Project Time Reporting

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Stop Whining and Do It
  1. apparent benefit, I can establish ways to capture the true cost, which helps me build a business case for change.
  2. Explain the cost of distractions . When organizational distractions are cutting into work time (for example, moving all of the offices from the west side of the building to the east side), it is helpful if I can explain in concrete terms the costs and effect on the project.
  3. Keeps us honest . I would like to believe I'm a machine that is always focused on the right priority, but I'm not. I sometimes become distracted by shiny objects or fun diversions and avoid things I don't want to do. Promptly recording how I spend my time discourages me from straying too far from what should be happening. Seeing it in black and white encourages me to get back on track 

With all of these potential benefits, why is there so much resistance to time reporting? In my experience, it is often the implementation-both how data is collected and how it is used-that leads to problems. Common issues include:

  1. Time-keeping systems that do not enable/allow tracking at the task level . The time-tracking mechanism (it doesn't have to be a software package-it might be a simple spreadsheet) needs to model work at the level it is planned and performed to be meaningful. This implies that there are credible plans for a project that identify meaningful tasks that were estimated. If this isn't the case, time reporting is not your issue. If you have those plans but your time-tracking system doesn't match it, time tracking is not very meaningful.
  2. Time-keeping systems that codify unrealistic ideas about how people work . Some organizations have a belief that people work exactly eight hours per day, five days per week and reporting any variation on that theme is a difficult special case or is disallowed altogether. I'm not qualified to argue the finer points of labor law or union rules, but in the real world there are often informal agreements that someone leaving early today for a parent-teacher conference will make it up later this week.
  3. Organizations that can't handle the truth Some organizations assume that since employees are being paid for an eight-hour day, there must be eight productive project hours logged each day. Logging time to "admin" is not allowed. There is no way to report time spent attending all-hands meetings that aren't related to the project. There is no way to report time spent interviewing potential staff or mentoring them once they are hired. If you insist that people allocate time spent doing non-project work to project-related tasks, you are asking them to falsify data, which communicates that no one is interested in accuracy and that time reporting is "administrivia" rather than a means of gathering useful data.
  4. Rewards and punishment . If time tracking-data is used to administer praise or punishment then this is a discouragement from accurate time reporting. Organizations that reward people who perform closely to their estimates will discover that people perform more closely to their estimates-by padding their estimates to assure there is more than enough time and padding the task to fit the estimate. Organizations that reward people who log extra hours may get longer hours, but they aren't necessarily productive.
  5. Dual book keeping . Some organizations have a time-tracking system for the nice folks in personnel/payroll that is not designed to track the details of daily work. Asking people to keep two sets of books (one for payroll and one for the project) is a hard sell.

Project managers (and the organizations they manage

About the author

Payson Hall's picture Payson Hall

Payson Hall is a consulting project manager for Catalysis Group, Inc. in Sacramento, California. Payson consults on project management issues and teaches project management. Email Payson at payson@catalysisgroup.com. Follow him on twitter at @paysonhall.

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