Category Archives: Time Tracking

5 Time Tracking Myths Debunked

Hello! You’re probably here because you don’t track time on your projects. I’d like to convince you that you should.

I get why you don’t – I really do. For a long time, I resisted timesheets too. They took too long to fill in and weren’t accurate enough to use for any serious management information.

We used spreadsheets. We don’t do it that way any longer.

Time tracking is all grown up, and it’s a totally different game today. Here are 5 of the most common myths about tracking time. It’s time (did you see what I did there?) to shake off those limiting beliefs and embrace digital time clocks!

Honestly, it’s worth it. This first myth will tell you why.

Myth #1: Time Tracking Adds No Value

I hear this myth the most, so let’s address it first. Time tracking for time tracking’s sake adds no value. That’s the same as anything else you do that delivers no benefit and is just an administrative overhead – any process can fall into this category. And you strip those out pretty quickly, right?

There is immense value in time tracking, if you know what you are looking for.

First, tracking time on projects records how much effort was spent on particular tasks. LiquidPlanner has intelligent scheduling, and the data feeds into that. The more data you feed the engine, the more accurate your schedule becomes. The better your schedule, the easier it is for you to plan upcoming tasks, anticipate future problems, and help steer your project over the finish line.

Second, tracking time gives you accurate management and status reports. Automating reporting takes a whole extra task off your plate. And off your team’s plate too. They’ll no longer need to complete timesheets and report their hours to you. Because you’ll already know.

Third, you get to find out how much time work takes. This is gold! You can plan better. You can put together more accurate proposals for new clients. You can schedule your recruitment based on upcoming work and be able to justify to senior management why you need the extra hands. And you can be confident when you tell clients when their job will finish.

Truth: If you set it up for success, you’ll get a ton of valuable data out of your time tracking system.

Myth #2: Time Tracking Leads to Employee Burnout

You think your team is going to work more hours because they are tracking their hours?

That might happen for a week. Then they’ll realise that you aren’t measuring them on hours worked, or expecting them to do more. Modern businesses judge by results and help employees be productive while maintaining a work/life balance.

Share the data from the timesheets with the team so they can see what they are being used for and how helpful the data is for their future estimates. You need to help them move beyond thinking timesheets are a tool to beat them with. See Myth #1 for all the good stuff you get from time tracking.

Truth: The benefits far outweigh any frustrations the team might have at the beginning.

Myth #3: Time Tracking Is Only Ever a Guess Because People “Forget” To Do It

Nope. Putting off your timesheet is an excuse that might have worked a few years back. But tech moves on.

LiquidPlanner makes it easy to report your time because time tracking is built in right across the app. It’s just there in front of you.
Start the timer when you start work on a particular item and update your timesheet in real time. The system will also prompt you to add time as you add each task.

No more excuses. You don’t have to guess. You just have to click and start tracking in real time.

Truth: You can track activity in real time if you make the system simple to use.

Myth #4: Time Tracking Is All About Micromanagement

While I know there must be micromanagers out there, I haven’t come across them in the nimble organizations that make a success of their industry. They don’t last. And if your boss is great in all other respects, having timesheets isn’t going to suddenly make her a micromanager.

I guarantee that your normally-sensible line manager is not going to pour over your timesheets like they’re the latest J. K. Rowling novel. He might get over excited at first with all the lovely rich data that’s coming out of them, but very soon you’ll all come to expect that level of management information to help you make the best decisions.

Truth: Managers are looking for trends and big picture data, not how you spent your last hour on Friday afternoon.

Myth #5: Time Tracking Takes Too Much Time

Well, it might, if you ask people to keep spreadsheets of their hours and then you have to collate the team’s timesheets manually each month. Ain’t no one got time for that!

But that’s old-style thinking. Cloud-based tools offer fast, slick solutions to tracking time, all of which take you minutes per week.
The Timesheet tab on the LiquidPlanner workspace lets you see a list of all your work sorted by weeks. Everything is there: your top priorities for the day, last week’s tasks, and what you’ve got planned for the future. It’s simple to add time to the tasks in this view, or add the hours as you work on the tasks if you prefer. You have options. Pick the one that works best for you or mix and match depending on how you are working that day.

Truth: You can complete your timesheets quickly if you use the right tools.

Time tracking’s all grown up. It’s frictionless. The hurdles and hoops are gone and the benefits are huge. What’s still holding you back from gaining a better view of how your business makes and spends money?

AskElizabethCTA

Time Tracking Woes? Blame Your Tool, Not Your Team

Does your team struggle with time tracking? Your tool might be to blame.

As a project manager, you clearly see the benefits of time tracking. It allows you to monitor the cost of projects, accurately bill customers, and forecast future project timelines.

But getting your team to feel the same appreciation for timesheets? Well, that can be a challenge.

If you’ve sang the praises of time tracking but your team isn’t listening, it may be time to dig deeper to get to the bottom of the issue.

Read on to understand how your tools and processes could be holding your team back and what you can do to fix the problem.

1. Your outdated tools weren’t built for today’s workforce.

In a world with self-driving cars and supercomputers that can win Jeopardy, why are so many still completing timesheets by hand?

