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Entries in Status Reporting (1)

Monday
Sep102012

I don’t like Timesheets in IT. And I like them even less when they are forced to be incorrect. 

This post isn’t about timesheets per se.  It’s about the impact of companies not thinking through process and the desired business outcomes.

Those of you who know me can appreciate why I don’t like Timesheets.  I tend to work a lot of hours…sometimes because the business need is there and sometimes simply because I like what I do and it’s not “always” work to me.

I don’t mind getting the work accomplished, and either making progress or delivering on the mission.  It becomes “work” to me when it is ancillary to the process.

Take status reporting.  If someone wants to know what I’m doing, ask.  Having a painful process of putting together a (weekly) status report nobody reads is wasteful.  A fairly experienced team once called the status reporting exercise a “shit pump.”  At first I was offended, then I came to agree.  In this company, we put a lot of effort into producing a weekly report nobody read.  Literally, you could have the same update for weeks on end without question. There was even a formally developed weekly reporting system used. Senseless.

My current company does produce a weekly status, encouraged to be no more than one page.  In it, we articulate:

  • A simple “at a glance” summary

  • Accomplished this period (week ending xx/xx/xx) 
  • Plans for Next Period (week ending xx/xx/xx)
  • Critical Findings 
  • Issues Requiring Management Attention

It takes about 15 minutes to prepare, and we know our clients read them.

So…subtle message number one. 

 If you are going to force the organization to do something, use the results.

What does this have to do with Timesheets in IT?

Timesheets are used in some organizations for pay purposes.  Typically “non-exempt” or hourly staff record their time on timesheets to get paid.

Other organizations use the time for billing against a (capitalized) project, where knowing the total time is imperative for the financials.

What some organizations do is “force” the numbers based on some mis-guided view they are helping the organization.  The most common “force” is a 40 hour work week.

Telling an hourly paid person to put 40 hours on the timesheet irrespective of the workload is wrong…and illegal.  In some locales time over 40 hours is subject to mandatory overtime pay these staff members are entitled to by law.

The same thing can happen on projects.  “Keep the time at 40 hours, that’s all the budget allows.”  Well, if that’s all the budget allows why keep track of time?  You need to know when people are overallocated or not.  You need to know when someone has extra capacity.

In IT Operations the person reporting time is often doing the same thing for the day….ie…media management, monitoring, or help desk, to name a few.  Why do we ask them to record their time?  I see no purpose in this activity.

One defunct company used to record their IT time to the tenth of an hour.  People literally recorded bathroom time.  Really?  How was the company using this data?  Certainly an analysis of potty time would lead to an increased number of strategically located bathrooms.

By the way, telling people to record time wrong is telling them to lie.  We should not be telling our people to “lie” to force an answer…it’s the wrong message to give people.

While I understand the need to understand financial implications of time, there are fundamentally better ways of collecting this information on a satisfactory basis.

Subtle message number two. 

If an organization is going to record time, or do other administrative acts,  it should be generally accurate. 

The bottom line:  Companies need to understand the business outcome they are looking for from a process and ensure this is paramount in any process changes.

What’s your view?