Time management is a key ingredient when it comes to leading a successful project. It helps ensure you stay within the estimations, understand your process, and do not exceed the budget. However, managing the time constraint successfully requires the proper knowledge, skills, and tooling.
To make it easier for you, we have gathered all three aspects into this post on project time tracking. Continue on to learn and collect useful tips.
What is project time tracking?
Project time tracking is a practice of keeping track of how much time you are spending on tasks, initiatives, and projects.
In its simplest form, it is tracking the time each team member is spending on each task. However, by having such information, we can later use it for performance analysis, to bill clients, and to improve estimations in future efforts. As such, this simple practice becomes a very important source of information for your decisions.
Project time tracking can be done in a few ways, but the two most commonly practiced are manual and automatic:
- A manual time-tracking approach means the team members have to measure the time they spend on tasks and then put the information into their tracking tool.
- An automatic time-tracking approach means the team members use task management software or time tracking software that tracks the time for them automatically.
Either way, once the data is gathered, it is then analyzed to draw significant conclusions. Without this, time tracking is simply keeping score on how much time was required, and that in itself can often misrepresent the actual situation.
What benefits does project time tracking bring?
As mentioned above, analyzing the tracked time can bring about several benefits for your projects.
Understanding the accuracy of your estimations. By tracking the time your team spends on tasks, you are able to compare the estimations to the actual time that was needed. This gives you an opportunity to identify for which types of tasks the estimations are off and look into the possible causes. This level of visibility is great for process tracking and future decision-making.
Dividing work according to strengths. While time is not everything in terms of finishing tasks, it can help you make decisions on which team members should handle the most time-sensitive items. On the other hand, it will help you identify which of the team members may need assistance with their time management skills.
Setting future estimations and meeting deadlines. By analyzing the project management and time-tracking data, you will be able to set better and more accurate estimations for your future projects. This, in turn, will also aid you in finishing those projects according to schedule.
Planning the budget. Time tracking combined with hourly rates, also gives you more insight into budget planning. For internal purposes, you will be able to understand the cost of each project much better. And if you work with multiple clients, you will be able to easily bill them according to how much time was spent on their requests.
Comparing the planned vs. actual costs. By using time tracking you can easily compare what was the difference between the planned project costs and actual costs that you wound up having. As such, it also gives more insight into the process’s effectiveness.
Delegating the most time-consuming tasks. Lastly, knowing how much time you spend on various tasks, gives you an opportunity to outsource those types of tasks to someone else. A third party, a freelancer, or even a colleague from a different team may be a much more time-effective way to complete certain tasks instead of having to do them yourself.
How to start project time tracking?
So, now that we know a little about the project time tracking approach, it is a good time to discuss on how it should be done. If you have already used time tracking in your projects, some of the points may not be applicable, however, it is a good idea to go through them to cover the basis.
- Introduce the idea of time tracking to your team. Time tracking may be a sensitive subject, especially if you are trying it for the first time. Make sure your team members understand this is not done to micromanage them, but instead will allow you to see the bigger picture and understand how to improve the process.
- Define where time tracking fits into your process. Once you decide to go forth with the practice, you will have to think about how it will be done. When will you set estimates, how the time efforts will be recorded, who will analyze the results, and when will you discuss them? Think about the fundamentals and how they fit into your process before diving in to ensure the best adoption.
- Inform related parties. If you plan to use the time tracking data for clients, budgets, estimations, etc… Make sure to inform the affected parties. They will surely appreciate a heads up and may even find the addition of the new practice as an improvement of your services.
- Select tooling. Lastly, think about what tools you will need to track and analyze the time. Most likely, you will want to consider a project management solution with time-tracking features or a separate time-tracking solution.
Once you cover these initial steps, you are ready. Get started and then review your process as well as results to make improvements.
Project management time tracking tools
No matter what time tracking option you choose, you can expect certain tools to be available with it. Here are some of the most common ones we also offer as part of our project management solution Teamhood.
The very base of any time-tracking solution is the ability to track time. In Teamhood we decided to give you two ways to do that – passive and active. There is no difference in which of the two input methods you choose, you can even mix them together. It is simply done to give you and your team an option to choose based on your preference.