Outdated technology is one of the most common issues that teams face, says Geoff Hash, an employment law attorney. In his practice,Hash sees a number of cases related to wage and hour issues, specifically issues related to tracking time.

“The technology that is made available to employees is not keeping up with their workstyles,” he says. “For example, I have a lot of [clients] that have remote employees now, but they don’t have online timekeeping systems.”

Some of his clients still use punch clocks and written timesheets. In this age of multitasking, that can be problematic, says Hash. “People don’t track time while they are actually working a project, and time gets lost. That’s lost revenue for the employer and potential lost income for the employee.”

2. You have a tool, but your team doesn’t know how to use it.

Hash has seen companies invest money in a tool, but never train their employees how to actually use it. That’s problematic for obvious reasons. “Training is a big component,” he adds. “Often times, employees, especially hourly employees, don’t have an understanding of what the expectations are.”

3. Your team fear retribution from management.

Another barrier to accurate time tracking is fear of judgement, says Hash. “Employees are afraid they will be criticized if they spend too much time on a certain project or if they’re working overtime.”

That leads to not reporting time accurately, even if that means they won’t be paid for the work. Employees too often have a mindset of, “If I go over what my boss thinks is reasonable, I’m going to get dinged.”

4. Your team thinks timesheets are a waste of time.

Having to recall how every minute of the day was spent can be incredibly time-consuming. Ironic, considering time tracking is supposed to boost productivity.

How to Remove Bottlenecks and Make Timesheets Less Painful

1. First, seek your team’s perspectives.

When blogger and community manager Chad Renando asked employees at his studio about timesheets, he discovered that: his team was frustrated with the tracking interface; multitasking made accurate tracking a challenge; employees did not know which task to assign the time to; and oftentimes, they didn’t have enough time to record their work.

With this feedback in hand, he was able to pinpoint and systematically resolve the issues. And, surprise surprise, timesheets became less of a pain.

As you’re having these conversations, listen for clues. Is the software difficult to use? Is the process time-consuming? Note which issues continually come up in conversations and make a plan to remove these barriers.

2. Audit your timekeeping processes and software.

Have you documented the beginning-to-end process for your team’s timesheets? It may be more time-consuming than you think.

When I was working the agency trenches, my process went like this: Throughout the day, I’d track my time in 15-minute increments on a printed spreadsheet. Sometimes I’d get caught up in the whirlwind that is agency life and miss a few hours. Then I’d have to go through my emails and meeting calendar and take a guess at how long I spent on each task. (Bad, I know. But it happens.)

On Friday, I would open our time entry software, add up the totals from my spreadsheet, and manually enter the time. Every task had a unique client and project number. If I didn’t know the numbers, I’d have to search my email or track down the account manager. Sometimes I’d have more than 20 different jobs I’d need to track time to.

I usually blocked off 90 minutes every Friday for this manual entry. That’s in addition to the time I spent during the week. At the rate I billed, those two plus hours each week added up to more than $300 each week, $15,000 every year.

These types of inefficiencies could be lurking in your own team’s process. Conduct an audit to identify bottlenecks and the issues that are preventing your teams from reaching optimal timesheet efficiency.

3. Automate, automate, automate your process.

What would have made my agency process faster? Automation. Timers that run in the background make it easier to track time as employees switch tasks.

At LiquidPlanner, I’m tracking time again, but it’s much easier than my agency days. No pen and paper required. When I begin a task now, I start a timer in LiquidPlanner. That timer is connected to the task I’m working on (no more searching for job numbers!). When I’m done with that task, I turn off the timer. The time is automatically added to my timesheet and tracked within the task. I track as I work, and it’s directly tied to the projects I’m working on.

See how LiquidPlanner makes it easy to log and report time→

There are hundreds of time tracking tools out there. The key is finding one that meets the needs of your team, is easy to use, and won’t add unnecessary work to your team’s plates. If you’re looking for ideas, check out Zapier’s comprehensive rundown of the top tools on the market.

4. Review the data with an open mind.

As Hash said, fear of judgement is often a top barrier to accurate, completed timesheets. Instead of jumping to conclusions, managers need to take a step back and observe the larger picture. For example, if someone is working overtime week after week, it may be an issue with staffing and not that particular employee, says Hash. It’s on the employer to evaluate the overall project needs and match the project with the right skill levels.

5. Tie timesheets to a greater mission.

Let’s all just agree right now that timesheets aren’t fun, okay? No one wants to do them. To motivate your team team to complete them, you need to tie it back to a greater mission. Explain how timesheets help the company make money or cut out inefficiencies. And explain why these things are important to your employees, e.g. they get a paycheck.

At my agency, every employee had a coaster on their desk that read, “Do great work. Bill great work.” Every time I sipped my coffee, I was reminded of how every 15-minute increment I recorded contributed to the agency’s profitability.

Project managers — what strategies have helped you motivate your team to track time?

