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22 February 2008

The mechanics of time tracking

It isn't easy to manage the problem of getting people to do their time tracking. No matter how many good reasons there are to do time tracking, people still don't see the value until after you show them instances of one of the examples from yesterday’s post.

The fact is that time tracking does add overhead to your day. However, if you plan it correctly, it shouldn’t add more than a few minutes a day and the advantages far outweigh the time spent.

One recommended practice to limit the overhead of reporting is to have your team do self reporting of time spent. This is beneficial in terms of accuracy and it limits the overhead to a few minutes per person rather than a huge chunk of time for a single project manager.

In order to minimize the overhead, your time tracking system should be simple, easy to use, and easy to data mine. I have found that even the simplest of methods can be effective. A simple list of projects with a subcategory of milestones or even project phases will work. In fact, if you get into too much detail, the overhead of tracking quickly gets out of hand.

The tool isn’t important unless it is too difficult to use. I have used open source systems, Excel spreadsheets, a simple mod_perl script run in a web page, a Sharepoint task list, and an off the shelf product. The hardest to use was the Excel spreadsheet and that was because I had to combine data from 12 different people into one report.

It doesn’t have to be fancy; it merely needs to be meaningful.

Tomorrow: how to make the data meaningful.