Avoiding the Timeclock Blues: Gamify Time Tracking

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It’s Monday morning, and you are about to send a status update to your project team and sponsor. You pull up your project tracking resources and…nothing. Now, you’ll spend the next few hours emailing, texting, pinging, or calling your project team to submit their timesheets so you can send your status report.

I think as project managers we have all sung this same tune. Let’s face it – even with the best intentions, we’ve probably forgotten our own timesheets a time or two. The time-tracking application may even be up on your screen, but a few urgent emails or client calls later, and the task is forgotten.

In today’s technology-induced and distracting world, our attention spans are flooded with task-switching overload. One best practice to combat this, while also driving positive employee engagement and increased productivity, is the use of a technique known as Gamification.

What is Gamification?  

Gamification is not simply making a game out of something; it is using specifically designed methods – game mechanics — to tap into the reward center of our brains and provide positive reinforcement (by way of an uplifting dopamine release)1 for completing a task. It enables opportunities to fuel both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors within us. Small Business Trends2 provides a great explanation for gamification: “A process for integrating game mechanics into something that already exists to motivate participation, engagement, and loyalty. This can be almost anything, from your website to social media presence, day-to-day operations, customer engagement and more.”

Gamification may seem like a trendy buzzword especially when the concepts reference digital examples, but its benefits have been around for several hundred years. The theory was first introduced by Russian Scientist, Dmitri Mendeleev, during the 19th century3. Mendeleev used his interest in playing cards to help him understand and categorize elements by arranging and listing the information on each card. He was able to turn a mundane task into something that held his attention; this research helped him create the first publication of the Periodic Table of Elements.

From scientific discoveries to updating a timesheet, gamification could be…wait for it… a game changer.

Gamification for Time-Tracking

There are ten primary game mechanics in gamification: Fast Feedback, Transparency, Goals, Badges, Leveling Up, Onboarding, Competition, Collaboration, Community and Points4.

Each has their place to help motivate your employees with different incentives and engagement goals. They can be used together or separately. The seven game mechanics mentioned below have been specifically curated to help with the dreaded timeclock blues – how to increase timesheet compliance and get your employees motivated to submit their timesheets.

Fast Feedback

We all love encouragement, especially when it is coupled with instant gratification. The use of notifications tied to your timesheet application can help your employee or project team member feel a sense of accomplishment and provides a quick pat-on-the-back to reinforce that they are doing a good job.

  • Many applications can be configured to use workflow rules integrating third-party apps such as Slack or coded right into the tool itself. When an employee enters their time for the week, they’ll have an instant note saying they are a time-keeping rock star.Thanks for submitting your time

 

Badges and Leveling-Up

Badges are tangible evidence that someone is performing well. Coupled with leveling-up, a great partner to badges, employees can proudly display their continuous, long-term achievements. Badges can be awarded during staff meetings or individually shared out by members in a department message board or team discussion post. They can be tailored to your company culture and provide an opportunity to get really creative.

  • Fitbit has done a great job using badges in a unique way to help motivate the number of steps a person should take each day (Have you earned your Great Wall of China badge yet?) Similar badges can be created with the theme of time logging:

    You’ve logged enough time to have watched every episode of Game of Thrones

    You’ve logged enough time to have read the Encyclopedia Britannica 

    You’ve logged enough time to have traveled to Mars in 1965 via the Mariner 4

    Time Badge 65hrs Book Time Badge Mars time badge
  • Create several levels of badges for employees to proudly display they are hitting their goals and then some – helping you to rack up more even points with this incentive:

    Congrats! You have leveled-up to a Quarter-Time Warrior. Thank you for submitting each timesheet for the quarter by Friday afternoon.

    Whoa! Watch out! You are a Six-Month Slayer. Thank you for submitting each timesheet for the first half of the year on time.

    timesheet badge 3 mths timesheet badge 6mths

 

Goals

Goals help us know what is expected of us and how we are being measured. This game mechanic can be used in several different ways to motivate both individuals and managers of teams. Determining the key performance indicators that the team should be striving for is the first step. Then, input this data into your Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tool so employees and their leaders can monitor their progress on achieving their goals.