Looking for more project management tips and advice? Check out this eBook by PM expert Elizabeth Harrin.Over 30 pages, you’ll get Elizabeth’s take on a range of project management and workplace topics, including:

  • Ways to get more resources for your project.
  • Strategies for juggling multiple project tasks
  • How to manage a micromanager
How to Manage Chaos: Advice on Project Management and Workplace Conundrums

The Real Story Behind Why Your Organization Wants You to Track Time

 

track time

For organizations that track time, there’s always going to be some resistance—or at least questions about it. Even if nobody says it out loud, I’ll bet your employees are at least wondering: “Why on earth is my company making me track time?”

It’s easy to feel like tracking time is a way for leadership to keep an eye on the rank and file. But that’s far from the truth—leaders are busy people. And remember, if you’re tracking your time, your managers probably are too.

Time tracking isn’t about keeping an eye on teams’ productivity as much as it is a smart business move. Think about it: Time tracking yields data that is critical for monitoring business and employee performance. Timesheet data provides businesses with the ability to not only benchmark, but even more importantly, to forecast. Time tracking data surfaces project cost, project profitability, employee availability, employee cost, and so much more.

Whether you’re a project team member wondering “why on earth…?” or a manager who needs to answer this question—here are some ways to talk about time tracking that will get your teams to understand, and feel good about starting their timers.

For projects, time tracking is important because it:

  • Surfaces key operational metrics that might otherwise remain hidden.
  • Allows businesses to measure the true costs of any project.
  • Offers real-time visibility into work that’s been done and work that’s left to do.
  • Helps companies stick to timeline or project budgets.
  • Enables managers to understand employee utilization and capacity—and allocate accordingly.
  • Creates a historical record, enabling you to estimate future projects with greater accuracy.
  • Can save you money especially when working on a retainer basis. Time tracking is critical for preventing over-servicing.
  • Helps answer the question: “Can my team take on this new initiative?”
  • Allows for continual processes evaluation and improvement.

For employees, time tracking is important because it:

  • Gives insight into how much time is going into different tasks and projects.
  • Yields data that can be used to ask for more resources, a raise, even a promotion.
  • Fosters autonomy.
  • Helps keep track of remote or freelance workers.
  • Provides insight into what an ideal work process looks like.
  • Helps stay in a productivity flow, and limit interruptions.
  • Empowers employees to use their own data for goal setting and/or decision-making.
  • Provides data that can be used to reward employees who meet or exceed project deadlines, budgets and goals.
  • It keeps employees from being overschedule and overworked—which improves engagement, boosts morale and increases productivity.

Let your employees in

Time tracking comes alive when teams feel like they play an integral part of the work being accomplished. So, if you’re a team leader or a manager, provide knowledge. This means letting your team in on the story of why everyone’s doing the work they’re doing: what the purpose is and how a particular project moves the business forward. Address what’s in it for them and their career, too. Empower individuals—give each person the right amount of autonomy to make decisions, so team members feel like they’re contributing to the momentum of this larger story. Make people feel that they’re a key to success. Once team members feel like they’re part of things, they can begin to understand the value of tracking time—because it will matter to them as well.

Time tracking is a common project management challenge. Want solutions to more? Download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

5 Ways to Use Time Tracking to Get Ahead in Your Career

time tracking and your career

Time is a precious commodity. Many of us struggle to make the most of it—especially when work demands are fast-moving and ever-changing. But when you have a clear understanding of where and how your time is being spent, you have a better chance of working to your full potential and making a meaningful impact on individual and team goals.

This is where time tracking comes in. Tracking time and logging progress not only shows you how and where you’re spending time, it provides rich data that can help steer and progress your career to great heights.

For some of us, it means taking another look at how we think of “time tracking.” Time tracking is a much richer story than the one we like to tell ourselves about the company counting up billing hours, or your manager being able to check up on you. In truth, time tracking is a powerful tool for everyone. It helps manage work, make decisions, stick to commitments and drive your career forward.

Here’s a further look into ways that time tracking is good for your career.

1. Setting goals and meeting commitments

To a large extent, your performance will typically be assessed in terms of how you live up to expectations, prior commitments and agreements. If you consistently miss deadlines or delivery dates, this reflects poorly and may hold you back career-wise. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called “failures” happen because you’re working on goals that were unrealistic and unachievable in the first place. One of the great gifts of time tracking is the historical data is yields. And this project history is something you can use to negotiate targets and deadlines going forwards—ones that are more realistic and don’t leave you falling short of commitments and expectations.

For example: Let’s say you’re asked to agree to a development schedule for a series of software modifications. How do you decide what’s achievable? Do you just sign up blindly and hope for the best, thus setting yourself up for failure? Hopefully not. Instead, you can pull up the data on the time spent on similar projects or tasks in the past and use that as your benchmark for estimating future work.

While no two jobs are exactly the same and “stuff happens,” you’ll stand a much better chance of establishing a workable plan if you base it on data rather than optimism. And if there’s a disparity between your manager’s expectation and your forecast, you have that data to support your argument.

Another upshot: You hone your estimation skills as you continue to grow your reference data; furthermore, your stock continues to rise as you cultivate your reputation as someone who demonstrates educated decision-making and consistently delivers to targets.