You can start and track time on items in the background as you work on them as well as pause or stop the tracking altogether. Teamhood like most of the other time tracking project management solutions will also allow you to add in and edit timelogs manually if that is something you prefer to do.
No time-tracking solution would also be complete without the ability to set time estimations for your items and projects. This little step gives you the initial benchmark against which all-time tracking data is later measured.
In Teamhood there is also an option to set time estimations for rows on your task board. Which allows you to control how many hours of work go into specific efforts or projects.
Comparing estimates to tracked time
Simply tracking the time your team spends on tasks is not of much use. To make sure this tracking has a purpose, the data should be analyzed. The simplest analysis to look at is comparing the estimations vs. actual tracked time. Most tools offer dashboards with a quick overview of the total hours planned for the project to get a general sense of how well the progress is going.
If you want to get a sense of the progress on individual items, Teamhood supports the Layers feature. By turning this on, you can see the status of each individual item in terms of whether it exceeded the set estimation or not.
Valuable insights from the Time sheet report
While the previous tools provide a quick overview of the time estimations and usage in the project, this just isn’t enough when you need to do a deeper analysis or bill clients. In such cases, you should look for the Time sheet report where you can slice and review time tracking data in any way needed.
Time Sheet reports can be filtered by dates, boards, tags, and assignees and then the results can be grouped together by items, users, tags, months, weeks, or even board rows. With all of these options, you are in full control and can choose to see just what is important to you. Interested in how much work was done for a certain company on a particular week by each of your team members? Easy, to choose the dates, and the company tag, and group the results by user. Curious how productive your team was from week to week? Simply define the time period and group by week. All of the time tracking data is in your hands and ready to be used.
Lastly, this report does not only show you how much time was tracked for each task, it also shows how much time was estimated and how these two metrics differ. You can see the difference in time or percentages and they are color-coded so you can quickly spot any delays. If there is no difference between estimated and tracked time or the team racked less time than estimated, the difference metrics will be green. But if the work took longer than estimated, the difference metrics will be displayed in red. This allows you to quickly look over the problem areas and see if anything should be done to optimize the process.
When tracking time, sometimes the information on how much time was spent will not be enough. For such cases, having the option to leave time log comments will become especially useful. You can review, and edit such comments in both item details and time sheet reports to have full clarity on what was done.
Lastly, if you are looking to bill your clients according to the time tracking data, it will be useful to also have the option to enter your hourly rates. This will allow you to automatically calculate the cost of a task, project, or all work done for a certain client.
Getting your team to track time
The time tracking feature in Teamhood offers a variety of benefits, however for you to reap the results your team has to onboard for tracking time and this is not always that easy. In many offices time tracking is a controversial topic – the managers love the idea of getting more data on how to optimize work and the employees feel like this is yet another tool to control their work and actions. Thus, before you start time tracking, make sure to explain why this is done, and how it helps to avoid thieves of time and get your team on board.
One of the easiest ways to do that is to make sure you will not try and hold power over your employees with the tracked data. This is not meant to calculate every minute of your team’s work hours, but rather explore how the team is meeting estimates and if the project is staying on track. Your team should know the reasons why time tracking is being implemented – whether is to bill clients, identify issues in the process, or as a tool to notice and solve any upcoming issues. Without this communication, it will be too easy for them to assume that you are simply tracking time to control them and this should definitely not be a part of your plan.
Get started with Teamhood
Ready to enjoy all of the time-tracking benefits as well as try out the various tools discussed in this post? Register for a free Teamhood account and try it out for yourself. Here is some more information on how time tracking is done in Teamhood.
Apply Time Tracking in your industry
Time tracking is a valuable tool for people working in various fields. For engineering teams it allows to evaluate project progress and if it is going to be delivered on time.
For R&D teams, it gives valuable data to analyze and improve their processes and efforts.
For accounting agencies it eases client billing by providing exact data on the effort spent in each case.
And marketing teams can enjoy more predictability by comparing data from previous and current projects.
Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space.
2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood.
2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.