7 Essential Elements of Time Tracking Systems

project managers know not all time tracking systems are created equally

There are scores of time tracking systems that have been developed to collect, aggregate, and monitor time. Unfortunately, most people’s experience with many of these systems has been less than satisfactory.

The dust that’s kicked up by management needing time and resource cost numbers often ends up on the boxes of the unused chosen application. The timesheet application that was to be a solution to everyone’s problems winds up being a temporary diversion for accountants and managers and provides no value for actual users.

What to Look For in a Time Tracking System

You may wonder then, what are some of the characteristics you should look for when making a decision about purchasing and implementing a time tracking software system in your company.  The following list contains 7 of the key requirements a time tracking system should possess.

1.  They’re Based Upon How Work Gets Done in your Company

Every workplace has a certain way of moving projects through the company. Good time management systems recognize that this pattern of development is sacred (as long as it works) and will mirror how the group works rather than force everyone to conform to the way it tracks time. Implementing a new tool needs to be as non-obtrusive as possible.

If you want your implementation to fail right out of the gate, then you’ll require those that work on your teams to conform to the way that it needs to track time. If you start causing the valuable people that are working on your projects to slow down and change their long-established ways, then get ready for an uphill battle that you will not win.

2.  They’re Not Too Hot…They’re Not Too Cold

Time tracking applications fall into two categories – extremely complex or extremely simple.

The extremely complex versions include all the bells, whistles, and accoutrements that require a Ph.D. to program, understand, and implement. The extremely simple versions provide little more than a glorified spreadsheet in which to enter your time. Time tracking systems that work contain just the right amount of functionality that will neither overwhelm nor “under-whelm” the user.

How can you judge if your project time tracking software is either “too hot” or “too cold?”

If you find that the people that are having to track their time in the application complain incessantly about how complicated it is or the amount of time it takes to enter their time, then it’s most likely “too hot” and won’t be adopted readily.

On the other hand, if you find that management complains about the lack of detail they receive about what is happening with the current projects or that the reports are too cumbersome to figure out, then it may be “too cold” and not supported from the top down. It’s up to you as the project manager to find the balance between one group and the next, to make sure that the time tracking process is meeting everyone’s needs.

3.  They Don’t Require Much Thought to Use

Your project team needs to have their mind on one thing – getting the project completed. Good timesheet systems make that easy by allowing project managers the ability to set up tasks and related information, assign them to developers who can then indicate the task is complete and how long it took. No thought required. Management can receive information exactly the way they want it (since they set the tasks up) and project resources can continue to NOT think about entering their time (which is the way it should be).

4.  They Allow Users to Easily Create Reports

Creating reports is different than customizing reports. Most time tracking apps contain the ability to set filters for pre-defined reports. Good timesheet systems allow you to create your own reports with minimal support (if any). The end user should have the ability to sort, subtotal and total hours, costs, ratios, percentages, charts and graphs all at their whim. The information-needs of management change from day to day… and to rely upon somebody else to create the necessary reports slows down the ability to obtain necessary information.

5.  They Accommodate the Full Life-Cycle of a Project

Nearly all projects begin with an estimate that’s converted into production assignments. These production assignments serve as the basis to manage time and then archive post-project numbers to assist in creating the next estimates. Good time tracking systems must work seamlessly through the development cycle of a project.project managers manage the project from beginning to completion

If you’re so inclined, the full lifecycle of a project could expand to include Sales and/or Administrative functions well. This gets into an area where people may raise an eyebrow about the value that’s returned from the effort, but if everyone is onboard this can definitely provide some good intelligence about the project.

For example, you could set up some very simple tasks that the sales team could enter their time against (meeting with client, creating proposal, etc.) that provide visibility into how long the sales cycle ends up taking, both from a true duration point of view (the number of actual hours) as well as elapsed time (from start to finish).

6.  They Allow for Ease of Time Entry

Another quality – if you want your new system to be readily adopted – is that there are multiple ways to enter their time. If a resource works on the same projects, deliverables and activities, week after week, then they should be able to copy the previous week’s activity in order to speed up the process. There should also be the ability to quickly and easily pick the activities to assign time against without having to dig through long lists of activities that have nothing to do with their current project. Web-based time tracking systems are not only easy access but may also allow the activity lists to be customized for each user.

7.  They Support the Ability to Export Time Entries

Another feature of your chosen software should be the ability to export time entries into another application for even further analysis. For example, you may want to do a deep dive into what your team is working on for a client, but you don’t want to show them every single comment or activity that’s going on with the project. The ability to export (into Excel) the time that has been entered for this client, will allow you to run Pivot Tables against the data and end up with a truly unique and customizable format. The reason for this is that it helps to keep your client up to date with what is happening with their project.

Why Giving Team Feedback is Critical

Regardless of which time tracking system you choose, you need to make sure you’re providing the necessary feedback to the team, feedback is part of managing a projectensuring that the time they’re entering is worth the effort. This could be by letting them know that the data from their timesheets has improved profitability or allowed for more accurate estimates from the sales team. Accurate time tracking also provides a basis for reality when it comes to how long something takes to complete. This will make anyone that has been victimized by unreasonable schedules realize that ‘keeping up with their time is a good thing and that it will ultimately benefit them.’

Take Time Tracking to the next level – try ProjectManager.com Instant Time Tracker free for 30 days. To keep your project reports current, you need to update your project plan with the time entered by your project resources. By using this Time Tracker, your Project Plan is updated automatically as soon as the online timesheet has been completed! Simply click “Save” on your Timesheet and you can immediately view the updated information on your plan!

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