2. Taking on new work

Let’s say you’ve created the most realistic plan for your project or your workload, how do you then the request to “Just squeeze in a couple of extra mods.”

Whatever your role is in an organization, if you simply fend off all such requests with a flat “no” or “can’t,” people will stop asking and you become widely known for your inflexibility. This might make for a quieter work life but it can also put the brakes on your career progress.

So how do you resolve this without becoming a flailing “Yes Person” who eventually disappoints by failing to deliver across the board? You use timesheet data to support your answer to work requests.

Timesheet data shows the hours that you or the team have been working, where those hours have been spent and what work is still outstanding. Furthermore, this data shows where everyone’s allocated, and when people are next available for extra project work—without having to work around the clock. This sort of data is tough to argue against, so the next stage in that impossible work request is a constructive discussion that identifies which projects or tasks might be re-prioritized in order to create a slot for the new important work. And if the answer really is “No,” the people asking the question will go away educated, with a sense of understanding and respectful of how you came to your conclusion.

asking for more resources

3. Asking for more resources

Whether you’re a team member who’s working on an at-risk task and need the help of another pair of hands to complete it on schedule, or you’re a manager looking to grow your department to cope with upcoming demands, you’ll need to bring the right data to the meeting table. Timesheet data will give you the resource profile that you need to confirm your feeling of overwhelm and show what’s needed to complete the project and get decision makers on board. Without this data, it’s a crap shoot that could end badly. If resources get reassigned or hired on a hunch and the results fall short of expectations, you’ll have to answer some difficult questions.

So instead, analyze the timesheet data and make an informed decision—or generate an informed discussion. By looking at time tracking data you might find that teams are overloaded because they’re spending too much time on non-productive tasks—or they’re being used by other departments. These issues could then be resolved with some re-allocating, and without the need to ramp up expenses—something the stakeholders and execs will love you for.

4. Asking for a raise or promotion

If you feel it’s time for a raise or promotion, your timesheet data can be your best ally. For example:

If you’re a team member seeking a promotion you can show the time you’ve spent in a supervisory capacity across the team, or how often you’ve deputized for the team or project manager. Or perhaps you’ve logged a lot of hours training new staff because you’re the resident expert. All of these examples show someone who is moving toward a leadership position.

More examples: Perhaps you’re a manager whose department consistently gets entrusted with the business’s critical or high-value projects. Or maybe you’re the go-to person for advice in a specific area and you’ve put time into other teams’ projects. In both cases, your timesheet data will provide a practically uncontestable profile of your work history.

Either way, let the numbers do their share of the talking. Their story will provide much stronger validation than if you make an appeal along the lines of “I’m worth it,” or “I need to make more money to cover my mortgage.”

5. Focusing on the work that matters

At a personal or team level, time tracking helps keep you on course and focused, especially when your time is shared across a number of tasks and activities. When you plan your work, you’ll allocate a notional percentage of your time across all your responsibilities. But if you start to go off track and fall behind, how can you tell which of your tasks is eating up more than its allocated share of your days without tracking your time?

Timesheet data will tell you where your hours are going so you can change your priorities accordingly and get the right work done first. This information will also identify other unplanned drains on your time. Maybe another department asks for your input every other day or so, and your manager has asked you to oblige. Your time tracking data will show you what the overall impact is on your productivity so you can allow for it and make the necessary adjustments. And the more efficiently you work, the better you’ll perform.

Time tracking gives you the information you need to support and progress many aspects of your career. Without it, you have to trust your memory, which is a faulty data system all around. You want to use real data with your persuasive argument as a negotiation or influencing tool. Starting a task timer and updating a timesheet to log progress might seem, at first, an unglamorous part of your day. But if you want to get ahead in our data-driven business world, the numbers in your timesheet could be the best way to harness the power that you bring to the job. Use it to its full advantage—your career is worth it!

What’s a secret ingredient to accurate timesheets? Estimations! To learn more, download our eBook,” 6 Best Practices for Accurate Project Estimates.”

6 Best Practices for Accurate Project Estimates

How to Motivate Your Team to Track Time

track time

Does your team groan when you they hear the words “track time”? Is it an activity that everyone on your team tends to duck and dodge and you’re on a repeat loop every week reminding people do fill in their time sheets?

It’s no secret that there’s a lot of resistance around tracking time among team members, and for a variety of reasons. But what happens when you’re managing a team who needs continual reminders? It gets old!

As part of the onboarding team here at LiquidPlanner I hear this story a lot. Managers and workspace owners tell me about the resistance they get from team members around tracking time. The managers are often so frustrated that they give in, often telling me something like this:

“My team drags their feet, and I don’t blame them. They already have too many administrative tasks to do and I’m on the verge of giving up. Nothing I say or do will make a difference…”

If you can relate to this, I’ll tell you what I always tell our customers: It sounds like it’s time for a new approach!

Instead of telling your team what to do—“track your time!”—reframe the concept and tell them why logging their progress is so very important.