  • Below is an example from Clarizen, a SaaS-based PPM tool, which shows how KPIs and goals can be easily reported:
    Clarizen Timesheet compliance

 

Competition and Transparency

Competition can be a great game mechanic to drive participation and engagement for timesheets, especially when paired with another game mechanic, Transparency. By showing others how well they are performing in comparison to their peers, they will be motivated to have a friendly competition to improve their rank. This can be at an individual level as well as between managers of different groups within a larger organization.

  • The image below shows an example dashboard you might build within your PPM or time tracking tool’s reports module to be shared with various user groups. This shows where the user ranks for their individual timesheet compliance, department timesheet compliance, and then an overall leader board.

 

Community

Community caters to our innate feeling of belonging. It is why we are curious about what is happening with our favorite celebrities, the occasional check-in on acquaintances using social media, and the reason happy hour invites are well received. This game mechanic can be applied to help timesheet engagement by augmenting the earlier mentioned game mechanics of Transparency, Badges, and Goals. By seeing the progress of peers, employees can set their sights on their next badge to conquer or cheer on others to help reach individual and department goals.

  • Use your PPM tools collaborative features to allow team members to share their achievements. If your current PPM tools do not offer a social post feed, there are other popular instant message apps such as Teams or Slack that can be used for sharing and allowing others to join in on the congratulations.
    Badge Share
  • The same collaborative tools can be used to help provide a platform for the community to join in and share where the team stands on timesheet submittal progress, promoting a team approach to achieving the overall compliance goal.
    Team Gauge

 

Conclusion

Gamification is not a new term, but its benefits can be realized more easily than ever using today’s technology. It can be a great resource to help you conquer the mundane or easily forgotten tasks – like the ill-fated timesheet entries. By applying gamification and game mechanics, you can also provide an opportunity to foster a greater sense of community and company culture, more transparency into department-wide goals, and increased engagement with your team. Game on!

Sources:

1 – The Science Behind Gamification: Why it Works

2 – What is Gamification and How Can it Help My Business?

3 – 5 Benefits of Gamification

4 – What are Game Mechanics

5 – Ultimate Fitbit Badges Guide: Everything you need to know about these motivational badges

6 – Prevent Timesheet Under-Reporting

Gartner PPM Summit 2019 – Keynote Opening Recap

Hello from London!

Last week, Kolme Group EU team members attended the Gartner Program & Portfolio Management Summit 2019. This year’s two-day summit had a variety of interesting sessions related to this year’s hot-topic: Digital Business, Maximum Value! Key Note speaker and opening act of the Summit, Dave Aron, explains:

Digital business is no longer only a challenge for companies that are directly related to the digital world. Due to the fast-paced changes digital has made in the lives of all of us, both in business as well as in our private lives, it has become a challenge for everyone everywhere in business. Where in the previous year’s we focused on digital business being the end station, we now realize that for now and the future, the continuous digital development is the trend.

Gartner has identified this trend as the ‘ContinuousNext’. In order for PPM to be enabled, Gartner has identified 4 key areas that play a vital part:

  • Digital Twins for programs
  • Augmented Portfolio Intelligence
  • Digital Product Management and the SRO
  • Culture and Change Management Performance

During the summit these 4 key areas provided the framework for all the various sessions presented. Mr. Aron further highlighted that the need for the ContinuousNext in digital business transformations is driven by more and more complex choice, deeper change and more uncertainty for businesses.

More and complex choices require a new way of dealing with those. Management gut feeling no longer is enough to drive business change, and existing methodologies require a more dynamic approach. Old fashioned task-orientation, accommodating shocks and changes, the growing pressure to choose well and the realization that the current harvesting phases are weak or even non-existent drive the need to start changing these approaches.

For deeper change to happen and to be adopted, businesses need to start choosing product and platform management over traditional project management. The Bimodal commitment is the way forward. In that process uncertainty is a key factor, so embrace it with the following in mind:

  • Strengthen, deepen and broaden sensing capabilities;
  • Develop and diffuse value driver models;
  • Commit to bimodal and be more agile;
  • Build and use scenarios;
  • Socialize concept – test with one environment.

In the end, both businesses as well as people just rather focus on doing great and good work and avoid doing bad work!

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.