The Whys and Ways of Tracking Time on Projects
Back in the early days of computers there was an expression that went “garbage in, garbage out”. What did that mean? It meant that the output of what came from the computer was only as good as what was fed into the computer as the initial data. It’s interesting that you don’t hear that expression quite as much anymore. I suppose it’s because computing has come such a long way with validating and even correcting data that it’s not quite as relevant anymore.
But, there are still many areas where accurate data is an absolute must. One of these areas is the time that your team resources record for the projects they have been assigned. This may be done through either a manual process or perhaps you use project management tools to collect people’s time. Regardless of the method of collection it’s imperative that the time that is entered be accurate for a number of reasons.
Why Time Entry Must Be Accurate
- Billing – It’s critical to keep up with accurate time entry if you work in an environment that is time and materials based. This is where the client is billed based upon the number of hours that are worked.This is important for two reasons. First, you don’t want to overcharge the customer. It’s easy for resources to be generous in their rounding up calculations (for example, rounding up from 4 hours to 8) to cover for slow time or time that may have gotten bogged down in other issues. It’s not that the person is being dishonest regarding the time they spent, it’s just that they can forget where their time went and they may automatically apply it toward a particular project where they feel there may be room.The second reason is that if the project management tools you are using to collect time are not accurate then you may be undercharging the customer. This is just as bad as overcharging the customer because this time you are taking advantage of your own company and not maximizing the revenue potential, based upon agreements with this customer.
- Sales –Your sales team also depends upon accurate time entries in whichever project management tools you employ. Why? Because this allows them to know what parameters they can sell within to still make money for the company.There’s always a ‘best-case’ fee that the company can charge that would be optimal for the company’s bottom line. However, there is also a ‘worst case’ floor that the fee should never go below or else the company starts to lose money. It’s not that the company won’t make money at this worst case fee, it just won’t make as much as the best case scenario. How do you know what these ranges are? Accurate time entry.
- Management –= Accurate time entry is also important from the perspective of company management. They need metrics from project management tools in order to determine whether there is a bottleneck in a certain process or area that needs their attention. It may be that new technology needs to be implemented, additional resources need to be brought on board, or a combination of the two.
It’s important for time entry to be as accurate as possible for the above reasons. What are some things that can be done to help you and your team ensure their time entry in project management tools is as accurate as possible?
Ways to Accurately Record Time
- Instill the Correct Mentality about Timesheets – You need to instill in your team that want an accurate reporting of time, not a reconciliation of how they are spending every minute of their 40-hour work week (or whatever the common workweek is). If your team members think you are using their timesheets to clobber them over the head anytime they don’t hit 40 hours exactly, then you better believe that every time sheet that is entered is going to add up to 40 hours exactly.You know that with other meetings, administrative tasks, and other responsibilities this person is involved in there is no way that all that time can be attributed toward a particular set of projects. But, that is what will help as they enter their time in your project management tools. Make sure your team understands the motive and reason for collecting accurate time and they’ll be much more willing to provide that information to you.
- Allow for Non-Project Time in Your Timesheets – Telling them that you understand that their day is filled with other non-project related work, but then not giving them the ability to account for that time sends the wrong message. Make sure you include appropriate categories such as administration, meetings, mentoring others, and other categories of how people spend their time throughout the day.
- Encourage Frequent Time Entry – Quick…can you remember what you did one week ago at this exact time? Well, neither can your project team members. It’s easy for a day, a week, or even weeks slip away with a stitch of time being entered into any project management tools. It’s next to impossible to go back that far and recreate where the time was spent.This is a sure-fire recipe for “garbage in, garbage out” and reports that will quickly be sized up as inaccurate and not worth reading. Have your team enter their time on best case a daily basis and worst case a weekly basis. Don’t go beyond a week at a time.
- Don’t Have Time Entered Before It Is Expended – Here’s a common occurrence. It’s been a long week and everyone has worked extra hard. It’s late Thursday afternoon and some of your resources start putting in their time for the week. While they are at it they go ahead and put in Friday’s time as well. They have a general idea of what they’ll be working on tomorrow and this way they don’t have to worry about doing it tomorrow. You get your weekly timesheet and they get to leave on time. Sounds good in theory. But, the reality is that something could come up on Friday that doesn’t look like the timesheet they entered in the project management tools. This will result in one project being overcharged and one project being undercharged.
It’s not terribly complicated to enter accurate time in the project management tools you use to run your project. But, it does require diligence on your part to keep up with who is entering time and how often it is being entered.
A gentle nudge or reminder is typically all that it takes to get someone to enter their time if they’ve gotten a little behind. Show them the results of the time that is being entered. You can highlight the higher revenues the company has brought in (job security for them), the better jobs Sales is selling (less frustration for them), and some of the areas management has been able to streamline (less aggravation for them).
These positive results will encourage them to keep their time up-to-date and accurate and provide you with the information you need to run your projects.
Try ProjectManager.com free for 30 days and see how easy it is for your team to enter their time. On each Timesheet you can record the time spent, tasks completed and add notes to each entry. You can also view the total time entered on the Timesheet each week. Timesheets can be complete within a couple of minutes each week!