Those of us who manage project teams know the value of predictable, repeatable, and high-quality project execution. When we don’t meet that bar, a cascade of side effects occurs, ranging from poor team morale to a loss of faith in our abilities by stakeholders, clients, and management. If your team is struggling to consistently achieve five star results, you might wonder, “What are high-performing project teams doing that we’re not?”
You might expect the answer to be daily status meetings or email updates, handing out bonuses when deadlines are met, or hiring high-paid consultants to engineer new processes. In my experience, the answer is much simpler: their team members track their time.
Go ahead – groan and get it over with. Time tracking is not exactly something anyone relishes in their daily work. On the contrary, getting people to fill out timesheets can be like pulling teeth. But if you can convince them of the benefits – and find a tool that makes it as painless as possible – you’ll start to reap immediate rewards. You can start by researching web-based tracking tools, which are available from any internet browser, any time, and often have companion mobile apps. These SaaS applications are typically easy to use, have no installation or maintenance headaches, and allow you to add users as your team grows.
Knowing how long it takes to complete tasks and projects benefits the planning phases of projects and ultimately, the success of those projects. Here’s a breakdown of the benefits.
Show Me the Money
The financial insights you get from time tracking are critical. The first step is determining rates for various people, activities, projects or clients. Then when your team tracks time and you can review/analyze the associated reports, you’ll be able to see:
- Insight into costs. (And once they’re visible, perhaps you can go about lowering them!)
- Data for future project costing/estimation.
- The ability to value work in progress and make tradeoffs and priority decisions.
- Data for evaluating employee efficiency and output.
- Data for billing clients.
Time is of the Essence
It’s true: time tracking can feel painful, but the benefits extend much further than the accounting department. This is especially true when time tracking and project updates are linked.
ACCURATE DELIVERY DATES: With accurate estimates (gleaned from analyzing how long similar projects actually took to complete), your chances of delivering projects on time increase greatly. At the very least, you’ll be able to set expectations properly from the outset.
EASY RE-ESTIMATION OF OPEN TASKS: As the project progresses and time is tracked, effort remaining will automatically decrease, thus keeping your schedule accurate and up to date.
PROJECT START DATES: Based on how your current projects are tracking, you’ll get better insights into when you can start something new and if you need to re-prioritize or reassign work.
MANAGEABLE SCOPE CREEP: It’s much easier to make the case for limiting new work added to a project when time and budget are being monitored.
MAKE THOSE CHANGES: Seeing where you spent your time will help you identify problematic tasks so that you can adjust accordingly.
REPORTING: If time is consistently being tracked, generating reports for management becomes much easier because there’s less data to backfill. You can quickly slice and dice the information to tell the story that needs to be told, and use it to make the case for additional resources, a new strategy, or new technology.
Need to Convince the Team?
If you shared these reasons with the team, they might think to themselves, “But what’s in it for me?” Perhaps the list below will help remind them that time tracking can help them achieve their individual goals, too.
GET A RAISE: Have they been pushing for and increase in salary? Now they can show their boss exactly what they’ve been working on, how long they spent doing it, and even how much revenue it created for the company.
GET HELP WHEN THEY NEED IT: When projects are getting completed past their deadlines, they use the data to prove that the project needs more resources in order to be completed on time / on budget / within scope.
EARN CREDIBILITY: Good historical data on actual time spent will allow them to greatly improve their ability to estimate tasks and projects, and gain credibility on the estimates they provide to management and prospective customers.
One More for Good Measure
DISCIPLINE: As much as everyone hates punching a clock, there’s something about knowing that you’re on one that can make you work more efficiently, or at least help you recognize where the distractions are.
Time tracking can mean the difference between an over-worked, stressed-out team and a well-oiled machine. Time tracking will help you plan appropriately for the capacity of your team, as well as giving yourself enough room to complete quality projects in a timely manner. So get cracking! Er, tracking!
About the Author
Since 2007, Liz Pearce has helped more than 1,500 project teams overcome scheduling and collaboration challenges through the use of best practices and better tools. Today she oversees the Sales, Marketing, Business Development, Customer Support, and Finance departments at LiquidPlanner with a focus on customer-driven innovation. Prior to LiquidPlanner, Liz held various positions at Amazon.com, Google, and Sony Computer Entertainment America. Liz holds a B.A. in Political Communications and an M.A. in Telecommunications from The George Washington University.