Using Timesheets to Get Better Estimates

ProjectManager.com

Part IV in our series on Timesheets. See our previous article, Why You Should Love Timesheets.

In a modern workplace, judging people on how many hours they work seems, well… rather old fashioned. Today we measure success based on results, especially in knowledge work like managing projects. It’s common wisdom that just because someone is sitting at their desk doesn’t mean they are actually working on anything productive. So why are timesheets having a renaissance?

One word: Data.

The data that timesheets provide is analytics gold for any growing business. Timesheets tell you how long tasks take. That means you can see how much time is spent on tasks and how much time is left, based on the estimate that you are working to. None of that is likely news to you.

However, assuming your team has adopted time sheets and is using them efficiently to record their time, you can start mining them for additional types of data.

Let’s look at how you can use that data to get better at estimating.

Tip 1: Historical Searching

The easiest way to use timesheets to get better estimates is to look back through your previous projects and find tasks that are similar to the one you are working on now. Find out how much time it took to do the job on that project. Use this as the baseline for the estimate this time round.

Pro Tip: Don’t take the past estimate into your current project without reviewing it. This project may have different characteristics that will affect the estimate, so apply some common sense before adding that data to your current project plan.

Tip 2: Capture Billable Hours

Estimates aren’t just for the time it takes to do a task. If you bill your client, either for a fixed price or per hour worked, you need to be able to estimate effectively to win the work.

There are two scenarios here. For fixed price work, you estimate how long the project will take, add your margin and quote. If they like the quote, you’re hired. Then you have to deliver. Tracking your time gives you the data you need to see if you are making that margin or not. Knowing how many hours the project actually took you will let you calculate the profit margin for that project.

With that information you can do a lot, including assessing whether you want to work for the client again! Most importantly, you can use that data to adjust the margin and your future quotes so that you don’t lose money on future work.

If you work on a per hour basis then you’ll still have had to quote for the work based on how long you think the job will take overall. Clients want to know if it’s a three-week job or a three-month job as that makes a huge difference if you are billing by the hour/day. You’ll end up with unhappy customers if you end up billing double what you said you would because it took longer than expected.

Timesheets help you avoid that problem in the future. You won’t repeat that mistake because the data tells you how long the task is likely to take and therefore what you need to be quoting. Clients will thank you for it, and be pleased that you delivered when you said you would, for the price you said you would.

Tip 3: Understand How Individuals Work

The length of time it takes one person to do a job is not the same as it takes someone else. Look at your previous project plans for similar tasks and find one that corresponds to what you are doing today. That task might have been carried out by someone who was an expert (so therefore did it quickly) or a junior member of the team (so therefore did it slowly). Use the estimate as a solid data point but adjust it accordingly based on what you know about the resources working on your current project.

The data from your timesheets can be used to compare staff performance. Look at how quickly it takes people to do similar work and think about how you can buddy up your team members so they can learn from each other. This is a good way of sharing tips and tricks and bringing everyone up to the same level of performance and productivity.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to take quality into account if you do this. Fast doesn’t always mean good!

These three tips will help you explain the value of timesheets to your team and get them onboard with tracking what they are doing. They are also great ways to boost the quality of your estimates to help both your team and your clients plan better.

Time tracking is so easy to do and it provides such rich data about project performance that it’s one of the reasons why our customers choose ProjectManager.com. Getting started only takes a couple of clicks and you can be recording your time in minutes. Try it for yourself with a free trial.

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