Ask A PM: How to Convince My Team to Use Time Tracking

Elizabeth Harrin | September 17, 2019

Time Tracking
left Image

Dear Elizabeth: I’m trying to implement time tracking with my team. The most difficult aspect is changing people’s perception and getting buy in to do the timesheets. In the past, managing and reporting time was never required, but our company has moved on in project management maturity and in the work we do. Now we need to know where time is being spent. We need that information to show how our current resources are being utilized and also to help fill resource gaps where we have them. How can I convince my colleagues that they should be filling in timesheets?

Time tracking is a sticky subject, especially where employees haven’t had to track time in the past and now you’re asking them to do so.

However, the good news is that it’s like any organizational change. Plan how you are going to introduce the change to working practice including a good ‘story’ about why the change is necessary. Carry out some change management activities, and support people through the change.

It sounds like you’ve already started to implement timesheets within the software that you use, and that you have management support, so let’s dive into some tactics you can use to help your colleagues with adoption.

Pause right now

They don’t like time tracking. So put a pause on it for now. You won’t be stopping it permanently or even for very long, but stop pushing it for a bit. This gives you time to collect some feedback on to how they feel it’s going, make any tweaks necessary and then regroup so you can relaunch timesheets again in a most positive way.

Get feedback

You can’t afford to ‘turn off’ timesheets for very long or you will lose momentum and create issues when you switch them back on again. So make it very clear that you are only removing the requirement to complete timesheets perhaps for this week, to allow you time to listen to concerns and gather feedback.

  • Make it easy for people to give you their comments. And listen. Really listen. Find out why there is resistance to change.
  • Common reasons for being resistant to change are:
  • We didn’t want the change
  • We don’t understand why we have to work differently
  • It’s too much work to do things the new way
  • I don’t know how to do it the new way
  • I was good at working the old way and now my confidence has dipped because you’re making me work in a different way
  • I don’t want people to know what I’m doing.

Basically, these are the same points that come up time and time again, regardless of what the change is. However, don’t assume that you know what your colleagues will say. Let them use their own words and speak freely about the challenges they have using the new timesheet system and tracking their time.

When you know what the objections are, you can do something about them.

Plan your relaunch

You know what is holding your colleagues back from fully embracing time tracking. Now it’s time to think about how to address those objections.

If it’s lack of understanding about why they have to track time, create a compelling story that explains why it’s better for them, their team and the organization that they track their time.

If it’s lack of knowledge about how to do it, provide adequate training. And so on…

In reality, everyone is likely to have more than one reason for resisting the move to timesheets. Make sure your plan covers a holistic approach to addressing objections so that you cover all the points for all the people. Change management plans are as individual as the organization and people they are for, so it’s difficult to give you the exact steps and actions you need to take. Broadly, good change management includes a lot of communication, in various forms and over a sustained period.

This is where one to one discussions can really help because you get to respond individually. Depending on how many people are in your team, I’d recommend taking some time to talk to everyone individually as that will go a long way to ensuring they feel heard and supported during the transition.

Make it easy

Make it as easy as possible for colleagues to fill in their timesheets. Your timesheet system should be linked to your project management software. The timesheet should be automatically populated with the work they are expecting to do this week, with the flexibility to make changes as necessary and to add extra work.

Whenever I have had to do timesheets, I’ve had project tasks on the list, but there is always something else that takes up time in the week that you have to account for, such as a PMO meeting, mentoring a new starter, reviewing a process, attending a random meeting for your manager… these things also need to be on the timesheet so you get the full picture.

Having said that, don’t collect data at a level that is unnecessary for what you are going to do with it. You shouldn’t require people to account for every 15 minutes when you only really need data at the level of what they were doing, generally, for the whole day.

Require timesheets again

Change management isn’t a one-and-done effort, so you’ll keep doing the things that work, continue communicating and supporting individuals. But this change is not going away, so require people to do their timesheets again.

Monitor compliance

Filling in timesheets is mandatory. They all know why. They all know how to do their timesheets. There should be no reason why the timesheets aren’t completed.

Create a report that shows you who has completed timesheets for the week (or month) and share these with line managers. If you can, incentivize people who complete their timesheets. Even something small like thanking people in a team meeting when they’ve done their timesheet can have a positive effect on completion rates. Or calling out people who haven’t done it – that works too!

Ultimately, you want to do more of what works in your team and stop doing activities that don’t encourage take up of the new process. Only you will be able to see what is having the greatest effect.

Show how the data is useful

As your management team are supportive, you can ask for their help in enforcing the policy, but in my experience you’ll get a better response if they can show how the data has been helpful, instead of simply saying how great it is that everyone filled in a form at the right time.

For example, show how knowledge of resource gaps has led to recruitment for a new role. Or how being able to plan resource availability over several months has led to postponing a project to ensure that existing work gets completed on time without everyone getting overloaded. Or perhaps timesheet information was crucial to winning a new client bid. The story of ‘why’ is as important as the practical training to get people logged in and entering their timesheet data.

It takes effort to change a culture, and that is what you are doing. You are moving from a culture where people didn’t have to account for their time, to one where they do. That is going to make some people feel uncomfortable, especially the slackers who don’t want you to know what they do because they aren’t fully utilized!

Give your transition some time and help people through it. Soon tracking time will be the normal way work is managed, and they’ll get used to it, I promise!

Elizabeth Harrin is a project manager, author of several books, and a mentor. Find her online at her blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management

Discuss