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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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.
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:
- Assumptions and the Johari Window: I
- The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to differing assumptions of
the parties to the conflict. Working out these differences is a lot easier when we know what everyone's
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone
or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II
of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- Be With the Real
- When the stream of unimportant events and concerns reaches a high enough tempo, we can become so transfixed
that we lose awareness of the real and the important. Here are some suggestions for being with the Real.
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
- Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded
of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
- Paradoxical Policies: I
- Although most organizational policies are constructive, many are outdated or nonsensical, and some are
actually counterproductive. Here's a collection of policies that would be funny if they weren't real.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- 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.