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21 February 2008

Good reasons to do time tracking

In all the years I've worked in IT, I have never found anyone who didn't have strong feelings about time tracking.

Most people I know hate doing it and they all have the same reasons. "It's too much overhead." "I feel like a lawyer." "I don't know what I did today." The only people I've met who like time tracking are the ones responsible for measurement and analysis of project performance.

The one person I've met who loved time tracking came from a Six Sigma background.

There are many reasons that time tracking is important. In order to make strategic decisions, you need data. The only place to get data that can be aggregated is to have the detail that rolls up. The types of decisions that have been made based on the time tracking data I've collected over the years include:
  • Staffing - Several people avoided layoffs because I could show exactly what they were working on and how long they spent doing it. We also could show that we needed more people in order to do additional projects in the time frame management required it.
  • Project delivery dates - Because we had good historical data on actual times vs. estimates, our estimates were given more credibility by management. Instead of management insisting on an unreasonable delivery date, they accepted ours.
  • Planning when new projects could be started - When management saw that staff was fully loaded for the next few months, they reprioritized their projects to fit the staffing schedule.
True story: Once upon a time, my boss was asked for a report showing on which projects the department was spending their time. After several days and much heartache and grief, he received numbers from all of his people and created a report for management. Management not only disregarded his numbers, they made some staffing decisions based on what they believed rather than the report he had given them.

About a year and a half later, and six months after a time tracking system had been implemented, management asked the same question. After about 2 hours of wrestling Excel into a meaningful graph, the report was delivered to management. Staffing decisions from far up the food chain were adjusted based on the actual numbers he sent.

I know what you're all wondering. The answer is, the actual numbers were well within a reasonable range of the original estimates.

The moral of the story is whether you know what your people do or not, it always makes a bigger impact on management to be able to show actual data proving your point.

Tomorrow: the mechanics of time tracking.


Photo by Padawanchina
and originally posted here