Time is right there in the holy trinity of project management—the triple constraint. The triple constraint consists of the scope, cost and time needed for a project. Every project must manage the triple constraint, and therefore must manage time.
Projects by definition have a start and end date. Between those two points is the duration for the project. Project time tracking is the technique that lets you manage deadlines over that duration, ensuring that time doesn’t get away from you.
The only way to know if the actual time spent on a project is aligned with your projections is through time tracking and time management. If you’re not set up to accurately tell how much time it takes to do a task or complete a phase, then you’re in trouble. You’re managing blindly.
Timesheet software is designed to keep managers aware of those precious seconds that are constantly ticking away. But before getting into the tools that help time tracking, let’s go a little deeper into the subject.
Different Types of Time on a Project
Time can be measured in different ways when tracking a project. You probably don’t want to just use one metric, but a collection of them will reveal the most accurate reading on your time usage. Here are a types of time that you should account for on a project.
1. Overall Production Time
This would be the full measure of the project, from start to finish. You can make a ballpark guess based on experience or other projects that are relatively the same by using historical data.
2. Task Time
On a smaller level is individual task time, or how long it takes for you to complete a single task in the project. If you know how long each task takes, then you can add all those up and have a good idea how long the entire project will take.
3. Planning Time
Every project has a plan and a schedule in which that plan must be executed. A schedule requires an estimate of the time believed to finish each task and end up with the project deliverable.
This is a very helpful tool in many respects. It puts the whole project on a timeline, but it also creates a baseline by which you can measure your actual pace against.
4. Hitting Your Estimates
By monitoring and tracking your progress during the project, you can then compare that data to your project plan. When they match, you’re on schedule.
If the data doesn’t match your projections, then you’re either ahead of schedule or behind. In order to fix a project that’s behind schedule, you must adjust either cost or scope to get it back on track. This is a basic move for managing the triple constraint.
The above are all ways in which you can get an idea of how much time you’ll be spending on the project, so you can create a realistic schedule. But those are merely points in the project that take up time and provide but one piece of the puzzle.
There are many ways to accurately estimate time on your projects. Most importantly, you don’t want to go by instinct. That leads to something called planning fallacy, which is when people psychologically underestimate how long it will take to do something.
Historical Data & Other Resources
It’s better to use historical data to show how long it took similar projects to get completed. This only works if managers first meet with stakeholders, so they have a clear understanding of the project objectives. Subject-matter experts are also a great resource that should be tapped.
There are time estimation techniques, too, such as bottom up estimating, which breaks down large tasks into small ones. Top-down estimating is creating the expected timeline first and then comparing it to past projects, experience, historical data, etc.
Another technique is PERT or program evaluation and review techniques, which manages probabilities.
Time Tracking Software & Tools
Setting up expectations for how long a project will take is an important part of planning, but once the project has begun in earnest you need to have tools that measure time. You can’t control a project’s schedule if you’re unaware of how much time it’s taking compared to how much time you planned for it taking.
Using a good tool is essential to project time tracking. There are many that do the job to varying degrees, some with more bells and whistles and others that just offer the bare minimum. What is right for you and your project will depend on the type of project you’re working on and what kind of reporting you’re expected to deliver to stakeholders.
For an introduction to timesheet software, watch the short video below.
Using a timesheet template is a rudimentary but effective way to collect the time your team spends on their tasks. The timesheet template will have blank fields for you to fill in, such as the name of the project, the name of the employee whose timesheet it is and the week that is being recorded, as well as a line for managers to approve the timesheet before submitting it.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Timesheets
Then it’s a matter of collecting the hours worked, including overtime, sick days, vacation or holidays. Those hours are then added together and, once approved, the person is paid for their time. Of course, a timesheet template is only going to address one aspect of your project time tracking, which is the team member, but it’s an important one.
If you’re looking for your team to keep track of their hours, so they can invoice you, there are many software solutions offered. Because this is again only a small slice of the project time tracking software pie, we thought it best to mention one of the better free ones. Toggl is a simple time tracking tool for teams to boost their productivity.
While Toggl has a paid version, the free one has a lot of features that makes it a great deal. For one, it works for iOS, Android, Linus, macOS, Windows, web and as a browser extension. While only paid users can collaborate with other team members, they do get some reporting tools and can track time across different projects.
It’s easier to use than other time trackers in that you can start right away and add client, project, task, etc., data after you’ve started the clock.
ProjectManager.com Tracks Time, Tasks & Projects
ProjectManager.com is an award-winning project management software that lets you plan projects, make schedules, track time and report on progress. It has features that let you manage every aspect of project management, including time management.
Why use multiple tools when you can have one software that lets you manage your projects and your team in one online solution?
Gantt Charts for Schedule Tracking
The online Gantt chart from ProjectManager.com gives you the tools to better plan your schedule. You can link dependent tasks, edit duration as needed and display the project on a timeline. This helps you honor deadlines and keep a grip on your project calendar.
ProjectManager.com can automatically calculate the project’s critical path too. Knowing the critical path lets you better understand how long your project will take.
Timesheets for Team Management
But estimating is only good for before the project begins. What about when you’re in the heat of it? ProjectManager.com has project tracking software with timesheets that let teams update their tasks, while tracking their progress in real time.
Timesheets are automated and sync with the team’s tasks. Team members select their tasks and enter them. Their time is collected on the timesheet, which can then be previewed and submitted for approval. You can duplicate previous weeks too, if some members always work on the same thing, which saves time.
Dashboards Monitor Slippage and Scope Creep
How can you monitor the time being spent by your team on tasks and make sure you’re meeting the milestones set by your schedule? There are several ways to track progress in ProjectManager.com.
First, the high-level view is provided by a dashboard that reflects status updates the moment they are made. Easy-to-read charts and graphs show progress on tasks, but also metrics on cost, project health and more. You can track project time and much more.
Project Reports for In-Depth Analysis
A bird’s eye view is great, you say, but sometimes you have to dive down into the dirt and get granular with your data. That’s true, and ProjectManager.com understands. That’s why they also give you project reporting for more information. Reports can be filtered, so you get just the data you want.
ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based software that controls projects from initiation to close. Online Gantt charts schedule project plans on a timeline, kanban boards give teams a visual means to manage their workflow and a real-time dashboard tracks progress. Managers have resource management tools to keep teams productive. See how ProjectManager.com helps with project time tracking and more by taking this free 30-day trial.