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Make Time Entry Easy

When it comes to entering, I’ve seen it be guesswork at best for a lot of former colleagues. If people are not mandated or forced to enter their time at the end of each day, it becomes a guessing game for a lot of people at the end of the week when trying to remember exactly what they did for their 40-plus hours they worked for the week. Add in a plethora of confusing project tasks to try to match their entries up to and you will be setting yourself up for potentially inaccurate time entry.

Why do we create detailed tasks for our team members to clock time to? To do proper forecasting? To track estimates vs. actuals at a very low level for rollup reporting? To provide a tenth-of-a-percent figure when reporting our progress to the steering committee? I’ve said “yes” to all of these questions in the past and have found that while having detailed reports at your fingertips may be nice, I often questioned the accuracy of hours entered on a task by task basis.

On a particular project where I broke time-entry tasks down to a very low level, I was constantly having difficulty with most of my team submitting timesheets on time and accurately. When following up the common response was that the timesheets were too overwhelming in terms of what tasks to choose from and how their time should be allocated. Often as project managers we think we’re preparing tasks down to the finest detail however there are often times where the technical team will perform a related (and necessary) task that is not part of your task list – where does that time get billed to? As small of a detail as this may sound like, it can cause big headaches for your team when they are trying to do their best in submitting accurate timesheets to you. What is the benefit? See my above questions. What is the cost? Frustrated team members, (possibly) inaccurate timesheets, extra time spent on getting time entered that could be spent on more valuable tasks.

Recently, I’ve adopted putting in more high-level tasks for time entry and then tracking your work item progress separately outside of our timesheet system. Instead of relying on our timesheet system to do all the work for me, I’ve decided that it’s best to let the team do what they do best – build software – and let me (and my old friends Excel and TFS) manage the progress and forecasts. I have yet to see a full professional services automation tool allow me and my team to easily enter timesheets while maintaining a detailed account of time spent on the smallest of task.

I’m not advocating that this is for everyone – your sponsorship and organizational reporting needs should trump what you and your team feels is nice however if you do have the autonomy to determine how time is best entered and progress tracked, then I encourage you to try allowing your team to enter time at a high level while mapping their efforts on a work item by work item basis.

I know that in my articles I’m usually trying to advocate for the use of more technology and less human work but while that may be fine with the utopian tool that will do all of that for you, there’s no replacement for a solution that the project manager can fully control and that the project team doesn’t fight with on a weekly basis. Bottom line – if you can keep your costs tracked, your projections accurate and minimize the amount of administrative overhead your team is required to do, then isn’t that the utopia we all dream of?

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