When timetracking blocks efficiency
The second edition of Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World is now out and I had to ditch several great case studies from the updated manuscript. I thought you might be interested in this one: it describes what happens when project managers and timesheets don’t see eye to eye.
Luke Reader has worked for project managers who handed him a list of tasks for the week. A typical list would include the hours completed for each task and the estimated time needed to finish each one already filled in. Despite the good intentions of his project managers he did not find working with timesheets in this way very effective.
‘Timesheets can put a barrier between the project manager and their understanding of what’s happening,’ Reader says. ‘It also annoys the team by treating them as a production line rather than intelligent people who can usefully participate in managing their workload.’
Reader has witnessed at firsthand how using rigid time recording can back-fire, and as an IT project manager himself, has developed a more effective way of handling the work of his own team. ‘The problem with timesheets on their own,’ he says, ‘is that the team soon learn that rather than say, “This task is late, I mis-estimated”, they invent new tasks such as a test cycle or a further review. These are then written on the timesheet in an attempt to show how hard they are working even though the overall work is behind. The project manager cannot tell what the genuine issues are. And while the project manager can go back and challenge things, it means another cycle of going back to people – and time passes, which is something you don’t have on projects.’
Having learnt from the mistakes of others Reader now takes a pragmatic approach to managing his team’s time. ‘For me, timesheets are a mechanism to allow contractors to get paid, internal and external billing to take place, and sometimes for company management to get an idea of what their staff do all day,’ he says. ‘So as a project manager I make timesheets as simple as possible, ideally just having one task like “Work on Project X”, and I manage the people via discussion using the project schedule as the reference.’
I’ve worked on projects where I used timesheets and on those where I haven’t. When we have tracked time, all resources have done it, not just technical teams. Sometimes my timesheet has had one bucket task on, such as when I was loaned from one business unit to another. My ‘official’ business unit didn’t much mind what I spent the days doing as long as they were able to internally cross-charge for my time. A timesheet helped them do that, but it only needed one task on which was basically ‘work for XYZ department as required’.
On the other hand, I’ve had to put together quite detailed timesheets to cover the range of tasks that my project team did from very technical work to business process redesign and all the project management related stuff too. It’s time consuming but very enlightening. Even if you don’t intend to track time long term or have the requirement to do so, I’d recommend that as a time management task you give it a go at least once. We found that the whole team spent the most time on the task called ‘non-productive work and travel’. Not good! But at least having that identified meant that we could do something about it.
If you’re looking for more advice on tracking time on your projects there are more tips on timesheets in a Q&A here.
In this instalment of Ask the Experts, I talk to Neil Stolovitsky, Senior Solution Specialist with Genius Inside. We discuss the use of social media features in project management software and also top tips for using time recording for better productivity.
Neil, Genius Inside’s latest release includes ‘baked in’ social media tools. How can project managers encourage team members to use the social features, if they haven't used Facebook or other social media tools before?
Social media tools have become ever-present in the way today's information workers communicate both personally and professionally. We have been fortunate enough as a project and portfolio management software vendor to develop a very comprehensive and robust solution over the last 15 years. That being said, features and functions are only as good as their usage and ability to improve the way project stakeholders work.
One of the biggest roadblocks we hear from the PM community is that social media tools can introduce pollution to their project information and can be dangerous in their inherent application to share uncensored information that can be potentially hurtful to a project's progress. In order for project managers to encourage their team members to adopt these tools they need to invest in a social media strategy that will work for their environment. If the recommendation of the appropriate tools are set up and are in line with the way they currently work, people will jump on board. The bottom line is, social media tools have to be positioned as a means to improve productivity and helping their team members in their every day work, and not just another piece of technology that will make their lives more difficult.
Your product has a ‘wall’ feature. How does this help project managers work more effectively?
We believe Genius Project's social media function Genius Live! will not only address the market's demand for these tools, but moreover will change the way project teams will communicate by allowing project information to pro-actively find its users, as oppose to the traditional usage of PPM tools where the user must dig through the system to take action and find strategic information.
The idea behind the Genius Live! project wall is to push information to all project stakeholders, as oppose to digging through the project management system to find the necessary information to take necessary actions and make strategic decisions. We find that project managers are constantly faced with the challenge of getting to important project information to improve their performance and those of their team members and the project as a whole. The project wall feature is designed to eliminate this reality in a user-friendly and familiar design accessible from any web-enabled device.
Sifting through information quickly can certainly be a time-saver. Why is recording time on projects important?
It is no secret to the project management world that time is money. Recording time allows project managers and their stakeholders gauge where they stand against their plan. In addition, it helps organizations assess the efficiency of their teams and their ability to hit milestones in a timely manner. Genius Project has fully integrated time sheet functionality that allows users to post time against both project and non-project activities, and allows for an optional workflow for time sheet approval and review by managers.
What's your top tip for getting people to record time?
The best way to get people to record time is to provide multiple options, such as centralized time sheet and time slip functions, to capture time data in a simple format. In organizations in which there may be resistance to submitting time sheets, providing users with their own workspace to access their assignments and a centralized time slip option for each task will simplify the process. The primary goal is to provide a single method and location to record time to achieve the best results in accurate time capture.
That sounds sensible. People can only record time against tasks that have been allocated to them. While we’re on the subject, what's your top tip for resource allocation?
The main strategy for effective resource allocation is to have the necessary visibility into resources schedules when planning project workloads. This is best achieved when managing a single resource pool across all projects that ensures the accuracy of information, and also having the ability to quickly see resource schedules across all activities when deciding to assign the work in project plans.
Neil has over 12 years of IT experience with end-user, consulting, and vendor organizations, along with extensive expertise in business development, software selection, and channel strategies. He has published numerous white papers and articles covering Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) for service industries, Project Portfolio Management, Professional Services Automation, IT governance, and new product development to a global audience. Neil currently holds the position of Senior Solution Specialist with Genius Inside.
It wasn’t that long ago that I gave a webinar on managing money on projects, but it is taking a long time to answer all the questions that I didn’t get round to doing during the live session. Thanks to all the fabulous participants, who asked such brilliant questions! I am still trawling through them hoping to answer them all, and here is today’s batch of managing money Q&A. They are all about timesheets and time tracking today.
You could have a big bucket task called ‘project management’ but I expect you would get more use out of the data if you broke it down further.