While the top level task is “tracking time” the outcome and benefit is “logging progress”—and when people can reframe that task into one that shows how far they’ve come, and helps them organize their work, it increases accountability. Just the wording sounds like the benefit belongs to the person doing the time tracking, rather than the person reviewing the time sheet.

There are many benefits to tracking time, which can be broken down into two categories: planning and accountability.

When you share these benefits with your team, and make these benefits an essential part of how your team works, the resistance of time tracking will slip away. Bottom line: Each individual has to see why and how it matters to them, rather than thinking it’s something that just matters to management.

Here’s how to reframe and rethink time tracking—and get your team motivated!

Tracking time is a great planning tool

Everyone wants to minimize administrative tasks in order to spend more time on the actual work and move projects forward. When you track time, especially in a tool like LiquidPlanner, the process and the data it yields can help you be better at your job and boost your career in the following ways:

  1. Become a better estimator. Learn how to size up the scope of a task right away by basing your estimation on how long it took to complete similar tasks in the past.
  2. Know when to delegate. You can’t do it all. No one can. When you track time, you know that that “ten-minute” task will really take five hours—and you already have a full plate.
  3. Learn to say “no”! If you get in the habit of tracking your time, you will learn how much work you are really capable of accomplishing in any given timeframe and learn exactly how much to take on.
  4. Know when to hire another person. Time tracking is both proof and support of the fact that your project is too big for your current pool of resources. These metrics can be your best ally to hire more people. Also, if you use timesheet data from past projects as a comparison, you can plan more accurately from the get-go.
  5. Move away from multi-tasking. If you have to account for all of your time, time tracking can help you focus on one thing at once – preventing you from fracturing your attention span and overdoing the multi-tasking.
  6. Keep the schedule up to date. Even if you’re not tracking your time for bookkeeping purposes, it’s important to log progress to your tasks as you work on them. When you log progress, the remaining effort will automatically decrement, and keep your schedule updated. This example occurs when you’re working on a tool with an automated scheduling engine (like LiquidPlanner).

Increased accountability

In the world of project management, where you have a lot of people working in close synchronization in order to deliver projects on time and under budget, accountability is very important. Here are four ways that tracking your time can keep you accountable for your time and your budget:

  1. Create a record so you can review your work regularly. Think of your timesheet like a work diary. When it comes time for status meetings or periodic reviews, you don’t have to scramble to remember what you were working on.
  2. See where you’re spending your time – and money. You’re probably used to working with a set budget. The reality is, you also have a fixed amount of time – and you’re responsible for spending it wisely. When time and money don’t align, having tracked your time means you have data from which you can make your argument for a bigger budget.
  3. Measure your efficiency – so you can improve it. The more efficient you become, the more time you have to spend on work you’ve wanted to do for a while, for example: nurturing clients, long-neglected internal projects, or a pet project you’ve wanted to do for months.
  4. Accurate insight into how long projects take. From start to finish, you’ll know exactly how long each task, phase, and the overall project took, so you can identify what went well and what can be improved. Then, you can share these findings with your team and stakeholders. This isn’t just a great reflection on you, it’s good for the entire business!

We’re big advocates of logging progress on work at LiquidPlanner. Tracking time also happens to be a key part of our Dynamic Project Management methodology and automated scheduling engine. So even if the idea of tracking time still fills you or your team with dread, consider the main benefit of logging progress: an up-to-date schedule and accurate data with which to run reports. And the information it provides can be used as the ultimate career enhancer.

If you can get your team to see how the benefits affect them, they’ll start logging progress in no time!

What goes hand-in-hand with tracking time? Managing resources! It’s a tricky business and skill, but how well you manage those precious resources throughout the lifecycle of a project can make or break your success. To give you some best practices, tips and insight into how LiquidPlanner helps you manage your resources, download our eBook, “5 Best Practices to Manage Project Resources Effectively.”

 

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

advice column

Dear Elizabeth: 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.

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.

Have questions for Elizabeth? Email marketingteam@liquidplanner.com to submit a question.

Wait, there’s more! If you want practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.” 

top 9 project management challenges

How LiquidPlanner Motivates Team Members to Track Time

“Time is money.” – Benjamin Franklin
“I just can’t wait to fill in my timesheet!” – Nobody, ever.

Time is one of your most precious commodities. And for projects that are driven by schedules and budgets, project managers and team leaders need to know how and where everyone is spending their work hours. In order to get the right information, team members need to log time to all of their work. Easier said than done, right?

It’s hard to get people to use time tracking tools because:

  • Timesheet systems are clunky and not user-friendly.
  • Team members don’t see the value in logging their hours, and if they do enter their hours, they do it inconsistently—at best.
  • Timesheet data isn’t integrated with the project schedule, so work hours have to be manually wrangled from one system to another—a hassle that also increases the chance for errors.
  • By the time schedules are updated to reflect timesheet data it’s too late to address any problems
track time

How do you get people to track time?

First off, you need an efficient (non-clunky) time tracking process that’s integrated into your project management software. Then, you want to give your project team a way to quickly record work done and work remaining on a task—and to do so in context. For example, imagine starting a timer right from your task item and knowing your time is being logged into the project schedule pronto. Tracking time has to be convenient enough to become a habit.

