Time tracking is an important part of the project management process. How it’s implemented, however, varies from company to company. My 16 year plus experience designing and developing time tracking software has only reinforced my original theory. The more thorough your setup, the more your team will benefit. The greatest benefits of tracking time spent on tasks are projects delivered on time, under budget, and increased profitability. Here’s how to get started.
Break down the project into smaller tasks
The first step is to define your deliverables and the steps required to complete each one. Then create tasks for each of these steps. How you divide up the work is up to you, however, know that it’s not necessary to break down the entire project all at once. Planning out the first few deliverables is all that is needed to get started — plan the rest as you go.
This modular approach to project management makes it easier to schedule, delegate, and manage your tasks. It also creates the ideal framework for estimating, tracking, and analyzing your time.
Estimate how much time each task will require
Estimating a project is hard. Estimating a task is much less daunting because you’re projecting your efforts in terms of hours — not days, weeks, or months. The primary benefit to estimating your hours on each task is that it makes you a better estimator in the long run. And, accurate estimating is the key to delivering profitable projects.
This step is optional, however, I strongly recommend doing it. Task estimates help your team prioritize work and catch project overruns before they become a problem.
Track time on each task
Once the work begins, track the time spent on each task. Using online time tracking software is the most effective way to do this, especially software featuring built-in task timers. This one simple tip will result in up to a 30% increase in the amount of hours tracked without having to do more work.
Remember to check in on the project as it progresses. Build a few reports and run them often, keeping an eye on how much time has been tracked on each task relative to its original estimate. If you find any anomalies, it’s time to investigate further and find out where that time is going.
Analyze the results
When you start analyzing your time tracking data you will get two indispensable benefits. First, you’ll discover which parts of the project we’re successful, and which areas will require improvement. And, because you tracked your time on each task, you will know exactly where to tune your process on the next project.
Second, the ability to show your client or manager exactly where your time went will answer 99% of their questions. This alone will save you hours in time. Time that would otherwise be spent justifying a vague invoice or cobbling together a spreadsheet report from disparate data.
Repeat this process with the next project and not only will your estimating skills improve, your team will become more productive and profitable.