Time tracking is the organizational equivalent of dental flossing – very few people actually enjoy doing it, but the consequences of not doing it could be dire.
Putting aside the change management challenges of instituting the process, there are differing opinions about the uses and benefits of the captured actuals information.
I felt it would be useful to put together a short list of myths and truths.
1. It is necessary for charge back purposes: Truth. Unless staff are 100% dedicated to specific projects, quantitative evidence of how much has been spent is usually required for billing or funding reasons.
2. It can quantify operational allocation: (Partial) Myth. For staff that split their time between project and operational activities, it’s tempting to think that analysis of past operational utilization can provide accurate estimates for the future. This ignores the reality that the operational base asset changes frequently, and by averaging out operational utilization over a long period of time, we miss the peaks and troughs that will occur based on these changes. Time tracking data represents past performance & is rarely indicative of future performance. Is it better than a functional manager guessing? Possibly, but the functional manager should also be aware of impending activities that might reduce or increase their team’s operational burdens.
3. Task-level time capture is essential for improving estimation: Myth. Unless team members are solely dedicated to individual projects, it will be very difficult for them to identify how much time they’ve spent on specific activities for a given project. In fact, unless a team member is logging their time on a daily basis (which is usually not the case for the majority and is equally impossible to enforce), the likelihood that they will accurately recall detailed utilization over an entire week is low. Capturing time data at this level increases the issue of false accuracy.
4. Linking pay to time tracking helps: (Partial) Truth. Notifying staff that getting paid depends on timely submission of actuals is one way to ensure that you will get the data when required. On the other hand, this is a Theory X approach that means that a team member who is running out of time for filling out their time sheet will not invest the effort required to provide accurate information, and it is usually pretty difficult for anyone else (i.e. their functional manager or a project manager) to challenge their entries.
5. One size fits all: Myth. Unfortunately, there is no time tracking process that will meet all requirements. Instead, identify what the most critical use of the information is, and design the process to meet that need.
6. It provides no benefits to staff: (Partial) Truth. Staff in those organizations that don’t communicate the analysis of time capture data will agree with this, but enlightened companies will engage their employees by sharing the reports and educating staff that where they spend their time does impact organization success.
If time tracking is akin to dental hygiene, tailoring your organization’s approach could be the equivalent of using mint-flavored waxed floss!