Team members also have to see the inherent value that time tracking adds to their jobs, rather than seeing it as a tool just for their manager’s benefit. Show your team how logging time has a greater purpose for the individuals using it; show them how to analyze their time tracking data in a way that makes them better at their jobs and supports their initiatives.

Tracking time has huge benefits for team members in a number of ways, including:

  • Time tracking data is an irrefutable way to show the need for more help and resources.
  • It keeps people from being overbooked, overworked and getting burnt out.
  • Time tracking data can be used to plan yearly job goals, including budget requests.
  • If a manager questions how a team member is spending his time, there’s data to show for it.
  • It’s a track record of the amount of effort it takes to complete individual tasks all the way up to the entire project. This data can be used to make estimates on future work.

Effective time tracking tools provide essential benefits for everyone on the team: executives, managers, customers and team members. But you have to find the right kind of software and then convey the benefits and how to reap them.

LiquidPlanner is project management software that integrates time tracking into the scheduling software. The interface makes it easy to track time as you work on tasks throughout the week. It’s also easy to extract data and information that’s useful for everyone from project leads and stakeholders to team members.

Here’s how LiquidPlanner motivates people to track time:

A friendly interface that’s easy to use

For people to use a time tracking tool, it has to be functional, intuitive and easy to use. And let’s face it—a good-looking interface always helps. When you log in to your timesheet on LiquidPlanner, you’ll see a list of every task you’re assigned to. From here you can start timers, enter hours, update estimates, submit timesheets, access tasks and more. You can also start timers directly from your task items and log time as you move through work items.

LiquidPlanner time tracking

An integrated solution tied to a bigger picture

LiquidPlanner provides a time tracking tool that is directly linked to the scheduling engine. So, when team members enter hours worked and hours remaining for a task, it’s immediately reflected in the project schedule. No data wrangling between tools, no waiting for hours entered to be reflected in the schedule at some ambiguous future date—it’s updated there and then, in real time.

Also, team members can see the impact of their work on the project immediately—something that never happens when entering numbers into spreadsheets that are completely divorced from the schedules. By tracking time in LiquidPlanner, team members see the importance of their contribution, and how it affects other tasks; individuals can pull important information from their data that helps them stay on deadline, and they can surface time tracking widgets in Dashboards and see hours completed and hours remaining on work. Most importantly, everyone will understand why time tracking matters—to the project, the team and to their jobs.

If time is money—and your most precious resource—you need to know where and how you’re spending it. And you need your team to be part of the process.

time tracking with liquidplannertrack yoir time with liquidplanner

So use a system that makes it easy and habit-forming for everyone to use, and delivers essential information in real time.

And a tip for the road: If your team keeps asking you, “Where do we track our time to again?”, you’re using the wrong tool.

Project management is hard work! That’s why using the right tool can make the difference in how your organization successfully delivers projects, and motivates your team to track time.

This blog represents Part Three of our nine-part eBook about common PM pain points. To learn more about how to solve PM challenges, and turn them into opportunities, download our eBook, “
How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

top 9 project management challenges

 

Why Ranged Estimations Are Good for Projects

When it comes to managing technical projects, you already know this: The only thing you can be sure of is uncertainty. Your project will undoubtedly take a few twists and turns on the way to delivery. And who knows what other sudden needs or emergencies will pop up to divert your attention from the project at hand. But that’s project life, right?

And there’s another thing: statistics are not in your favor. IT projects run about 45% over budget and 7% over time, and consequently deliver 56% less value than predicted. This is why making ranged estimates based on best case/worst case scenarios is the smartest way to go because they’re realistic and reliable. While LiquidPlanner’s scheduling engine is based on making these kinds of ranged estimates, knowing how and why they’re so effective, and instilling some wise practices will improve your job as a project contributor and a team leader.

Why ranged estimates work

Ranged estimates mirror the real world. For example, if someone asks you how long it takes you to drive to work, you’ll probably say “between 20 and 35 minutes,” not “23 minutes.” Traffic, like projects, has a lot of variables. When you make ranged estimates that are based on best case/worst case scenarios, you’re taking into account all the uncertainty and change inherent in every project.

Compare this to making a single-point estimate based on educated guesses, going off past experience or responding to what the date customer is asking for. How do you, your team and stakeholders experience the project process with all its ups and downs? The guess is there’s a lot of stress and mistrust in hard deadlines that get repeatedly missed and re-set with no great explanation why, or missing the advanced warning that the project is going over until it’s, well, too late.

image001
Making your estimates

When you set out to create your ranged estimates, consider how long each task will take if all goes well (best case), and if it blows up (worst case). Then, take all the parts of the project you estimated and roll it up to encompass the project as a whole. You’ll arrive at a range of estimates that reflect varying levels of certainty between these two cases (the mid-point being the expected estimate). You can then plan out and budget the project on whichever of these values you deem most appropriate. Project uncertainty is greatest at the start of any project. As the project progresses, team members can update the remaining work estimates to reflect progress and diminishing risk as more work gets done and the threat of the unknown decreases. The result: teams, stakeholders and clients who trust the plan. And for you, confidence in your estimate because it’s based in reality.

