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4 Steps to Select the Right Timesheet System
There are many organisations where a timesheet system is perceived as ‘Big Brother’ and it’s very hard to get buy-in to using timesheets. Even in organisations that do not have this strong aversion, it is important to select the right timesheet system which meets the needs of both staff (timesheet users) and managers (using the data). This blog looks at the steps you need to take to select the right timesheet system.
Gather your requirements. I know its basic but I still see many product selections based on a timesheet product demo rather than assessing the product against a set of requirements.
MAKE SURE IT IS EASY! If you are going to get your contractors and/ or staff to use timesheets then they have to be very easy to fill in. This is even more important with agencies or consultancies that use timesheet systems to bill clients.
There are broadly 2 types of timesheet data entry modes. One presents you with an outlook like calendar and you enter time periods in this calendar. This looks appealing, as it looks like Outlook, but it is burdensome and slow to enter timesheet data in this way.
The second data entry mode –and one that I prefer and our pm3time system uses - has the tasks or activities in rows and the user simply enters time per day against each job, task or activity. This is by far the quickest way of entering time and reduces or removes any change barriers to staff or contractors.
The timesheet system must also be easy for managers to approve timesheets from one or many staff members. Managers who are often on the move can find it a pain to log on to a timesheet system and approve timesheets or expenses. In pm3time, for example, the manager can approve timesheets or expenses from within an email without the need to log on to a system.
If you are a client manager with contractors from 10 different agencies to approve, this may mean logging on to 10 different systems.
In summary, I cannot stress too much how important ‘ease of use’ is when selecting a timesheet application.
Select the Right Architecture. One of the benefits of having a timesheet system is that you can interrogate the data and find out how much time was spent on project x or how much did John Smith bill Acme Ltd in a particular time period.
If you are interested in these types of queries, then you need to avoid the spreadsheet timesheet of which there are many on the internet. Timesheet systems tend to be relatively inexpensive and a spreadsheet timesheet can be a false economy. It is also very difficult and error prone if you want to run queries on a set of spreadsheets.
There are a number of SaaS timesheets that are available like pm3time . Unless there is a compelling reason not to, I would go for a SaaS timesheet system.
Related to architecture is the location of the data, i.e. where it is stored. If your organisation is in the EU, then the EU has specific guidelines on the storing of personal data. It is likely that the timesheet system will contain personal data (name, email address, telephone, etc.) and if this is the case you need to be careful if your data is stored outside the EU.
If it is stored outside the EU, you will need to ensure that your data still meets EU regulations. As some of the timesheet applications are from US organisations and outside the EU, this can be an important consideration.
Ensure time can only be booked to allowable projects. This to me is one of the big benefits of a good timesheet system; the ability for people to only book time to projects and tasks that they are allowed to book time. It is a real pain when someone books time to the wrong job code or task.
This incorrect time allocation may not be noticed for some time resulting in much work rectifying and re-coding of past timesheets. For an agency or a consulting firm this can mean that an invalid invoice is sent out.
The administration burden of this can be significant. A much better system is one where people can only book time to project codes that have been allocated by a central administrator.
This blog is clearly not an exhaustive guide in selecting timesheet systems but I hope it may help. Having filled-in timesheets for over 25 years, I am a great believer that timesheets can deliver great benefits for both the person filling in the timesheet and management who can see how much time is being spent on which activities.
Selecting the right timesheet system is important if you are going to get acceptance and buy-in from your staff.
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About the author
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.