Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Time Tracking: Converting the Masses

I remember way back in 1999, when I was filling out my first time sheets as a web programmer. We filled them out on on excel and sent them to our boss at the end of each week. I didn't really see the full value of tracking time, and jokingly asked my coworkers if I should be recording time that I am in the bathroom, etc. Since then not only have I had an opportunity to use a few different time tracking systems, I've gotten a real appreciation for the whole idea of tracking time and understand how critical it is for an agency and it's clients.

And I've also had an opportunity to work with many people who don't like tracking their time, who feel like it's a waste of energy or forget to do it until weeks or a month has passed, or just don't know how to do it properly. It pains me to see people who just don't get it, and it's even more painful when it comes time to report on a project and the data is either not there or not reliable, then what is an honest project manager to do?

Well, rather then let things get that far, I wanted to talk about some of the anti-time-tracking personalities and what we can do to help them.

The Forgetful One: The person who just can't seem to get it into his routine that time needs to be logged regularly. This person is not necessarily opposed to tracking time, just gets caught up in other things and never remembers to do it. When it comes time to catch up on all the days that time hasn't been tracked, numbers or guessed or fudged and inevitably inaccurate.
How we can help:
  • Setup a daily calendar event to help remind him to track time. Send a reminder email each morning asking him if he logged his time from the day before.
  • Make sure the system is as easy to use and as accessible as possible (I love the LiquidPlanner task timer system, so easy!). Make sure logging to specific tasks is intuitive and can be done quickly and painlessly (better to get more detail on a task than just time logged as "programming").
  • Put a huge and really annoying alarm clock at his desk, set to go off at 5:30 every day to remind him to log time!
The "Ashamed" One: The person who puts in decent chunks of overtime, but is afraid to log his time for fear that it will look like he is too slow and it takes him too long to finish tasks. He knows what the target budget is, and doesn't want to make the project 'look bad' by adding more of his overtime hours to it.
How we can help:
Oh, how these people put gray hairs on my head...
  • Explain to him that he should never be embarrassed or afraid to report time worked on a task. The only way we can ever learn from a project and improve our estimates is to see actual time spent on each task and compare that with the original estimates made.
  • Yes, the budget might go over, but this is a fact of life and not only should he not be afraid or feel responsible, he should be comfortable (and proud) to show the rest of the team that he is committed enough to put in the extra time when needed to get the work done.
The Close-Minded One: This is the person who just doesn't see the point in logging time, she thinks it's a huge burden and can not find any benefit in doing it. Who cares how long she spent programming a little feature or sitting in an internal meeting? She's already wasting her time in the meeting, why lose more time recording it in her time sheet? She'll leave her time sheet empty for as long as possible and then just make rough guesses when time comes to fill in the blanks, sometimes many weeks later.
How we can help:
  • If you work at a client services agency and bill based on hours worked then explain the direct correlation between the hours she records, and the dollars we will be charging that client (which will then eventually get to her paycheck)
  • Show her the reports from the last few projects, and show her actual hours logged vs initial estimates made. If there is a striking difference between any of those totals (which, I'm sure there can be) then maybe she will see the importance of seeing how long things actually took and then using this information to make a better budget next time. If we can justify bigger budgets, than maybe she'll get a bigger bonus next time around!
  • Losing too much time in unnecessary meetings? The only way we'll be able to figure that out is by looking at people's time sheets and reporting on billable vs non-billable time. Not that all meetings are unnecessary of course, but we all know that some of them can run a little long at times...
What types of personalities have you encountered, and what have you done to show them the light?

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