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3 ways contractor timesheets improve project management

Although widely disliked, contractor timesheets are on often overlooked tool for developing leaner, smarter and more effective ways of managing your programmes and projects. In this blog, our resident PMO expert David Walton looks at 3 core ways in which timesheets can be used to improve your PMO.I’m always surprised how the mention of timesheets conjures up extreme views. Many people find timesheets ‘culturally unacceptable’. From a personal point of view I have completed timesheets for the last 20 years plus and see this as ‘normal behavior’.

The question of this blog is whether filling in timesheets improves project management. My view is that it does improve project management by improving planning and resource estimating.

Accurate Planning and Estimating

There are many roles of a project manager but a key one is developing and maintaining an achievable plan. I am often asked to review on-going projects and the first artefact that I ask to review is the current project plan and previous versions.

A project manager, together with his or her team, needs to develop a plan in a collaborative manner. Each project may be unique by definition but there is a very high probability that similar tasks or projects have been developed before. It is clear – to me at least - that a project plan that has been developed using actuals from previous tasks or projects will be a more accurate plan than one that is developed without looking at previous estimates. To understand how much effort similar tasks or projects took, a timesheet system is needed that can easily be interrogated to show data on similar tasks.

I am biased here as we sell and market our own timesheet software, PM3time, but there’s no way you can tell me that an Excel based timesheet system will ever cut it!

Even with a timesheet system it is important that time has been accurately recorded. Some organisations have a policy of only allowing people to book a maximum of 7 or 8 hours per day. What is needed, of course, is the actual time that has been taken to complete tasks.

Project team members are often the ones that complain about filling in timesheets but there is a benefit to them if planned activities are based on accurate historic data. This should mean that they are not allocated tasks with an impossible or totally unrealistic timeframe.

So, in summary, accurate time recording can improve resource estimates and general planning.

Resource Planning

When you plan for a resource to work on your project you may make an assumption as to how much time per week he or she is available to work on your project. Many projects assume 5 days available but this does not allow for meetings, downtime and other non-project work.

A look at a timesheet system can show, over a period of time, how much productive or utilized time people are spending on project work as opposed to non-project work. This figure can be surprising depending on the organization.

The benefit of recording time for the project manager is 2 fold:

First, he or she can estimate more accurately how long a task is going to take based in historic productive, project work by each person. This helps the project manager decide on how many resources are needed.

Secondly, if the amount of non-project time is high, you can investigate and see if you can reduce this type of effort to make people more available each week on your project. Again, this helps with resource planning. Without a good timesheet system, this non-project work is often hidden and not understood resulting in too few resources being scheduled to complete the work.

Timesheets and Agile

In the agile world, timesheets are also useful. Time against estimates is key to be able to calibrate your story points. So you can record time and, in the retrospective, check what actually occurred against the estimates. This will help the planning of future sprints.

The time recording is also important because as the scrum master you want to check that people are working at a sustainable rate and not masking issues

Conclusion

It takes very little effort to complete a timesheet each week, but there is a big benefit to project managers and management in having access to this data. Timesheet data can improve project management by developing a more achievable project plan and allocating the correct level of resources.

Interested in finding our more about our contractor timesheet software PM3time? It's the online timesheet tool used by some of the UK's leading organisations such as the NHS.

Image: Adam Polselli

About the author

The author - David Walton

David Walton - I am David Walton, Programme, Project and Portfolio Management specialist and director of Bestoutcome here in the UK. We make the PMO tools PM3, PM3time and PM3NHS, the only PMO tools designed by practitioners for practitioners.

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