Time Tracking: Should We or Shouldn’t We?

Time tracking in today’s professional business world may be similar to playing a tense game of Frogger. You know you need to cross the road but no matter which way you leap, there is a high probability that you will encounter obstacles that will ultimately end your game. So, the question remains: Should we or shouldn’t we require time tracking?

As a certified Resource Manager, I can easily persuade you into landing on whatever decision you are leaning towards; for or against it. If you are leaning against it, then most likely I would recommend that you don’t do it. It probably isn’t worth the stress and disruption to your team at this time. If you are leaning towards it, or if your business requires billing for services operations, you need to determine what type of tracking you will require: Full Day or Time Against. Before you decide, take a walk with me for a few minutes as I share some of my lessons learned about implementing time tracking.

Full Day Time Tracking

Full Day time tracking requires a resource to account for 100% of their working hours. This is the more complicated, more demanding, and most difficult type of time tracking to successfully implement and get adopted. While, there are several key benefits, the drawbacks can come with real consequences to both the organization and the team environment.

Benefits:

  • Provides a full picture of productive vs non-productive time/activities
  • Provides resource allocation justification
  • Provides performance accountability
  • Identifies where processes should be improved
  • Provides process improvement KPIs
  • Provides the most detailed level of estimating work effort and forecasting resource capacity

Drawbacks:

  • Can generate largely false data – Resources often arbitrarily enter in 8 hours just to meet the requirement. Others may under report or inflate time to appear that they are either more efficient or more overloaded than they may be.
  • Often creates a negative working environment by generating a feeling of “Big Brother Watching” or being micromanaged.
  • Difficult to get buy-in from the resources and managers. This requires a lot of tough conversations and a strong dedication to taking the most unpopular avenue.
  • If Applied to Global Users – Can create complications in countries that have Work Counsels and/or strict privacy rules
  • Can create legal complications if global, contracted or non-exempt employees consistently report more than the agreed upon contracted hours

Before you decide to implement a Full Day time tracking requirement, take a minute to be brutally honest with yourself – is this truly required to achieve what you need? If you are unsure that this is right for your team, then don’t do it! You need to be fully committed to deal with the objections, consequences, and occasionally out right defiance if you plan to go down the Full Day time tracking path. If this option worries you, perhaps consider implementing the less daunting time tracking type, Time Against.

Time Against

Time Against tracking requires a resource to account for the amount of time they spend working on a particular assignment and the overall daily sum of hours is not as important. While time tracking will never be popular with resources, this is the less demanding, more user friendly, and easier type of time tracking to successfully implement and get adopted. Following are a few of the benefits and drawbacks for this method.

Benefits:

  • Provides a more accurate picture of actual time spent on individual projects
  • Can identify where processes should be improved
  • Provides resource allocation justification when combined with resource management best practices
  • Provides performance accountability
  • Provides the most accurate level of estimating work effort and forecasting resource capacity
  • Eliminates the “Big Brother Watching” and micromanagement feeling
  • Easier to get buy-in from the resources as they are more likely to understand the request versus harboring feelings of having their privacy invaded.

Drawbacks:

  • Resources need to change their working behaviors in order to make entering time against projects a routine activity
  • There may be times that large blocks of time are unaccounted for which ultimately should generate a conversation with the resource
  • If Applied to Global Users – Can create complications in countries that have Work Counsels and/or strict privacy rules
  • Can create legal complications if global, contracted or non-exempt employees consistently report more than the agreed upon contracted hours

Which way to go?

Between the two time tracking types, I have historically seen greater implementation success with the Time Against option. Resources are more open to accounting for how much time they spend working on something so long as every minute of their day does not need to be tracked. The result of this that you typically have more reliable data that you can use to improve overall performance.

But First, Ask Yourself…

Regardless of which path you choose, there are several other questions that you need to take an open and honest look at:

  • Will time tracking improve your working environment or simply create more overhead? – This is a difficult question to be honest about. Our initial inclination is to start listing off all the ways things will improve: accurate effort estimating, resource forecasting, resource load balancing. All good responses! I would challenge you, however, to look at it again. Especially after looking over the next few questions. Time tracking will always come with additional overhead, negative emotions, and change management. It’s worth being honest with yourself on if it is truly required.
  • Once you have this information, do you know what to do with it? – Be honest!!! Gathering information is great! Gathering accurate information is even better!! Now that you have it, do you know what to do with it? Do you have an established resource management plan that you will be utilizing? Do you have knowledgeable Resource Managers that know how to analyze the data and turn it into some that can be used for both executive level and team level decisions? If you don’t, take some additional time to evaluate your needs.
  • Are you willing to risk changing the work environment by implementing time tracking? – Let’s face it, we hire our resources for their skills, their knowledge, and their experience. Asking them to track their time is often perceived as a slap in the face, even if you have very valid reasons for the ask. Time-tracking discussions are very difficult to have! Be aware of the impact that this will have on your team’s morale.
  • Do you have Leadership’s buy-in and support? – If they are not fully committed to backing up this requirement, it has a very low chance of succeeding. If your Executives are not fully on board, consider implementing another method to gather the data you require.
  • Are you willing to link time tracking to a compliance program?  – This typically impacts resources’ financials or reviews, positively or negatively. If you aren’t willing to take this step, understand that compliance will be extremely low. If it isn’t required, and there are no consequences for being non-compliant, then why should I bother?

Some Final Words for the Road

Ultimately, there are many, many factors that should be reviewed thoroughly when considering project time tracking. At the end of the day, here’s my recommendation for you:

If you feel the need to require time reporting, and a minute by minute breakdown isn’t absolutely necessary, have resources report time against particular assignments rather than a full day’s accounting. Balance the non-reported time by adjusting their overall availability. Link this initiative to an compliance program, whether you choose to utilize the carrot or the stick – although you will get a much better reaction with carrots! Take the time to explain to your resources exactly why this information is needed and lay out the WIIFM factors. Finally, make sure to follow up your team after some time has passed to review the results of this effort. Let them not only see, but understand, what benefits time tracking brings to the organization.

Cortney Felix Author
PPM Consultant , Kolme Group

Cortney brings empathy and real-world insight to her customers customers which allows her to listen to what the customer believes they want and translate it into what they need to be successful. She has 20+ years in program development and implementation, team development, and portfolio and resource management that work in harmony to create the “best of album” provided to her clients. In her free time you can usually find her out on her back porch with a good book, playing with her dogs or exploring the amazing roads of the Carolinas on her motorcycle.

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