A comprehensive guide to the importance of Time Sheets and project management

Importance of Time Sheets

Time sheets assist in keeping a track of resources working on a project, the time spent and the cost associated. The ability to track time, for both internal and external resources is a wonderful tool in keeping on top of finances. There are many tools available to the project manager to assist in tracking costs. A time sheet is a physical or software-based tool used by businesses to give their employees a means to record the time they’ve spent on a task or project. When paying employees or bill contractors in units of time, a strict record of billable hours should be kept. Time sheets are therefore a critical requirement for many service industries.

Tracking time with time sheets isn’t merely a way to pay teams and contractors, it provides detail to project-based work, time sheets have also become invaluable for businesses to monitor their time and keep projects on track.

The use of time sheets and project management, their utility has only increased as project management tools have become more advanced. Project management is modern, knowledge-based work, which requires the tracking and processing of large amounts of data, and that includes time spent on tasks. Some project teams working in consultancy or agency environments will bill for the time that their team spends on projects using this data.

Seasoned project managers, though, make full use of rigid adherence to online time sheets to identify avenues of optimization and improvement. The real value of time sheet tools is that they provide an easy way to see what the team is working on, at any time, and if that work is being properly executed.

With proper use of a team’s time sheets, determining the following becomes evident;

  • Who is working on what
  • What tasks are still outstanding
  • What tasks are going to overrun their scheduled time
  • Who is really busy and logging lots of hours
  • Who isn’t recording many hours and may have capacity to pick up more work

The following are elements of project time sheet data essential in ensuring tracking of time and cost is thoroughly covered;

  • The name of the user: This is the person who is completing the time sheet. Managers may have access to complete time sheets on behalf of other people in the team.
  • Date: Time sheets typically show a week to view. The date field provides navigation through the calendar, where working time for a particular week is entered.
  • Project: Time sheets can group tasks by project to make it easier for the user to see what they are recording at a glance.
  • Task: The list of tasks that the user has been allocated to work on that are not yet marked as complete.
  • Copy Last Week: If working on similar or the same tasks each week, time sheet can be auto-populated with last week’s tasks rather than have to input them again.
  • Days of the Week: The rest of the time sheet columns display the days of the week. Mark the hours worked on each task against the correct days.
  • Percentage Complete: See what percentage of tasks are done.
  • Auto-totals: Columns and rows will automatically total so it can be seen at a glance how many hours have been worked in a day or on a particular task.
  • Submit: If an approver has been assigned, the time sheet when ready can be sent to that person to review.
  • Notes: Add comments and upload files to time sheet entries as a reminder of what the task was about or to note why it took longer (or less time) than expected.

There should also be lines on the time sheet that do not directly tie back to tasks on the project schedule. These lines could represent things like sickness, vacation time, team meetings, training and so on. These tasks take up time during the working week, but don’t necessarily contribute directly to a project.

The easiest way to compete a time sheet are those that link automatically to the project schedule. A lot of time can be saved on entering the task data if all that has to be done is pick the tasks from a list. Whether it’s automatically integrated, and therefore pre-populated, or not, a list of tasks on the time sheet is needed before completion.

Time sheet software is a key component in tracking time spent on tasks and projects by;

1. Create Your Project: Time sheets are much easier to manage when there is an idea what tasks employees will be working on ahead of time. This can be achieved by creating a blank project to start with in the software.

2. Invite the Team: Assemble the team, choose members who have the experience and skill set to tackle all the tasks required to get the job done. In the software, invite team members to the project. They will be notified by email that they have been added.

3. Add and Assign Tasks: Tasks are the building blocks of projects, and thoroughly planned out task lists direct teams throughout the entirety of the project. Therefore, practicing proper task management, with clear direction and other details, is essential.

Assign tasks to team members and add labor costs. Add the estimated hours for each task for team members to know what’s expected of them. Once hours are logged, the budget can be monitored.

4. Designate a Time sheet Approver: Assign someone from the team who will receive the submitted time sheets. This person (usually a manager) will make sure that the billable hours match the tasks completed.

Under the Manage Users tab, choose an approver who the team member will submit their time sheet to for review. This person will be the gatekeeper between the team member and payroll/HR.

5. Have Team Members Log Their Hours: Each team member is responsible for tracking the hours they work on a task. This information is then collected on the time sheet. Log hours on individual tasks, or log them on the time sheet.

6. Review the Time sheet: There still needs to be a person who looks over the time sheet to make sure it’s correct before passing it on to payroll. After the requisite amount of time has passed (typically weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly), it’s time to review the time sheet before submission. View the time sheet by clicking time on the primary navigation menu.