Here’s a story of a ranged estimate in practice

Let’s say you’re a developer who was asked for an estimate to implement a new feature. While you’ve got a good idea of the high level requirements, the detailed design spec isn’t available yet. So you start a first draft of a ranged estimate using best case and worst case scenarios:

Best case
Unicorn

If the scope turns out to be what you anticipated and you don’t hit any major snags, you decide 10 days is a reasonable best-case estimate for completion. A suggested reasonable estimate is one that you’re 80%+ confident in.

Worst case
wrecking ball

What if the detailed design ends up adding some unplanned complexity? Or you have to fix a few bugs in the existing code along the way? (It’s happened before.) Weighing all these possibilities, you decide 30 days would be a reasonable worst case estimate for completion.

Your current rough estimate is between 10 – 30 days. This is quite a range, but it reveals the level of uncertainty in the project or task, and at this early stage it’s wise to base your project plan on the worse case estimates, and build the risk directly into the overall schedule.

ranged estiamtes
When you receive the detailed design spec, you’re able to take that information and narrow down your finish time estimate range to 15 – 20 days. Now, you and your team can get to work, feeling confident in the schedule dates that you share with stakeholders, clients or customers.

You’re probably not new to estimating your work in some shape or form. But how confident do you feel about making that end-date? Mastering the art of estimation is an ongoing process. As you refine your skills, estimations become more accurate and team members can anticipate risks and plan for uncertainty.

If you use project management software like LiquidPlanner—where the estimates for each task roll up into the overall project schedule—you can see an updated project plan whenever changes are made. Yes, scopes and dates my undulate, but you and everyone else involved will know what’s coming down the pike every step of the way. When asked where a project stands, you can give a realistic and dependable answer.

And nobody can overvalue the currency of trust.

There’s more! To learn more about estimation methods and how to practice and master them, download our eBook, “6 Best Practices for Accurate Project Estimates.”

Six best practices for project estimation

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5 Methods of Project Estimation
Why Making Ranged Estimates Instills Confidence and Is Good for Business
Making your Best Re-estimate

5 Time Management Myths

The French sculptor Auguste Rodin once said, “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” That may be, but the reality of the work world is that your time is a critical resource that must be used efficiently for greatest success. With the amount of press that the concept of improving productivity through improved time management receives, it’s easy to think that everyone else is making small tweaks to their workday that result in massive breakthroughs in productivity.

time management tips

This is not necessarily so. To help you break free of striving to master time management practices that don’t deliver what they might promise, here’s a list. Kick those myths to the curb!

Myth #1: There’s a magical finish line where everything is done, once and for all.

For better productivity, lose the idea that all your tasks will ever be all finished. You (and your team) are never going to be or have unlimited resources.  A better way to look at “reaching the end-goal” is to make sure you’re on top of prioritizing the work that needs to be done, making deliberate choices that move us toward the most important outcomes.  Productivity will never be measured by what’s left undone. Your focus is better spent on the quality of tasks accomplished, rather than the quantity of tasks completed.

Myth #2: Making a to-do list will make you more productive.

Stop thinking so much about creating to-do lists. They won’t save the day.  In fact, this kind of list keeping can often be a way you trick yourself  into thinking you have accomplished something when in fact your tasks are as numerous as ever.  In fact, the Harvard Business Review’s Daniel Markovitz states, “Stop making to-do lists. They’re simply setting you up for failure and frustration.”

To-do lists in and of themselves do nothing to further a project or task. They are in fact only intentions rather than scheduled commitments. Markovitz suggests, “Take your tasks off the to-do list, estimating how much time each of them will consume, and transferring them to your calendar. (Don’t forget to leave time to process your email. And leave some empty space—one to two hours—each day to deal with the inevitable crises that will crop up.) In essence, you’re making a production plan for your work.”

Myth #3: Don’t be distracted by emails, calls or sudden deadlines.

Emails, phone calls, meetings, notifications: These are indisputable parts of today’s working world. Even calling them “distractions” minimizes the importance of this kind of collaborative work. Instead, think of them as “obligations.” The ability to respond to colleagues in a timely fashion, be on hand for in-person interactions, or occasionally reboot your schedule comes with any job. Being an effective time manager means you manage your schedule well enough to be flexible and responsive in a way that makes sense.

For example, if your manager likes to email new ideas and goals late at night, know that and prepare yourself for some response time first thing in the morning.  Conversely, if you know your best writing or coding time is first thing in the morning, book some morning time on your calendar and then attend to calls and emails. Managing the flow of communication is an essential tool for your time management toolbox.

Myth #4: A perfect time management system exists.

There really is no single magic bullet for managing your time more effectively. So many factors—from your company’s culture to management timelines to your own inner clock—affect how and when you are able to get your work done. The best way to improve time management for yourself, and for your team, is to make small, incremental changes. Begin with short-term goals: practice adding executing or planning time into your calendar, set aside one day a week to return calls or non-pressing emails, or even book a free hour for sudden meetings into every afternoon. Over the course of a few weeks you’ll see what changes work best for you and your team as you implement them. Then, adjust accordingly.

