Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 22;   May 30, 2001: Taming the Time Card

Taming the Time Card

by

Filling out time cards may seem maddeningly trivial, but the data they collect can be critically important to project managers. Why is it so important? And what does an effective, yet minimally intrusive time reporting system look like?

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.

Time is moneyWhy 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
for professionals:
respect their time
and respect them
If 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.

If people understand the need for the data you collect — and if you use that data — your time reporting system will be a tool, not a target. Go to top Top  Next issue: You Remind Me of Helen Hunt  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe 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 welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenSaUNpandAAWuehccner@ChacWlzdAjiIFLHGeacSoCanyon.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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Something from Abraham, from Mark and from HennyAbraham, Mark, and Henny
Our plans, products, and processes are often awkward, bulky, and complex. They lack a certain spiritual quality that some might call elegance. Yet we all recognize elegance when we see it. Why do we make things so complicated?
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnnoyance to Asset
Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another, are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated. Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from a liability to a valuable asset.
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin (left) with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan GreenspanThe Paradox of Confidence
Most of us interpret a confident manner as evidence of competence, and a hesitant manner as evidence of lesser ability. Recent research suggests that confidence and competence are inversely correlated. If so, our assessments of credibility and competence are thrown into question.
Still Life with Chair-Caning, by PicassoSolutions as Found Art
Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways. Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and President Bush in a press conference on September 17, 2001Overconfidence at Work
Confidence in our judgments and ourselves is essential to success. Confidence misplaced — overconfidence — leads to trouble and failure. Understanding the causes and consequences of overconfidence can be most useful.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) speaks at a recent Senate hearingComing October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
A man, standing, explaining something to a woman, seatedAnd on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenCjQQxfQTUgxEHtDvner@ChacDHsnJwFEpiunwkcpoCanyon.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:

Reprinting this article

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

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • 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.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.