5 Tips for Hacking Time Tracking: How to Improve On-Time Delivery & Forecasting
Does it ever feel like some members of your team are operating from a completely different concept of time? A project that you think will take two weeks, someone else estimates three. And, we probably shouldn’t get you started on the number of missed milestones or deadlines.
Is your team perpetually behind schedule because they’re slow, lazy, and unproductive? Or is it more likely because they can’t come to an agreement about exactly how long a project will take in the first place?
See "Work Smarter—Not Harder—to Greater Positivity and Success" for advice on how to help your team be more productive.
Estimating project completion timelines can be a major source of conflict and contention in many organizations, especially when it seems everyone is on a different page about how long each task will take. Often these issues stem from the various personality types at play.
For example, some people habitually overestimate the amount of work they can reasonably get done. Others like to build in extra time as a “cushion” so that they don’t have to feel pressured to perform at high velocity.
Inevitably, when projects fall behind schedule, fingers are pointed and blame is thrown around, which erodes team cohesiveness and collaboration.
But, there can also be some process and logistical issues going on. Lack of visibility into the true time cost of each project means that estimates for future projects can never be accurate, and the same pattern repeats itself over and over.
To help your team get off the perpetual spiral of overpromised deliverables and missed deadlines, here are five time-tracking hacks to improve on-time delivery and forecasting accuracy.
1. Take Stock of the Entire Process
Start by taking the time to document the entire workflow of the project, breaking it down into specific individual tasks.
Many organizations make the mistake of lumping smaller tasks together into one, but if one of those consumes the lion’s share of the time allotted, it’s impossible to know which one is the bottleneck. Lumping them all together is a recipe for underestimating, so make sure you spell it out…every brainstorming meeting, every round of review, every focus group, every data entry task.
Consult every person who has a role, and ask them to outline their tasks specifically. This use of “bottom-up” estimating can help you get a more realistic estimate of the entire project.
2. Track Time in Real Time
Up until now, most of your project estimates have been relatively rough guesstimates and maybe a few rough stabs in the dark. The reality is, until you actually track how long it takes to do something, it’s nearly impossible to come up with an accurate estimate.
So, pick a project and start tracking. Ask every team member to document the hours and minutes spent on each step to zero in on an accurate time expenditure.
It can be as simple as using a time-tracking widget like Paymo, one of many mobile phone apps, or even just the stopwatch function on an iPhone. Just hit “start” at the beginning of a task and log the time in a spreadsheet upon completion.
Ideally, your work management solution would allow you to track time automatically, so that the team doesn’t forget and then have to go back and recall/estimate how long they spent on each task.
3. Capture “Soft Time”
In every project, there are a lot of tasks that go on behind the scenes that often go unaccounted for—answering emails, instant messaging, accessing shared documents, and tracking down assets, for example. Communication is a critical part of every project and it can also be one of the most time-consuming.
To get an accurate picture, all of these tasks should be tracked just like direct work in order to spot bottlenecks and hurdles that can be removed.
Bringing all project communication, asset management, and shared documents into a work management solution like Workfront helps teams keep track of all of this “soft time” investment and consolidates it, not only reducing the time spent, but also capturing that time so that it can be considered as part of the time estimate.
4. Account for Varying Concepts of Time
Believe it or not, the clock on your office wall is not the official authority on time. As it turns out, different people have different perceptions of time, which affects how they perform in certain roles.
Monochronic individuals see time as a linear, discrete, quantifiable concept. Seconds, minutes, hours, and days can be scheduled and organized, blocked off to perform specific tasks or activities.
On the other hand, polychronic individuals see time as more fluid, and they’re more likely to shift from one task to another repeatedly in a single block of time. Appointments and deadlines are more like estimates and “windows” rather than fixed, specific directives.
Many millennials and digital natives operate this way, as do many creative types. They prefer a less structured, more fluid environment and they’re used to multitasking.
Without even doing a formal assessment, you can probably identify these two camps of people within your organization, and given this understanding, it’s wise to assign tasks accordingly.
For example, you may not want to put a polychron in charge of scheduling and forecasting, although they should be expected to track their time and meet deadlines. And, monochrons may not be the best at brainstorming, ideation, or creative problem-solving given their tendency to want to stick to rigid structure.
Although there are always exceptions to these rules, it’s definitely a dichotomy you’ll want to keep in mind when trying to get a handle on time tracking.
5. Avoid the Temptation to Underestimate Time
Unless you’re a NASCAR pit crew, there’s probably no award for getting projects done and out the door as fast as possible. In most business scenarios, the goals are quality work, customer satisfaction, product effectiveness, and business results.
When it comes to a new product launch, certainly being first to market with a new innovation is important, but not at the risk of making mistakes and jumping the gun. That’s why underestimating the time it will take and making it sound like you’ll speed through the project doesn’t help anyone.
It’s accuracy, not speed, that’s most important. So, be honest with yourselves and realistic in your estimates. After all, it’s better to under promise and over deliver, than have everyone breathing down your neck about why the project is late…again.
The ability to provide accurate project timelines and completion estimates is critical to optimizing workflow and productivity in any organization. By utilizing the right tools, like the Workfront work management solution, tracking time becomes a natural part of the workflow and allows your team to gain complete visibility into exactly how long each task really takes.
This insight not only helps to uncover bottlenecks within your process to improve performance, but also provides insight that can improve the accuracy and reliability of project forecasting to help your team stay on task and on time with deadlines, every time.
See "4 Crucial Steps to Help You Make Deadline on Any Project" for more tips on meeting deadlines.