At some point, most of us have been required to submit time cards. To most professionals the task often seems maddeningly trivial, especially when the card is due in ten minutes, we've forgotten how we actually spent our time for a few days, and the whole thing is just a piece of fiction.
In accounting or law, where time spent determines client billing, time reporting is obviously necessary. For many other professions, expended-effort data seems to have no real purpose. But expended-effort data can be an indispensable management tool for project-oriented organizations.
Why is this data so important? Projects are supposed to end. Often there's much more project work to be done than people to do it, which creates pressure to complete successfully any existing projects. That's one reason why project sponsors always ask, "When will it be done?"
To answer such questions, project managers need to know roughly how long each task should take, and how much effort has been expended so far. They estimate the former and measure the latter.
Management would rather estimate than guess time to completion. Lacking historical effort data, estimates cannot be based on data; lacking current effort data, actuals are little more than hunches. By tracking the time of project team members, project managers can control projects better because they can base their estimates on real data.
The primary requirements
of any time-card system
respect their time
and respect themIf your organization is project-oriented, and you don't yet collect expended-effort data, you might consider starting. But whether a system is in place, or you're considering one, take care that it meets your needs without burdening or insulting professionals. A well-designed system can be minimally intrusive and still yield useful data.
Here are some criteria for a time card system that doesn't put the corporate culture at risk:
- Gather effort data only from the people who work on projects.
- Include all overtime.
- Don't bother with supervisor's signatures. Any professional inept enough to get caught lying that way is not to be trusted with important project work.
- Collect data weekly. This helps keep people fairly current.
- Don't try to account for 100% of a person's time — focus on the time spent on project work.
- Put the system on the Intranet. Make it easy to use from anywhere.
- Provide a separate account for each project task, so you can compare actuals with estimates.
- Pick a minimum resolution: 15 minutes or more. Any finer than that is fiction.
- Report all work done, no matter where — even at home or on travel.
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Double Your Downsizing Damage
- Some people believe that senior management is actually trying to hurt their company by downsizing.
If they are they're doing a pretty bad job of it. Here's a handy checklist for evaluating the performance
of your company's downsizers.
- Mitigating Outsourcing Risks: I
- Outsourcing internal processes modifies the usual risk configuration of those processes, but it also
creates a special class of risks that are peculiar to the outsourcing relationship. What are some of
those risks and what can we do about them?
- This Is the Only Job
- You have a job. Even though you liked it once, those days are long past, and a return is improbable.
If you could, you'd hop to another job immediately, but economic conditions in your field make that
unlikely. How can you deal with this misery?
- Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our
notice. Here are four examples.
- Way Too Much to Do
- You're good at your job — when you have enough time to do it. The problem is that so much comes
your way that you can't possibly attend to it all. Some things inevitably are missed or get short shrift.
If you don't change something soon, trouble is sure to arrive.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
- You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
- I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
- A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
- …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.