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Project Management Advice Column: Time Tracking & Project Secrets

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Advice for Project Managers: Keeping Secrets From Clients and Time Tracking Woes

advice column

Project Management Advice Column: Tracking Time & Project Secrets

When Tracking Time Feels Like Big Brother is Watching

Dear Elizabeth Harrin: My team manager is on a rampage to have us all log and track time. Part of me understands why but another part of me feels like Big Brother is watching. Is there a better way I can look at tracking my time—like, ways it can work for me? –Resisting in Roswell

Dear Resisting: For a start, Big Brother isn’t watching. Everyone has far too much actual work to do than pour over your timesheets to find out whether you took 30 minutes or 45 minutes as a lunch break. That is, assuming you have nothing to hide and are hitting your targets and delivering on your project!

Look at time tracking as a personal tool to help you be more effective. For example:

  • How good are you at estimating? Timesheets will help you understand whether your estimates are realistic because you can compare your project schedule against the work you actually did and see whether there’s a gap.
  • You can see where you spend your time. I know I spent time on social media sites throughout the day, but if I tracked it I bet I’d see it is longer than I expected. Time tracking will help you see exactly what you are doing each day, which is the first step to doing things differently.
  • Your company can charge your clients more. I know of one company that boosted their profits by about 50 percent because they could charge clients accurately. Previously people weren’t recording their time accurately and clients were being undercharged.

To put your mind at rest, talk to your manager about why they’re introducing time tracking. When you understand the goals, you’re more likely to feel that tracking time has some advantages – and I bet they aren’t doing it just to check up on you.

Finally, I’m sure there are other people feeling like this in your team. You’ll do everyone a favor for starting an honest conversation about how people feel about timesheets. In turn, this will help ensure that if you do start tracking time that the results are meaningful and that everyone feels good about it.

Client Transparency in  Light of a White Lie

Dear Elizabeth: I’m in a bit of a pickle. The project I’m currently managing is not going to make the delivery date because a handful of developers got moved to another project. But my boss has told me not to say anything to the client—yet. Well a week has gone by, and the client keeps asking me for updates, and I find myself having to spin one white lie after another, which I hate. How do I proceed in a way that I can be honest, and make the client and my boss happy?  — Uncool Cucumber

Dear Uncool: Goodness, I don’t envy you. In some situations it’s fine not to say anything to a client straight away, say for example, if you expect to be resolving the issues imminently so that their project is not going to be affected. Let’s not stress clients out for no reason. If you can deal with the problem and keep them out of it, then great.

But that isn’t happening in your situation. I think a week is plenty long enough to keep this client in the dark about what is potentially a showstopper for their work. They might have a big launch planned, and if you can’t keep your company’s side of the bargain then ultimately the relationship with this client will be damaged longer term (an unscrupulous boss might even blame you for losing the client).

I would tell my boss that I am going to tell the client. He or she needs to support you in making sure that message is a pain-free for the client as possible. In other words, they need to help you find some extra developers. Could you buy them in? Could you get them back? Could you pay them overtime?

Take a few suggestions to your boss. They will all cost money but you can offset that against the cost of bad publicity, reputational damage and the cost of losing the client. Ask your boss to approve a solution that helps you get back on track.

If they won’t, I would still tell the client. Be honest and explain your resourcing problem. Ask them for help with resolving the problem, and see what they can do from their side to put pressure on your management team to free up additional resources. They can escalate it within their management structure and that will come back to your boss eventually. It will be uncomfortable. But you’ll have done the right thing for the project, for your client, and for your company.


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