Wednesday, 15 August 2018 07:16

Timesheets: The Thorn In A Project Manager’s Side

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Businesses are losing up to $50,000 a year in billable revenue from the inaccurate tracking of hours, according to Harvard Business review.

This statistic likely comes as a surprise for organizations, given over half of respondents indicated that their employer uses timesheets to bill clients (for face-to-face consulting hours or on-site project work, for example). But timesheet accuracy is not translating to internal working hours—in the same study, almost 40% of respondents admitted they do not track employee hours as effectively as they would like. This lack of accuracy and efficiency makes project estimates harder to calculate.

Timesheets are the obvious answer for businesses looking to keep track of working hours. But the manual nature of the process makes it more difficult than it needs to be.

Transforming the nature of timesheets

Timesheets are a perfectly sound solution in theory, providing the data that is added is accurate. But the reality is that workers do not or cannot fill in their timesheets accurately. For employees, filling out timesheets can be a tedious task and the busy nature of on-site work can make it difficult to know exactly how many hours they've worked. For project managers, tracking resources across multiple locations and projects is a complex and time-consuming matter.

But timesheets, like many other facets of project management, are undergoing digital change. Businesses that are able to take advantage of this can transform their projects and overcome the problems that hamper estimates in how long projects will take and how much they will cost.

This post will explore the problems with traditional timesheets and explain how integrating timesheets within a project or resource management solution can make the process easier and more intuitive.

The inaccuracies of traditional timesheets

Project managers need to track how much time employees are spending on a task to be able to measure their performance against their project goals and timelines. While this is an essential practice, it's not a fool-proof one. Inaccurate timesheet data can create the following problems:

  • An inability to see if projects are cost-effective: when working hours are recorded inaccurately, return on investment figures are skewed.
  • Miscalculated time estimations: the most effective projects require tasks to be timed and recorded to-the-hour to ensure they are adhering to allotted time frames.
  • An inability to improve future projects: if tasks or projects take too long, estimations can be adjusted for future projects or changes can be made. But if working hours are inaccurate, these changes get made for the wrong reasons.
  • A lack of resource allocation: project managers are unable to see who is overworked (from recording too many hours) and who has the capacity to take on more tasks.
  • A decrease in project revenue: any combination of the above will lead to decreases in worker productivity and project efficiency, ultimately resulting in lost costs.

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For employees to routinely and accurately fill in timesheet data, project managers must put a clear and structured process in place. While leadership is needed, integrating timesheets with your project management or resource management software can provide a level of data granularity that can remove the inaccuracies of traditional timesheets.

Digitalizing with project and resource management

Integrating timesheets into your PPM or resource management system of record provides additional insight into the availability and allocation of resources. So you can get a better view of how long it takes workers to complete tasks without needing to move your data around.

Of course, integrating digital timesheet data cannot be done if you are still using software like Microsoft Excel for resource management. And even the more popular PPM management tools like Microsoft Project do not have sufficient capabilities. This is why using the right tool is key. The right solution can help you:

  • Decide which projects are more valuable
    By including resource timesheets in your project management software, you can monitor which projects are taking up too much of your employees’ time and adjust your processes to make things more efficient and worth your time.
  • Improve accountability and transparency 
    Timesheets can help you reward employees who produce the best standard of work and highlight individuals who aren't performing to their potential, so you can help them improve.
  • Improve project estimates 
    Making rough estimates of how long it will take for workers to complete tasks is not a sustainable practice. While the onus will always be on the individual to make sure working hours are accurate, digital timesheets can transfer this data straight to your system of record so your project timeframes (and their cost implications) always remain up-to-date. 

Time keeping on the front lines

By integrating timesheets into your resource management tool, project managers can add timesheet data directly into the tool, providing instant and overarching visibility into resource allocation and availability. As a result, you get more accurate estimations of your projects in terms of time and cost.

What's more, the most sophisticated resource management tools can integrate with popular PPM software like Microsoft Project or Smartsheet, so you needn't up and move your entire PPM setup to benefit from digital timesheets.

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Greg Bailey

With over 25 years’ experience in the project management sector, Greg Bailey is Vice President Resource Management at ProSymmetry. He writes about tech trends, with a focus on resource management.

For more of Greg's views on resource management, you can visit the ProSymmetry blog (http://prosymmetry.com/blog/) or follow the company on Twitter - @ProSymmetry.

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