Do you really need to know how many hours were spent on a project or is a rough estimate good enough? What difference does it really make anyway? To some organizations, it may not be important to know when a project will be completed but to most this information is critical. Resource forecasting, operational transitions to new systems and methods, profitability for new products, and many other key objectives depend on timely project completion.
Accurate project status depends on a variety of things. In this blog, we will take on one of those items – time reporting. It is a basic component of accurate project status and essential for techniques such as Earned Value Management (EVM). Did you know that the application of good EVM techniques will allow project managers to accurately predict the total cost/schedule of their project (within 10%) when they are only 20% complete? That’s a pretty good accuracy number and it is highly dependent on accurate time reporting. You don’t need to do full EVM compliance reporting for all projects of course, but if you have a requirement for time reporting, there are actionable steps to take to insure accurate project status.
Let’s look at the problem from 4 different perspectives:
Project Manager Role – If you are the PM, you have a challenging role. You need accurate data to successfully manage your projects. Without accurate time reporting, how do you know how much of the project each member has completed? If one contributor is behind on a task and you’re unaware, how will that effect the next step in the project and impact other project resources? Inaccuracy in time reporting can result in a ripple effect through the entire project.
PMO Role – If you are a PMO Administrator, you have a similar problem but across a larger set of projects. Delayed data means you don’t have what you need to do your job. Inaccuracies in the data will inevitably reflect poorly on you. Have you been reduced to sending spam to all employees hoping the ones that have not turned in their time sheet will actually read it? PMO Administrators are skilled employees not babysitters, and yet often they are reduced to chasing down the non-compliant contributors in an effort to get accurate project data.
Resource Manager Role – As a RM, you are typically responsible for tracking both project and administrative time for your staff. You need to be able to provide resources to projects and know who will be available in the future for upcoming work. If you don’t have accurate records, your resources may be overloaded or under-utilized. Either condition will cause problems.
Team Member Role – Let’s face it, time reporting is a tedious and boring chore for team members but is a necessary part of the project management game and a critical part of successfully keeping your project on track.
Looking deeper into why team members are not complying with time tracking may produce new insights. Is the problem forgetful team members, stubborn or lazy employees? Probably not. It may just be that the process is too cumbersome, unclear or too complicated. The more difficult the process, the more error-prone the results. If it takes more than a few minutes per reporting cycle to report time, the process needs simplification. There is a better way to encourage a higher compliance rate, less frustration and ensure a smoother overall business process.
If it’s important, do it right.
Accuracy in reporting time spent on a project makes it easier to predict the future. First, make sure that you are asking for time to be reported at the appropriate level for your project – not too high or too detailed. Make sure that the number of tasks each person needs to report on is reasonable. If you have the right level of reporting expectation, you will have better results.
If the reporting level is reasonable, you will need two items for each task in each reporting cycle:
- How much time did you spend on the task last cycle?
- How much time (in hours) do you have left to complete the task?
Why hours instead of percentages? The bottom line is that people are optimistic and typically vague in their reporting unless you are specific in your request. For example, if someone on your project reports their task is 85% complete and you have planned 100 hours, to you that means they have worked 85 hours and there are 15 hours left for completion. Subsequently, you predict the task will be complete in a couple of days. Team members often think in more general terms: We worked on this all week and it is getting close so we are “almost” done so let’s say 85%. When team members report by percentages, a lot of inaccuracies can creep into your project forecasts. If you ask how many hours are left, they will give you a more precise answer.
Non-compliance to the business process can result in time being reported to the wrong project or under reported to the right one. Inaccuracies are not always intentional, your team may simply be busy doing the work they were hired to do. Time reporting may seem like a bureaucratic request with little value. If team members understand the importance of accurately reporting their time, they may be more inclined to comply. This may mean supplemental training to show everyone involved on a project how the data is used and how missing data can skew the project. Once they can appreciate the importance of the data and understand that it’s not just another hoop they are being asked to jump through, the overall buy in will improve. Keeping your business process simple will also help. The more steps that are involved in your process the less likely it is that everyone will follow them. Remember everyone has a job to do and filling out timesheets is not high on anyone’s list.
What if we could make it even easier?
The tips above should help no matter what your role is but we also have some suggestions to make this job even easier through automation. The game changer comes in having timely knowledge of the status of your projects without having to take hours of your time to track people down or nag them with email.
What if you could immediately know who hasn’t complied with the time reporting process, which projects have unexpected time reported and which are under reported? Better yet, what if the proper people were notified automatically that their data was missing or inaccurate before the Administrator, PM or Supervisor were even involved? There are many different software solutions that offer time tracking or timesheet management, but imagine one that works using your own business rules that is able to alert specific parties who need to take action. This has several positive impacts: employees that have already turned in their timesheets aren’t harassed by mass emails and employees who miss a deadline are sent messages that are specific and targeted with the action that needs to be taken. Administrators can go back to doing their actual jobs. Think how much time that would save.
Our solution that provides this functionality is called BIAdvantage. BIAdvantage is a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution that works with a variety of systems to integrate data, automate processes through business rules, and provide business intelligence when you need it. One of its many features is the Auto Notifier, which works with your Project Portfolio Management (PPM) system and acts on your specific business rules. Notifications can be sent with specific instructions to specific people, making compliance easier. For example, if a missing timesheet is the issue, a message can be sent with a link to the exact place to submit the timesheet, eliminating another step for the receiver. If data is not entered correctly, the notification can provide a detailed explanation of the problem and also point to training resources. All of this can be done automatically without human intervention. Additionally, trending data can be created so opportunities for improved efficiency can become apparent.
Our customers who use this solution have reported significant improvements in timely reporting and large reductions in the amount of time spent reconciling data. Imagine what you could do with all the time you will get back. Want to know more?