Why Time Tracking is Important in Project Management

Importance of Time Tracking

A Brief Look at Project Management
Project management is a process concerned with managing a set of activities with a specific start and end date to achieve a defined goal.

Project management is primarily concerned with four focus points, also known as the four pillars of project management- scope, schedule, cost, and quality.

Time Tracking in Project Management
Time Tracking is an aspect of project management that is concerned with scheduling.

When doing time tracking in project management it is important for project managers to identify two kinds of time measures-

  • Planned time allotment. This is the estimate of how much time a particular project activity will take.
  • Actual time spent. This is the actual or real-time spent in completing a project activity.
Here are the steps for time tracking in project management-

  • Define the phases of the project. These are the main segments or stages of the project.
  • Identify the tasks for each stage. Task identification will give a detailed idea of what specific activities need to be done to complete a project phase. Later on, resources will be assigned to each of these tasks.
  • Estimate how long a task will take. This is the planned or expected amount of time to complete a task. Typically measured in man-hours or man-days.
  • Record actual task hours. During the course of the project, the actual time used to complete a task is recorded.
  • Control. Involves reassigning tasks, shuffling task sequences, or even canceling tasks outright. These adjustments are done during an ongoing project in order to meet the schedule commitments of the project
The Importance of Time Tracking
The keyword for project managers is control'. One of the many things a project manager has to control in a project is time. What should be controlled must first be measured; therefore project managers must do time tracking.

By definition, every project is a finite activity. Meaning it has a specific start date and a specific end date. This is in contrast to operational activities that go on indefinitely as long as the business is in existence. Because of the finite nature of projects, it is important to ensure that projects are completed on or before the scheduled end date.

Here are the reasons why time tracking is important-

  • A realistic timeframe for the project must be created in order to ensure that adequate time is budgeted for it. This realistic timeframe is based on the aggregate of the estimated duration of each task within the project. A realistic timeframe avoids unrealistic project end dates.
  • Tracking actual time spent vs planned time will give real-time feedback on the status of the project schedule. Tracking time will give the project manager a heads up if the project is on track or if the schedule is beginning to slide and the phase end date or even the project end date is in danger of not being realized. This will allow for needed adjustment to bring the project back on track.
  • Tracking the actual time spent on project tasks will be useful for future projects. When doing the planning for new projects knowing the actual time that a task took for a previous project will create a more accurate planned timeline if the new project involves the same task.

5 Time Tracking Strategies for Managing Projects

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1. The High-Level Timeline
At the start of the project, especially before any planning has been done, the project feels amorphous or unsure. Project stakeholders have concerns about project deadlines, activities, and general project success.

A high-level timeline can give shape to the project and allay the concerns of stakeholders by providing a clearer view of project tasks, deliverables, and schedules.

Start by defining the main phases of the project and defining the tasks under each phase. For each of those tasks estimate how long it will take a task to complete (in man-hours or man-days).

When the task-level time estimates are added up, the planned project duration- say 100 man-hours or 12.5 man-days - will be visible. The tasks can then be mapped into a calendar taking into account holidays and weekends; effectively creating a high-level timeline.

The high-level timeline will be able to provide project stakeholders with a realistic start and end date for the project.

2. Work Breakdown Structure
The work breakdown structure or WBS has information on task level project deliverables, the estimated time to do those deliverables, who is assigned to do the task, and when the task should be done. For example-

  • Task- Install main lighting fixture in pantry
  • Assigned To- Gary from A&R Construction
  • Planned Duration- 2 hours
  • Planned Start Date- March 6
  • Planned End Date- March 7
The format is typically in a spreadsheet or project management software. Tasks that are dependent on each other are identified. The more important tasks are also marked.

On an ongoing project, three more very important pieces of information are added to the WBS- Actual Duration, Actual Start Date, and Actual End Date. With these in place, a project manager will be able to assess if the project is on time, ahead of schedule, or delayed.

3. Stakeholder Communication
Project Managers may be accountable for the project but they don't own it. Stakeholders do.

Stakeholder communication is important for project managers doing time tracking because they have to make sure that they have accounted for stakeholder expectations in the project plan.

A well-executed high-level timeline and work breakdown structure is useless if it is missing key deliverables that stakeholders will be looking for by project end.

It is therefore incumbent for project managers to involve and continuously communicate with stakeholders during both the planning and implementation stages of the project.

4. Change Management
It is not unusual for a project manager to receive a new requirement during an ongoing project. When such a situation occurs, it is a mistake for a project manager to simply accept the new requirement and go on with the current project with the existing schedule.

Here it is important for us to note the four pillars of project management are related. Anything that will affect the scope will also affect the cost, the quality, and - for time tracking purposes - the schedule.

The correct response to a new requirement is to have a change management process. This means that any changes to a projecting pillar - in the case of a new requirement, this would be the scope pillar - means corresponding adjustments to the other pillars. Very simply an addition to the scope will mean an adjustment to the project timeline.

The high-level project plan and the WBS needs to be revised to accommodate the new requirement.

5. Meet with Purpose
Meetings are essential to project activities that should take as little time as possible from the core tasks of the project.

Meetings should be conducted with the work breakdown structure at the center. For each project resource, the questions should be- What work did you do today? What work are you going to do next? Is there anything that is keeping you from doing your work and meeting the planned task schedule?

The objective of the meeting should be-

  • To make sure that those tasks are being done on schedule
  • To deal with any task blockers
  • To activate contingencies to deal with delayed tasks
  • To deal with any other issues from project members.
A daily fifteen-minute meeting is ideal, after which everybody should return to doing their project tasks.

Key Takeaways

Here are the main points of this article-

  • Time tracking is an aspect of project management that is concerned with the project schedule.
  • Time tracking is important because it creates a realistic timeframe for the project, it gives real time feedback on the status of a project and it helps create more accurate time estimates for future projects.
  • Time tracking strategies include the creation of a high-level project plan, the creation of a task-level work breakdown structure, stakeholder communication during the planning process, adoption of a change management process to protect the schedule and productive meetings based on the work breakdown structure.