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The How and Why of Time Reporting

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The Time Reporting Evangelist has Few Friends

16 August 2018
a modern time piece representation of quality time reporting

In the annals of organizational change and continuing project operations, few endeavors have the potential to engender the same level of discontent as that of time reporting.  During its initial implementation and rollout, it can be downright hazardous to a Change Agent's health.  It is fraught with organizational change challenges. Without an effective roll-out strategy (think organizational change and communications) the probability of a failed or difficult time reporting deployment is excellent. Checkout our article on Organizational Change to bone up on what awaits...

Following this, the processes and systems for collecting, reviewing and approving time must be efficient and effective in delivering the required information to the correct places for the correct function (billing, project updating and forecasting, performance data of all types.  An organization must understand the full scope of benefits of the time reporting cycle to determine if the follow-through will be worth the effort of introducing it in the first place. 

In the annals of organizational change and continuing project operations, few endeavors have the potential to create the same level of discontent as that of time reporting.

The company rank and file - upon which the effectiveness of time reporting depends - often fail to understand exactly why they’re required to perform such a 'diversionary' task.  This can be particularly true for an internal or departmental technology function.  For those involved in T&M type billable projects, the aggravation factor is less or even non-existent. 

the time and cost factors of proper time-reporting

Why the difference?  To those involved in billable efforts, it just seems to come naturally that someone, somewhere needs to know what type of and how much effort project teams are expending.  And knowing that particular someone, somewhere is paying them by the hour based on a time-sheet provides a ‘clarifying’ effect.  With no such motivating factors, the internal IT department team members can err towards the feeling that ‘Big Brother’ is watching - for whatever reasons that big-brothers watch these things.

The Why

So, how does the time-reporting implementer sell time reporting?  First, the benefits of time reporting must be laid out clearly.  Time reporting justification generally falls into one of the four categories below – it won’t sell everyone, but here’s a start:

Compliance:  Complying with mandates that require accurate, up-to-date, audit-able record keeping by time tracking against project tasks is simply not an option.

Accountability:  “You’re a great worker and now you can prove it!”  Employees are better able to manage their own their effort and identify their own contributions to team, project, and organization.  Of course, you’re a great worker and this time-sheet gets you paid” can also work wonders.

Organizational Effectiveness:  Time recording organizes work, thereby improving efficiency and forecasting - leading to improved resource management, which drives faster time to market and competitiveness. 

Organizational Improvement:  Failure to report time hampers visibility into as well improvements and optimization of costly enterprise infrastructure and operations.

The How

Now that the organization is sold, what are the characteristics that provide for a sound time reporting function across the enterprise?  Here is my list – and I firmly believe that all of them are ‘hard’ requirements for an acceptable and successful time reporting operation.

The System:  The notion of time reporting is simple.  Therefore, the system that employees input time into should be simple. NOT!  I’ve really been appalled at the some of the time reporting concoctions (not applications - concoctions) I’ve dealt with.  If you're time reporting initiative falls outside the boundaries of a PPM System with time reporting, check out these time-reporting solutions.

A time-sheet should be just that – a simple, spreadsheet-like application that is auto-populated with the time reporters work assignments.  Forcing people to maneuver through complex navigational machinations to get their assigned work is not forgivable and will earn management the scorn of the workforce.

Time Reporting Interval:  Time reporting intervals (or periods) will normally vary between weekly to monthly intervals.  Strictly speaking, time reporting intervals should not be greater than 1 week and time should be inputted daily. Intervals greater than this merely make the entire effort less accurate than it already is, assuming workers remember it at all.

Time Reporting Granularity:  In projects, reporting depth should be at a level (such as task, assignment, or deliverable) where the resources are assigned and the effort is between 10 – 80 hours. Becoming more granular is tedious to report (don’t schedule a 1-hour team meeting for time reporting) and less will provide a reduction in the value of the reported time because it lacks specificity. 

The exception is time reporting for On-going and Service type work – which will simply be reported on a single line or at the top work level as a so-called “Level of Effort” task.

Management Involvement:  Reported time should be reviewed and approved. Period.  Project Managers will of course review and approve project time with an optional Resource Manager sign-off.  Resource Managers should approve non-project work as well. Projects and work that is not ‘level of effort’ should be forecasted regularly.  The so-called  'auto-approval’ of reported time should be considered ‘blasphemous’ for projects.

So, there you have it - the reasons, risks and success factors for the establishment of an organizational time reporting function. Simple in concept but so often difficult in practice.  I’ll leave you with this final thought – effective time reporting should roll up to be a strategic planning enabler, if it doesn’t, some consideration should be given to exactly why it’s being reported at all.

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Written By:
Kerrie Gill, PMP, ITIL
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