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The Value of Time Tracking

In addition to the thousands of people who come through our doors each year for training and tours, we also embed with client organizations and pair directly with their employees for entire projects. Throughout these experiences, one of the practices we receive the most push-back on is time tracking. Some of the most common arguments include:

  • “Timesheets are irrelevant if we are salaried. “
  • “We don’t need to track our time if we are 100% allocated to this project.”
  • “We do not bill our clients based on time and materials so we have no use for timesheets.”
  • “Timesheets are just a means for higher-ups to micromanage the team.”

While these statements may be reflective of a team’s discomfort around the process of tracking the tasks they do throughout the day, the resulting data is invaluable for many organizations, and even more so for ourselves. Why is this? Think back and ask yourself if you’ve ever heard or uttered any of the following:

  • “I worked all day. Why didn’t I get anything done?”
  • “We need to go faster.”
  • “I feel like all I did was sit in meetings all day.”
  • “That last project took too long.”
  • “How long will this project take you to complete and how many people do you need?”

At Menlo, we track our time so we can provide real data when faced with any of the above statements. For example, we’ve run experiments with client pair partners who feel they don’t accomplish enough during the week. We encouraged our partners to track the amount of time they spent (to the quarter hour) on emails or in meetings. It was an adjustment for them. But what did we find? With one client, after allowing for their weekly meetings and going back and forth with email exchanges and phone calls, we discovered their team had less than six hours per week to spend on finishing project-related tasks. 

Between the meetings, the emails, and the impromptu conversations, how does work ever get done?"

Imagine that: only six hours spread across five days to accomplish the primary objectives of their job. Does that seem extreme? Think back on your own workdays. Do they start with an hour or two of emails? Then maybe you head to a meeting, where you continue to try and get on top of the constant flood of messages. Then there’s lunch, which you may spend at your desk, trying to sneak in a few quality moments of work. On to an afternoon meeting, maybe a coffee with a mentor or manager, and then back to your desk for an hour or two of work before you head out the door. Between the meetings, the emails, and the impromptu conversations, where is the work really getting done?

As is understandable in any organization, this discovery did not immediately change our client’s situation, but it did provide them with the data to present to their leadership so that the business could make informed trade-off decisions instead of putting in place unrealistic expectations.

On a larger scale, our time tracking also allows us to plan our resource needs for projects. We maintain a log of what we’ve affectionately termed “actual actuals;” this contains the total number of hours we worked on our historical projects. 

When we hear from others that a project took “a few months” we always ask how many resources were allocated and how many hours these resources worked each day. Was it two people working eight-hour days or sixteen people working twelve-hour days? Does “a few months” mean three months or four? Time tracking allows us to know the exact number of hours a project required for completion; we can then compare new projects to similar historical actuals for budget, timeframe, and resource planning.

At Menlo we have found time tracking to be an invaluable benefit to our process. It creates transparency around our billing procedures, it clarifies where resources spend time for project managers and clients, and it expedites the estimation process for new projects. It’s a tool we would be loath to give up.

What about you? Would you be willing to try tracking your time for a week? You’d be amazed at what you discover about your day!