Myth #5: Undivided focus is king.

One of the most cited time management tips is that successful outcomes come from hours and hours of completely focused, uninterrupted time. The reality is that creativity and productivity responds best to routine. The best way to achieve a large goal is to break it up into manageable pieces and complete those tasks on schedule. Always plan some extra time beyond what you think you’ll need. Try to get into a rhythm of work that suits your internal clock, and be consistent about achieving daily goals.

There are a lot of rules, types and best practices around how to manage time effectively. Don’t fall for the fact that there’s a best way to manage your time, and stay rooted in realism. Find what works for you, and master it.

Tell us a time management myth you’ve turned on its head. What’s your favorite trick?

Related stories:
7 Productive Ways to Think About Time Management
7 Essential Time Management Strategies
17 Reasons Why Time Tracking Makes You a Better Project Manager

3 Reasons Why Your Timesheet Can Get You a Promotion

Most project managers are obsessed with data. They need to be, in order to drive their projects successfully and make accurate schedules and delivery dates. Data can be collected in different ways, but project managers often rely on their project contributors to submit their timesheets, which provide the data they hold so dear. The problem here is that contributors often struggle with the idea of time tracking, and the need to fill in a “pointless” timesheet. They see it as a nuisance, to the tune of: “If I’ve completed all my work, why do I have to fill in a timesheet to prove that I’ve finished it?

liquidplanner timesheet

And in some respect, why should project contributors track time? Some companies require their employees to fill in their timesheets and then hammer heavy penalties to those who don’t. This approach can create resentment and fuel resistance against that essential data that project managers crave in order to plan, allocate and schedule resources.

So, what if I told you that the judicious use of a timesheet can help you get a promotion? Here are three reasons why it’s true.

1. Your timesheet is your weekly report card.

It’s difficult to be mindful of what kind of work you get done every day. Nonetheless, using your timesheet as a weekly report card is a fantastic way of understanding what kind of work was accomplished and what else needs to get done. Not only that, your timesheet is a legitimate way of keeping your work-life balance in check, and being able to remind yourself to not work 50 hour weeks.

Furthermore, let’s say you are working overtime and you want more help. Timesheet info validates this need. If conversely, you find yourself with some time on your hands, you can start planning for next week. Who knows, maybe you can start taking on some optional projects. As you complete these, you can then use the data in your timesheet to show your manager the kind of work you’ve put in. You can expose how these extra projects have added a particular kind of value to the company—a win/win scenario. At the end of the day, you’ll at least have valuable insight into how you’re using your time; you’ll have hard data to back up a request for more resources, and the potential to outperform others.

how timesheets help your career
2. Discipline

I believe that if you are disciplined in action but don’t really have the data to show for it, then your efforts are almost worthless in retrospect. It’s like working really hard throughout college but not having a report card or diploma to validate your accomplishment. In other words: When push comes to shove, how will you prove your worth? Sales teams across the U.S. often claim that if work isn’t recorded in a CRM, the team’s effort doesn’t exist. They have a point. Organizations drool over information—they need whatever it takes to give them the extra edge, and this collection of raw data starts internally. With more information, organizations are going to be able to provide resource leveling and create better workflows for their project contributors.

It takes discipline to consistently complete your timesheet, and to understand how you’ve been spending your time. But if you make the effort, you’ll start focusing on the work items that are most important to your business. Plus, if you’re a timesheet-based organization, and you forget to fill in your time sheet again and again, you become a nuisance to your boss who keeps getting pings from payroll. That’s definitely not a good recipe for success.

Self discipline makes a difference to your career. And it can start with one simple action—completing your timesheet.

timesheet
3. Reporting

Companies make money on selling their expertise. They make money on the time their most-valued assets bring to the table. Organizations succeed by keeping track of their resources accurately and easily—from billing and reviewing time, to paying for time, reporting on time and getting paid for employees’ time. Don’t forget: You are a valued asset, and you’re making the company money. Taking advantage of your timesheet and your expertise will provide you leverage to get to the next level.

With time tracking, you can break down your work and carefully analyze where and when you can work more efficiently and effectively. For example, if you learn that you’re spending two hours on emails a day, you can start to look for ways to cut that time in half; if 10 a.m. is a common time for meetings, schedule strategy and focused work for 2 p.m. and stick to it.

At first, it might be difficult to take your timesheet seriously; it might be even harder to believe that it can land you a promotion. However, resources like a timesheet can offer up the data your manager and your manager’s manager need to see in order to give you the promotion you’ve been working toward. Hard work and drive are the main ingredients to your success, but it’s all about how you use the salt-and-pepper of time management that can make or break your experience with a company.

At the end of the day, your work and your time is your business, so manage it and sell it. Your timesheet is a place to start.

Tell us how you’ve used timesheet data to advance your career, and skills.

 

Related stories:
17 Reasons Why Time Tracking Makes You a Better Project Manager
15 Reasons Why You and Your Team Should Be Tracking Time
4 Tips for Using LiquidPlanner’s Timesheets to Track Time