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Topics: Estimating, Organizational Project Management, Scheduling
How to introduce time tracking?
I am consulting a company that does not do any time tracking/project budgeting. What are some way to start tracking time that are not too cumbersome for staff?
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There are a number of physical support elements available to assist with introducing time tracking/project budgeting depending on the scenario you are addressing. On that note, I have a few questions (just off the top of my head): How large is the company? What IT infrastructure do they have in place? What is the status of project budgeting currently - they have the project budgets - high level tracking only for reporting? (I assume they do not track the budget against actuals on the project in any granularity?) Company processes - is time tracking incorporated? There is a variety of apps, software, bar coding, etc. which can help introduce time tracking, minimizing impact on staff for things like data entry - more important though is that you have an established/communicated/agreed process for time tracking (collection) which will provide the data you require for the specific tracking and reporting you are working toward. All of the requirements of the company scenario need to tie back of course to available budget for this change to company process.
The key is to define for what?. As Mary-Lynn stated above there are a lot of media to do that in a way that it could not be notice by the staff. But the key is the intention behind. Some people thinks that this type of things will help to control cost or to control productivity. Totally wrong. So, in my case where I have been working facing all the "new waves" regarding human resources administration and how to do this type of things in a way it would be not cumbersome for the staff my recomemdation is to stay clear about the intention and then you can act in consecuence.

I second the opinions of Sergio and Mary-Lynn. We would be able to advise more precisely if we at least know the big picture of your operations.

However, Ive always used two very efficient tools to track time and budget:

1- Productivity Tracking: You definitely have budget estimates for your project activities. From these estimates you can obtain productivity rates because these rates are based on MHRS vs. Unit Rate so the productivity rate can be obtained and will be easier to track and give you a sense of cost.

Example: In construction, some activities are: Rebar Fixing, Formwork Installation, Concrete Pouring - Productivity Rates for these respectively are MHRS/Ton, MHRS/SQM, MHRS/CUBIC M) so the rate of each activity is MHRS / Unit Rate and from this you can know how much it takes to do X Amount by each person in ONE Hour. These should be monitored and reported by the person in charge of the activity.

2- Three Weeks Look-Ahead Schedules: I would assume you have a defined schedule for your project. From this we used to extract a 3 weeks look ahead schedule and meet every week to see if everything is one track then add another week to the schedule to maintain the 3 weeks look ahead. These should be monitored and done by each department head. Very Easy.

These proved from my experience on large and small projects to be the best tracking tools.

Hope this helps.
I agree with Sergio about to clearly explain the intention to the team highlighting that time tracking won't be done to strictly control their job and productivity but because it is necessary to have data to take important decisions.

A good statement by the six sigma guru Mikel Harry is: "We don't know what we don't understand, we can't act on what we don't know. We don't understand until we don't research. We don't research until we don't ask questions. We don't ask questions until we don't measure. So if we don't measure, we don't know and we can't act"

Another suggestion is to make operative time tracking simpler as possible (maybe through one of the many time tracking tools available) because if it is difficult the change will be impossible and the rejection is assured.

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"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."

- Francis Bacon