Aug. 21, 2014

5 Reasons to Kill Time Sheets

I subscribe to a newsletter from Projects at Work which I rarely read. I happened to open it this month and stumbled upon a gem.


5 Ways to Improve Time Tracking


It prompted this post…


5 Reasons to Kill Time Sheets


I have a strong dislike to time tracking, especially on software projects and here is why.. 


1. Motivation of people.


The first problem that I have with tracking time is that it inherently sends the message to teams "We don't trust you." Even if this is not the intended message, it is the one that everyone hears. More often than not these metrics are used in bonus and performance conversations and used as punishment or reward. For this reason the inherent behaviour that it drives is that people lie, and to feel unsafe and untrusted to get their work done. How will your data be accurate if everyone is lying. If you want people to stop lying then change what is driving their behaviour.


2. Managing resources


Secondly time tracking implies "resource" management and people aren't resources. I won’t go into detail on that. Rather, here is a blog post on why that is important. http://arbitrarymix.blogspot.com/2014/03/people-arent-resources.html


3. Individuals over teams


Thirdly this encourages working towards goals as individuals instead of as teams. If the end game is for people to work better as teams then this drives dysfunction rather than collaboration. If project managers and teams are collaborating daily, then tracking of hours to understand progress is redundant. There are also better ways to visualise progress, and encourage team collaboration and team work. An example would be using a task board to visualise the work and track progress. Less work in progress also encourages collaboration, limiting WIP encourages team members to pair and learn. 


4. Satisfying the need


Mostly it doesn't address or satisfy the need. If the need is to understand how long a piece of work takes before a team is finished with it, then there are far better ways of getting this information than tracking time. Measuring a work item start to finish is better than measuring a person for 8 hours or 10 hours a day. Understanding how many work items are done is a better indication than understanding the number of hours James spent on project A. If James said that it was going to take 100 hours and he has spent 80 hours then he has 20 hours left, and so you believe that he is 80% done. That might be true but equally as likely is that James has just discovered that he is only a quarter of the way through. My experience is also that often the last 20% takes 80% of the time. 


5. Measuring Productivity


Do you want to measure profit or cost? If 3 pieces of work move through a pipeline in a week, that is a far more accurate measure of A: capacity and B: throughput. 


Productivity does not equal profit and linking the two together means that you focus on filling up capacity and measuring hours as productivity. Measuring productivity also implies that a team needs to fill up their capacity. The reality is that a team with 100% capacity is much like a highway with 100% capacity: a parking lot. 


What you don’t do is measure the rate of work through the system, or give that work space to move through quicker in future. Teams need space to move quicker and filling capacity is not likely to get that. Managing hours is also not a way to drive the right behaviour. If you fill up capacity then you won’t have space for innovation. If you focus on productivity you might miss focusing on profit. 

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Joanne Perold

Agile Coach in South Africa. Explorer, learner, experiencer, part time philosopher, working with teams and organisations to be more agile.
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Image of joperold

Joanne Perold

Agile Coach in South Africa. Explorer, learner, experiencer, part time philosopher, working with teams and organisations to be more agile.

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