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One task that seems to bring people together in mutual dislike is time tracking. Why is that? What if your organization requires you and your team to track your project efforts on a timesheet? In this article, I’ll explore some of the reasons why project teams hate time tracking and what a project manager can do to encourage it.

Here’s a pro-tip, right off the bat: most of the time, you and your project team will be using time tracking software. Trust me: this is way better than an Excel spreadsheet or a paper timesheet. Choosing a user-friendly option goes a long way in getting your team to actually use it—more on that later!

What Is Time Tracking And Why Do Teams Do It?

Project teams engage in time tracking for various reasons. These reasons often align with organizational goals, project management needs, and efficiency considerations. 

Apart from the basic reason “I hate it, but someone told me to do it”, here are some common reasons why teams implement employee time tracking: 

  1. Better billing and client management: For organizations and agencies that bill clients based on time spent on projects, keeping track of billable hours through time tracking is essential for accurate invoicing. It provides a clear and transparent record of the time spent on client work. This can help to justify costs and maintain client relationships.
  2. More accurate project estimates: Time tracking is often used to monitor and manage the time spent on various tasks and activities. This helps in estimating how much time similar tasks might take in future projects, making project planning more accurate. Time tracking can also be used in project management to check the accuracy of estimates and to make adjustments if estimates appear to be off. It may also help to identify risks that may affect your project outcomes.
  3. Improved resource allocation: Time tracking allows project teams to understand how resources, including each team member’s time and skills, are distributed across the project. This information is valuable for optimizing resource allocation and ensuring that workloads are balanced, and that team members are not overloaded or under-utilized, which can contribute to burnout. This might involve reassigning tasks to other team members, bringing on additional team members or potentially freelancers, or extending task or project timelines.
  4. Contributes to process and workflow improvement: Time tracking data can be analyzed to identify opportunities for process and workflow improvements. Project managers can identify patterns, assess the effectiveness of processes and workflows according to predefined metrics, and make data-driven decisions to enhance overall efficiency. For example, you might notice multiple team members spending a lot of time on the same task, which means you need to find a way to reduce the amount of time they’re spending or remove a blocker that’s impacting them.

Why Do Teams Hate Time Tracking? 

1. Perceived Micromanagement

No one likes to feel like they are being watched. The feeling of having ‘big brother’ watching over you during every minute of your working hours makes people feel uncomfortable.

Time tracking can be perceived as a form of micromanagement where employees feel that their every move is being monitored and watched. This can lead to a lack of trust, demotivation, and a negative work environment and culture.

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2. Punishment for Inaccurate Estimates

Project teams (and especially agile project teams) may dislike time tracking if tracked time is measured against work estimates. If project teams are asked to provide an estimate for the planned effort and duration, they might feel that time tracking is a way to track the accuracy of their estimates.

Team members might worry that they will be held accountable or punished for providing an inaccurate estimate if they’re off. This can be especially problematic for teams working on creative or research & development projects.

3. Unwanted Administrative Task

No one likes administrative ‘busy-work’ tasks. Project team members might see time tracking as an additional administrative task that takes time away from their actual work. If the process of tracking one’s time is cumbersome or requires a significant amount of time and effort, this causes frustration.

4. Lack of Transparency and Trust

If the purpose behind time tracking is not effectively communicated, or if the use of data that’s been tracked is not transparent, employees may question the value and necessity of the process. This can create a toxic culture where employees may feel that they are not trusted to do their work. This is not the type of culture or environment that anyone would like to work in.

Why Is Time Tracking For Project Teams Important?

Time tracking can be very important for a project. The project manager may wish teams to track time for a number of reasons. 

Here are some common benefits of time tracking for teams:

  • Provides productivity insights: Time tracking can be used to analyze team and individual employee productivity. By understanding how time and effort is spent, you can identify bottlenecks, gaps, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement. This data-driven approach can inform strategies and plans to enhance overall productivity and employee morale. 
  • Helps control costs: Time tracking assists in controlling costs by providing insights into the actual time, effort, and money spent on projects. This information is crucial for budgeting accurately and avoiding cost overruns. This is especially important for projects that have agreed on a fixed project cost (or are using a fixed-price contract) with customers, or those that need to stay within budget parameters set by a client.
  • Ensures compliance with legal and contractual obligations: In some cases, compliance, legal, or contractual agreements may necessitate time tracking. Time tracking ensures work is conducted in accordance with established standards and guidelines for projects that have regulatory or compliance requirements that mandate time tracking. This is often the case in consulting, legal services, and other professional fields where clients require detailed records of employee work performed.
  • Improved time management: Team members will be able to see how they spend their time, and determine whether they are spending too much time (or not enough time) on certain tasks. With the opportunity to review their own time data at the end of the day or week, say, team members can adjust the time and effort they’re putting into different projects or tasks to increase profitability.

4 Ways Project Managers Can Get The Team On Board With Time Tracking

Getting a project team onboard with time tracking can be a delicate process that requires effective communication strategies, clear benefits, and a supportive approach. Here are some strategies that you can use to encourage your team to embrace time tracking:

1. Explain The Purpose of Time Tracking

The first step in getting your team on board is to clearly communicate the reasons behind implementing time tracking. Emphasize that it is not about micromanaging but rather about understanding how time is spent to improve efficiency and productivity. As the project manager, you can help explain the purpose by highlighting the benefits for both the team and the organization.

The second step is to connect time tracking with the project team's overall goals and objectives. When team members see how their time contributes to the achievement of larger goals (or the ‘bigger picture’), they may be more motivated to track their time accurately. This also has the benefit of ensuring that your team members also have an understanding of the project and organization’s goals and objectives.

3. Pick User-Friendly Tools 

If you know your team is reluctant to track their time, why pick a difficult and hard-to-use tool? To encourage your team to do it, select a time tracking app that is easy to use and integrates seamlessly into the team's workflow. If the tools are user-friendly and require minimal effort, team members are more likely to adopt them without you having to ask or remind them.

Keep an eye out for time tracking tools with functionalities that allow you and your team to automate time tracking (ex. starting a time clock when opening a specific tab), and integrations with your project management software or other invoicing software to create a cohesive time tracking system.

4. Lead by Example

How are you going to encourage people to do something if you don’t do it yourself? As the project manager, you should lead by example and demonstrate a commitment to time tracking. When project team members see that leaders are actively participating, it sets a positive tone for the entire team. This will encourage others to follow suit. 

Find more time tracking best practices here.

What’s Next?

Have more ideas for encouraging your team to track their time? Become a member and join the conversation in our Slack community with 100s of other digital project managers. You’ll also get access to 100+ templates, examples, and samples of project documentation, which will save you time and get you on the road to project success.

By Christina Sookram

With over 15 years of corporate experience as a project manager, Christina Sookram is an experienced project leader and educator. She has provided project leadership experience at some of Canada's largest technology companies. She has subject matter expertise in both waterfall and agile project delivery and product management functions with a focus on Scrum, Kanban, and SAFe® agile methodologies. A successful entrepreneur, Christina founded CNS Project Consulting Inc in 2020 to help clients in the IT, education and Web3 industries. Christina is also an instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University and OCAD University where she enjoys sharing her love of all things project management with students.