4 Reasons Why You Should Track Time
By Christian Bisson
Time is precious, especially when it comes to using the very little that’s available to do all the work that’s in front of us, or in front of the very limited resources we have for our projects.
So why not try to manage it a little better? Tracking time is a very good start, and just to be clear, I do not mean just tracking how much time you spend on a task, but also track how much time is available while it’s being used. For example, if a developer enters “4h” for a task, that’s great, but it’s even better if he is informed that 10h are left for that task.
Here is why it’s important:
- Makes us realize the truth
How many time have you heard “in will only take two minutes”? Or maybe you are the one who has a habit of saying that! By tracking your time, you will quickly realize that the “two minutes” needed is actually 10-15 minutes. What if you think it’s 15 minutes? Well it’s probably more 30-45 minutes.
Unless we actually track time and pay attention to the time we spend on our work, no matter the time we think we need each time, we’ll need twice the time in the end, if not more. Tracking time makes us aware of all this. That’s when we can estimate the time we need accurately for our tasks, and that’s when you can really have control over your schedule.
Also, once you and your team know the real time you need for your tasks, your project estimates become more accurate, and that’s when it becomes even more interesting!
Gives us clear objectives
The objectives are set when specific amount of time are set for each tasks. It’s important to note that estimates need to be realistic for this to be efficient, or people will stop taking the time available seriously.
By paying attention to the time left for a task, we have a clear objective of the time we are supposed to spend for a task (To develop a specific module for example).
Clear objectives of time gives you better focus so you will be more efficient and will avoid “stretching” the time you spend on the task. Also, you will make different decisions while executing your work so you can stay within the allocated time.
Furthermore, by knowing right away you should spend 5h on a module, when you thought of spending 20h, will immediately raise questions on your part, and you will be able to validate if you understood the task correctly, or if maybe you were going to gold plate the project. Maybe it’s the other way around, and the time estimated is not enough; the project manager can be informed quicker that way rather than if he finds out when it’s all over. It can then be managed proactively rather than reactively.
Gives us valuable information for estimates
When estimating projects, it’s important to be able to validate it by comparing our current estimate with previous estimates for similar projects. It can also be used for quick analogous estimates. By having no time tracked whatsoever, than all estimates are pure guesses, and can have horrible consequences if the projects are signed.
For example, if you estimate a website at 30K, and you compare with a previous similar website done, and realize that you need 50K, you want to know before it’s too late! If you find out at the end of the project, imagine the money lost! Even worst, if you do not track time, you won’t really be able to tell that you went over budget, which is worst.
We can analyze results and make important decisions
This is where in can become fun! Once you have accumulated a lot of projects time sheets, you can start to analyze the results. That can be a real eye opener.
For example, you may find out that all our projects were over budget when it comes to design. You can than decide to raise your design budget in general because the work in underestimated, or instead, have the design process optimized to reduce time spent.
You can also find out that all your projects categorized as “Website development” are the ones that have a bigger profit margin. You can than identify “why?” and improve your other types of project. Or maybe you will decide to have a greater percentage of website developement in your portfolio from now on.
There is a lot of information that can be analyzed here, and the more time sheets you gather, the more analyzing you can do.
The very little time it takes to track time will give you more than enough valuable information to make it worth your while.
Christian Bisson is a project manager from Montreal, QC, Canada. His PM experience is concentrated in the Internet world, and he helped deliver over a 100 projects over his PM years. You can read more from Christian on his blog.