10 Nov Is Tracking Time Worth It?
The benefits of accurate time tracking can be measured in many ways from capturing lost billable time to providing a basis for reviewing your associate’s performance. Any time a company institutes a time tracking policy, you can immediately hear groans and feel the impending despair. What they don’t immediately appreciate is that if it is done effectively it can be free of pain in the short run and beneficial to them in the long run such as providing basis to recognize their accomplishments.
Each month or week when a small business owner or bookkeeper sits down to generate client invoices their task inevitably includes collecting timesheets from the team. In some cases this involves assembling spreadsheets, PDFs, emails, napkins, and sometimes a verbal note in passing. You can imagine the pain involved in doing this error prone task not to mention dealing with potential client fallout and embarrassment when inaccuracies make it to their desk. Unfortunately when that happens the typical rule is to credit them on overstatements, and not bill them for the understatements, it’s always a losing outcome for the business. Accurate time tracking is critical to the business process so if you don’t have a process, get one and you will find that once you do, your billable time will likely increase as your associates rarely remember everything they did during the last week and your clients will always receive an accurate accounting for what you did for them. Once your team starts tracking their time accurately, they will be surprised how many times they provided free service in the past to clients. What they typically forget is the small duration support they provided to clients which on its own does not amount to much but summed across all associates during the billing cycle and all clients, the difference could be huge.
Another way accurate time tracking benefits the organization is when analyzing projects from a profitability perspective, which when funneled into the estimating process provides realistic costs to new work. In order to implement this however, you do need to track time at a level of granularity commensurate with your estimates. In other words if you break your estimates into Planning, Design, Development, and QA, then your time needs to be tracked to those as well. A word of warning is that tracking too granularly breeds inconsistency and becomes burdensome to your associates so keep it simple.
Performance reviews are one of the most dreaded times of year for managers as they are forced to sit down and provide an accounting of their associates accomplishments, strengths, and their challenges and come up with development plans to help improve overall output of their team. Managers rarely remember everything their team did for them and typically base reviews on the last 90 days which isn’t good for the associate as they did more than what they are recognized for, and isn’t good for the manager as it does not avail enough specific facts to support improvement area recommendations. What can be done? Time Tracking to the rescue. Once a time tracking process is in place, managers have a full year’s accounting of what each associate accomplished. They will be amazed at how much their teams did which wasn’t top of mind in addition they will be able to use the information to measure performance in a way that is fact based, absent of opinion or emotion. Examples of new discussions could be: “This task and this task back in March on Project X took far too long and didn’t meet expectations, lets discuss what happened and come up with a plan to improve.” Or “We were very impressed with how quickly you were able to learn the new system, and perform tasks far more quickly that what we expected. As a result we are promoting you to Senior Analyst.”
Tracking time sounds like a mundane task instituted by micro managers and bean counters to inflict pain on the masses, and frankly that is exactly what it is if the data is not used for a business purpose. When used as a tool to invoice accurately, improve profitability, and to measure performance a seemingly boring task becomes a contributor to the bottom line and a win-win for all those involved. Implement the process. Keep it simple. Use that data.