.
  2. There are a lot of tasks that I don’t like doing which can be automated e.g.
    1. Reminding team members of important daily tasks – can be automated via a wide variety of tools – some more fun than others.
    2. Recurring appointments can be automatically added to my timesheet with Zapier.
    3. Meetings can be automatically scheduled with meekan scheduler.
    4. Testers and team members can be automatically notified when new features are ready for review.
    5. Rather than give clients access regular budget updates we can just give them access to our time tracking tools and let them review spend whenever they want.

The last point also made me realise how much time can be saved by being completely transparent with clients. The earlier a client can see that a budget is being stretched or a problem is potentially arising, then the more likely it is you can both come to an agreement on how to deal with it. Saving up the bad news and letting the client know that there is no money left a week before launch leaves you both in a difficult position and less likely to find a win-win solution.


Automation is going to change our jobs at some point. You only have to look at articles like: to see how we might all be impacted. Rather than fearing this change, we should be embracing it to free up time to upskill on the new proficiencies needed for the next generation of work. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

The precursor to this article was originally posted by Stephen Thomas on Harvest, 19 Nov 2015.  Read it here

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