7. Submit the Time sheet: Submitting the time sheet to the approver on the team who approves them is the next step of the process.

8. Approve Time sheet: The approver will receive the time sheet and must look over the hours and tasks to make sure there are no mistakes. If there are discrepancies, then the time sheet needs to go back to the person who submitted it.

9. Make Reports: Now that the time sheet is approved, time tracking can be taken even further by using reports. Reporting is useful to go over all of the data and identify bottlenecks, overages and other discrepancies. They are also an essential tool for keeping stakeholders in the loop.

There are many uses for time sheets, and goes beyond just tracking time and paying employees. The data output from time tracking comes in the form of time sheets that show how long an individual spent doing a particular task. This is valuable data, because many of those tasks will happen again in the future. This time tracking data repository will provide better estimate in the future because it can draw from real-life data.

The billing of clients, if the commercial model relies on charging clients for time, then you need to know how much time to charge them for. Time sheets also provides detail which task was being conducted at any given time. This is useful if ever invoices are queried, and especially when work takes longer than planned because of changes the client requested.

Managing workload, People are often surprised when they start to track their time, because they can see exactly where they are spending the most effort. And it isn’t always where it should be. Time sheets can be really helpful in pointing out inefficiencies and flag up where time is going. This helps manage workload more efficiently, both during a single day and also over a longer period of time like a week.

There is no hard and fast rule about frequency of filling out a time sheet, but generally it’s better to complete them as soon as a task is completed. If there aren’t that many tasks, then completing once a week should be sufficient. If there are a lot of separate tasks to do in a day, though, then it’s better to spend a few minutes recording time just before logging off for the day.

At times recording time against project activity may not be possible because a staff member is off sick or on annual leave. The easiest way to manage this is to set up an ‘admin’ task called ‘Sickness’ or ‘Vacation’ and have them record their normal working hours against that instead. When a period of downtime affects everyone, such as closing the office for a holiday, the working hours can be changed in the master calendar so that the team doesn’t have to record time on those days.

Time sheet data shouldn’t be kept confidential because, in theory, the team should know what is being worked on and vice versa. There’s really nothing sensitive in the high level task name for the vast majority of project scheduling information. If it has been scheduled, the team can see the scheduled task anyway.

Are time sheets worthwhile or not, managers tend to fall into two camps when it comes to time tracking, they either understand the value of doing it and are huge supporters, or they don’t see the point and believe it undermines trust in the team. Successful project managers know how far through their project they are at any time. This information helps them establish whether they are ahead or over budget and whether they are likely to hit their upcoming deadlines. Unless it is known how long a task has taken, and can compare that to how long it was scheduled to take, then understanding the performance of the project is much harder.

One of the concerns that may be heard from managers is that the team will hate using time sheets. Because of this seemingly commonly held sentiment, it can be daunting to move to time recording when it hasn’t been performed previously. Introducing time tracking where it isn’t already in practice is a huge cultural change for many organizations.

If there is resistance within an organization, take a step back and ask why there is that level of opposition. It could be because

  • They feel time sheets are a lot of work.
  • They feel micromanaged.
  • They feel that time sheets could be used to penalize staff who don’t log enough hours.

The best way to deal with these concerns is to sit with the team and explain what is being done to address them. For example, if they are worried that completing their time sheets will be a hassle, show them how easy it is to click and submit using online time tracking software.

When it is known why team members are resistant to tracking their time, their concerns can be better managed.

Time tracking in itself is an additional task to do. However, it doesn’t have to be onerous. If regularly completed the same tasks for the same projects, then the common “Copy Last Week” feature to auto-populate the time sheet for this week can be used. Either hit save straightaway, or make a few tweaks and submit it.

Time can also be saved when creating a bespoke time sheet for the week. If time tracking software links to the project schedule, it can “Auto-Fill” to pull through the tasks that have been assigned, saving the job of typing them out. The added benefit here is that it will automatically feed time data back to the project schedule, which updates the task to show how much effort has been spent on it to date.

The easiest way to see if time tracking will be of benefit is simply to commit and start recording time on tasks. The hardest aspect of keeping time is maintaining the habit. When applied properly, time sheets will quickly become the norm for the team, and completing them will be another aspect of collectively achieving success. It won’t be long before estimates are improved, confidence in hitting deadlines is bolstered and project success rates increase.

Please download a time sheet template here, let us know your thoughts on time sheet, we would like to hear from you.

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