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5 tips for proper time tracking



Source: matei

A while back, I wrote an article that gave several reasons to track time for your personal gain. In this article, I’m referring to the whole team’s time, and want to concentrate on the effect it has on your projects.

First, let me describe what I mean by “Proper time tracking”:

  • Reliable: If hours are entered randomly by people, then the numbers are not reliable;
  • Updated: Updated information means that all information (so all the time) is available when reporting;
  • Indicative: The numbers needs to show what was done, for how much time, and by who.

In general, people are not aware of the importance of time tracking, and see it simply has a way for management to make sure people do their weekly hours. This lack of knowledge towards how the hours are used will affect how the team enters it’s time and will affect the 3 elements mentioned above.

It’s important that proper time tracking is available for you to track your project’s costs, so here are a couple of tips to have that information available:

1. Must be done daily

There are lots of team members who log their time once per week (or worst), this results in:

  • Huge amounts of time tracked at once: This can be devastating, if you did your report on Tuesday and reported your project was healthy, and one week later, 150h was added suddenly because 2 team members entered a whole week of work the next day, then your project can go from healthy to under budget quickly.
  • Drop in the time’s accuracy: People barely remember what they did at the end of a day, so imagine at the end of the week! Some add inefficiency in all this by noting their time somewhere on a piece of paper or a .txt file, and then they re-enter all their time in the time-tracking tool at the end of the week. It’s faster to simply enter the time at the right place.

Time must be logged daily, so invite people to enter their time at the end of the morning and at the end of the day, it’ll be quick, not to mention fresh in their memories.

2. Must be simple & fast

As any tools used, the simpler/fast it is, the more people will use it regularly. As for time-tracking, as mentioned above, you want it done on daily basis, meaning that the tool must be efficient.

Furthermore, if it’s slow to enter your time, then people will waste time doing this, and the idea behind time-tracking is to be efficient with those numbers, not waste time!

3. All hours must be entered

There are a couple of reasons why people do not enter all their time in the project:

  • They don’t enter overtime since it’s not paid;
  • They enter their time somewhere else so that the project’s actual costs are reduced (or appear reduce at least).

Both habits reduces the project’s real hours (on paper), and although at first glance, it may seem”okay” for some to do this, not only is it not honest, it can have a devastating effect on your project and on future effects:

  • Estimating often uses past Budget past completion as a reference, if those numbers are not reliable, then it can impact estimates using them;
  • As you track your project’s action cost, it may seem as if the project is at a better place than it really is, affecting the decisions made by you and your team, which will result in more overage.

So it’s simple, all hours spent on the project should be entered, and “excuses” to log the hours somewhere else should be discarded.

4. Must monitor time-tracking

Unfortunately, people may enter their time in the wrong place, or make errors entering them. For example, 1h on a task can easily become 10h with a simple typo. People may also confuse projects or simply “dump” their hours at the end of day without proper accuracy.

Monitoring hours means looking at hours logged by each member, and assess if it makes sense. If it doesn’t then it should be discussed with the team member, and if an error was made, then it must be corrected.

You’d be surprised how many errors can slide in your project’s actual costs.

5. Time tracked must be indicative

Often, time-tracking tools will offer a “Comment” functionality, which helps PM understand what the team member did specifically. This can also be very useful when working with retainers when reports need to be done. However, this comment needs to show something relevant, otherwise it’s simply a waste of time. Here are examples I’ve seen in the past:

  • Time entered under “Client X”, under “Project Z”, for Task “Back-end developing”, the comment was “Programming”.
  • Time entered under “Client Y”, under “Project A”, for Task “Front-end developing”, the comment was “I developed for Project A”.

You get the idea!

2 thoughts on “5 tips for proper time tracking

  1. Thank you for this interesting article. To bring any valuable results, time tracking has to be reliable, consistent, accurate. The modern tools are available for this task.
    If you are interested in the automatic time tracker which is free of the disadvantages described in the article, please check out CrocoTime, it was developed with all the main goals of time and project tracking in mind.

  2. Hi, thank you for this post I agree with you that lack of knowledge towards how the hours are used will affect how the team enters it’s time and will affect the cost to the company because biggest cost to any company is their employee and if we are not able to track that it can be hassle and big loss. very useful information

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