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Question:

I’m new to “official” project management, though I’ve been doing it one shape or another for years. I’m running into an issue right now where I am having issues with getting team members to log their time. Is this normal in agencies? What is realistic to expect of a team to enter time?

Ben Says:

Let’s be honest, timesheets suck, don’t they?

If only money didn’t matter. Trouble is, it does.

The truth is, getting people to log their time is nearly always very tricky. In fact, I can’t remember a single agency I’ve worked at where it wasn’t a problem.

In getting people to fill in their timesheets, we’re asking them to establish a new habit or correct a bad one. And creating new habits is notoriously difficult, particularly if it doesn’t seem to have any discernible benefit (to the person filling in the timesheets at least). As it takes 21 days to establish a new habit, what are our options?

Positive Or Negative Reinforcement?

Ye olde carrot and stick come to mind. You can either:

  • Incentivise them to do it properly
  • Punish them for not doing it properly

I’m not a big of negative reinforcement, mainly because as a project manager, it always helps if people like us. If they see us as the reason they can’t log onto their computer, access the internet, or the reason their paycheque has been held up, that’s going to make our lives difficult in the long term.

Be Nice

So think about positive reinforcement and see if you can gamify it – prizes for filling them in first, prizes for those who fill them in 5 days in a row, prizes for filling them in unprompted. Make a big deal about it, and celebrate it when people get it right!

Consider Tackling The Real Problem

And then you can always try and address the underlying problem; why is it that people aren’t doing it? Is the tool really hard to use? Maybe consider switching to a better timesheet or time tracking system?

Help People Stay On Track

When we’re helping people establish a new habit, they might need some encouragement along the way too – so talk about it constantly so they fill them at regular intervals – that’ll make them more accurate. At the very least, make sure they’re doing them daily, as they’ll forget what they did at the end of the week. Try to get them to log every hour (or half hour) with comments explaining what they did.

You’re Not A Jerk

Finally, remember you’re right. This timesheets thing is important. In a time and materials/pro-services business where time is money, it’s critical information to have. So don’t feel bad about pushing people to do it, explain why it’s important (so we get paid and can compare actual vs estimate, and….) and that might help.

P.S. I’m terrible at filling in my timesheets. If you are too, sort yourself out first. Be the change you want to see.

 

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Ben Aston

Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedigitalprojectmanager.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

One Comment

  • AvatarMelissa Logansays:

    My company is having great success getting employees to log time on a daily basis. We had an opportunity for a change due to an upgrade to our time entry software. We capitalized on that opportunity by creating a competition with teams, awarding points for every day that every team member gets their time in and for every week where no one on the team was late a day. The prizes are solid things people would want—cash awards for incremental wins, extra PTO or cash as the grand prize, that sort of thing. We have gone from maybe a third of the company not entering their time by the end of the WEEK (and some employees up to two weeks behind on their time entry) to almost 100% daily compliance (we have one person who has slipped here or there and missed the 9am cutoff). The contest will run for the full fourth quarter of the year which is certainly enough time to develop the habit and we expect people to continue to log daily.

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