Time Tracking

Discover the hidden gem for improving project management

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When time flies out the window, so does your money.

Professional services rely heavily on the successful delivery of projects for their business. This means at the end of the day, not only should the client be satisfied with the results, the company must also bring home a tidy profit. Everybody wins.

One of the critical components in productive and profitable project delivery is the ability to track and manage the time spent working on it.

In project management, time tracking is about tracking and recording the time worked by team members to complete their assigned tasks.

If your organization bills based on hourly rates, then time tracking is indispensable. But even if you don’t need to track work hours for billing purposes, time tracking is crucial because just like money, time is a critical resource that can directly impact project budgeting.

To track or not to track

Time tracking has become a contentious issue in some organizations because some company cultures consider the practice of using timesheets as a form of surveillance or monitoring.

However, it is also important to remember that timesheet management is a fundamental requirement for project accounting, as this affects computations for project budgeting, billing, cost allocation, earned value tracking, measuring work in progress, revenue recognition for partially completed projects, and other project financials.

Without a unified time tracking system, project financials are more susceptible to errors, inconsistencies, and delays when preparing for payroll and billing, as well as cost allocation and financial reporting.

However, we also want to emphasize that choosing a time tracking system is one thing, but implementing and using it properly is another. Even with a modern and automated solution, poor time tracking can still occur with improper or inconsistent use. This can cause delays in billing cycles, revenue leakages, problems with project scheduling and execution, and in the end, audit failure due to inconsistencies and flaws in the cost accounting system.

Whatever time tracking method your organization prefers to implement, make sure that everyone is on board and are committed to do their time logs consistently and with integrity to achieve optimal results.

How does time tracking improve project management?

Time is one of the most valuable components in project management, along with cost and scope. Some call these three elements the “holy trinity” of project management and for good reason. The inability to manage this almighty triad can result in runaway budgets, scope creep, and inconvenient delays that are injurious to your project’s success.

In the case of time management, we all know that no matter the timeline, all projects have start and end dates. Time tracking is the technique that empowers you to manage deadlines as you move along from initiation to delivery.

The only way to ensure the actual time spent on a project is through effective time tracking and time management. If you are not equipped with the proper tools to accurately measure how many hours it takes to complete a task or conclude a phase, then the other two factors – cost and scope – are also likely to inflate as well.

Thus, it is also crucial for a project manager to closely monitor progress and be able to address any potential problems, such as time overrun and delays, early on.

Using automated timers such as web apps, desktop apps, or mobile apps (many options are available in both iOS and Android), also reduce the team members’ tendency to either multi-task or be distracted, both of which add time to the job at hand.

Why time tracking is a must

In today’s remote and distributed workforce, tracking time accurately is no longer an option for successful project management. Working with a team dispersed in different locations or time zones poses many challenges to a project manager, not the least of which is setting a project schedule and making sure everyone sticks to it.

Time tracking is imperative for monitoring remote work, as well as in seeing the progress of team members. It provides useful information on how much time your team members spend on work and keeps track of absences or vacations. This data helps in creating more accurate reports which project managers can use as reference when estimating time and other resources needed for similar projects in the future.

Here are some other reasons why time tracking is a must:
  • Team members are able to develop a better workflow by knowing how much time they need to accomplish certain tasks, increasing productivity. It also helps them communicate their needs to their manager or colleagues if they know they will be delayed or if they are overburdened.
  • Project managers can see right away when they need to delegate tasks if the person assigned is struggling, so that the team maintains quality of work and stays within the deadline.
  • Improved visibility in time tracking translates to increased profitability, as you can see how the project budget is being spent as you go along and can intervene right away if someone or something is not performing up to par.
  • It sets clear goals for everyone and avoids confusion over what each team member is supposed to be doing at every project phase.
  • Billings and payments can be computed more accurately, especially when using a time tracking app where team members can log time automatically for more accurate recording.

Tools for tracking project time

Without a doubt, time tracking is an integral part of project success. So how do you choose the time tracking method that will work best for your business?

There are four conventional methods of time tracking, all with their pros and cons:

1. Paper Method – The simplest method that needs the least tools. This entails manually recording your time log on a notebook – or these days, on a mobile device. All you need to do is set a timer and register how much time you spent on a specific task. Some people opt to print out a timesheet and fill it out. This is a very basic technique that relies very little on the availability of technology. However, if you lose your notebook or timesheet, there goes your time tracking. If you forget to log in, it will be inaccurate. It will also be inconvenient to share the data with your team.

2. Honor System – As the name suggests, this method entails asking people how many hours they spent on a task or project and just taking their word for it. Chances are, you will be given a rough estimate and these are the figures you will bring with you in computing billable hours and preparing your invoices accordingly. This method is highly inaccurate and does not present a detailed breakdown of how team members use their billable hours.

3. Spreadsheet – Proponents of this method rely on programs like Excel to record, organize, format, and calculate data – in this case, the amount of time team members spend on the project as a whole, or on their individual tasks. There are also a variety of electronic spreadsheets that can be used as an alternative to Excel for data visualization and analysis. Team members log their hours on the spreadsheet and the calculation is simply and automatically. However, being an upgraded version of the honor system, using a spreadsheet still demands a high degree of accuracy and honesty from the users. Also, when spreadsheets begin extending or piling up as the project moves forward, finding the information you need can be a tedious process. Ever heard of the phrase "drowning in spreadsheets?"

4. Time Tracking Software – More and more professional services are choosing an easier, more efficient, and much more reliable method of documenting project time via time tracking software. Time tracking apps are fast moving up from "good-to-have" to "must-have" in many organizations as they have proven to be essential tools in providing managers and key decision makers with data that they can use for making informed decisions, as well as for keeping their project teams aligned and on schedule.

Ideally, the best time tracking app is integrated right into your project management software. Timesheets are linked to the software, which assigns time to tasks and automatically updates their percentage completion. This way, team members don’t have to worry about manually transferring data or synchronizing disparate systems.

Mavenlink, for instance, is an award-winning project management solution that features project accounting tools like time tracking, expense tracking, invoicing features, budgeting tools, and more. Its online timesheets track billable and non-billable time and expenses at the project or task level. Users can record time as they work or easily log hours at the end of the day or week. You can also log time and expenses on-the-go using the Mavenlink mobile app and easily capture receipts by taking a photo with your phone.

Time tracking becomes a breeze when you have the ability to track billable and non-billable time against tasks, projects, and clients with real-time reporting to help with compliance and analysis.

Mavenlink also provides you with greater control over timesheet processes and workflows to improve time collection, utilization, and billing.

Time well spent

CloudCraze is a robust B2B commerce technology that started time tracking entirely on spreadsheets. But as the company grew, the team recognized that their process would not scale with the growth that CloudCraze was forecasting. When the time came to modernize their project and resource management processes, they shifted to Mavenlink.

"It went from all spreadsheets, and a very manual process, to being able to capture and approve individual time sheets in a highly automated and effective system," cites CloudCraze consulting manager Tim Messink.

"The platform can do a lot and can really be tailored to your needs," Tim attests. "It’s a very versatile tool. Other applications can do pieces, but not as well and as fully functioning as Mavenlink."

Ready to keep track of all the moving parts with efficient time tracking?
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