I hear lots of push back on the idea of having resources submit timesheets. “They are too intrusive.” “They take too much time” “I don’t want my people thinking Big Brother is watching” I understand that these concerns are common but I have trouble with them just the same.
You are a project manager. Your job is to make sure that sets of tasks called projects get done on time, within a budget and produce a product that meets a specific quality standard. To do this effectively you need a few things from your resources. You need them to do their work well and as quickly as possible. That by itself would be enough if the project was one or two tasks being done by one or two people. Some projects are that small and simple but most are not. For the larger projects you need one more thing. You need to know that they did the work, when they did it and at what rate you can expect them to do the work that remains. You need this because your project is likely NOT just that one resource working on a task or two. It is likely many resources working on many tasks that are interconnected. And you boss is not happy with the answer “some time in the future, er, maybe” to the question of when the project will be finished. You need to know when to tell the team of testers to be ready for the code because your code is not the only code they will be asked to test so they need to know when to clear the test lab for YOUR code and when to hold off the other 5 PM’s chomping at the bit for your lab time. You need to tell the tech writers, the trainers, the packaging and shipping people and the sales people (dear God do not forget the sales people) when they can expect to start their part of your effort. So your nice busy resources are not in a vacuum. It is not realistic for them to expect that they can just hide away and do their work without being asked a few things about it. They need to communicate to you, the PM, when they finished the finished stuff and when they expect to finish the unfinished stuff. It is that simple.
Now the VAST majority of resources do this now, even the ones in the same companies that balk at setting up timesheets. That is the irony here. Resources and PMs already do this (for the most part). They just do it in ways that you do not notice because they are communication methods that are quite and mostly untrackable. (which is bad). They give status over the cube wall or at lunch during asides to other conversations. They give status 2nd and 3rd hand through coworkers. They give status on post it notes and in email. It is all very gray, very imprecise and, here is more irony, very time consuming. These existing methods end up taking more time. Of course I have no Harvard Business School study to back this up but trust me. It takes more time. :-) The PM gets these stealth status reports from all the various sources and of course can only get about an ounce of usable data from the 5 pounds if ‘stuff’ in them all. So the PM goes and tries to get the details. Time. Time. TIME!
Would it not be more simple for the resource to take about 10 mins a week to fill in a timesheet and press a button? Pick a timesheet. Any timesheet! I don’t even care if it is Project Server. (Well OK I do care. It should be Project Server but you get my point!) There it is. A page with a list of all my tasks grouped by the project they are in. Then there is a grid. Sunday – Saturday. I enter the number of hours I worked on each task on each day. Then for each task I update the number of hours of Remaining Work. This is the important part. How many hours of work do I think are left before I will be done with this task? Is a more important question ever asked of any resource? Tell me, the PM about how long you think it MIGHT take to finish. Nothing case in stone mind you. PMs are very good at being flexible with estimates. We make our livings asking other people (hoping anyway) will be flexible with the ones WE give!
10 mins a week is all you will be asking of your resources. They are grown ups. They can handle it. Explain to them what the impact is of you knowing this information. Tell them stories of cohesive teams all working in harmony. The Test Lab being ready right on time, embracing your code, helping it grow! :-)
Make your resources understand that you NEED this information. They have it. You need it and you have this nifty little web page called Project Web Access that will even help them send it to you. It is already info they give you. You just need it typed into these cells rather than given to you across the lunch table.