Category Archives: best practices

Just tell us about your week

saving_time_300x200.jpgThere is a feature that you won’t find in TimeControl though it has been asked for more times than any other enhancement request.  The specification usually looks something like this:

“We want TimeControl to automatically populate a timesheet with all the hours that an employee should have done so that they can just click ‘Ok’ if the timesheet is correct and save time.”

“Sorry, we won’t do that,” we reply.

It’s not that we’re being difficult.  In fact client and prospective client feedback is a key source of enhancements in TimeControl.  And it’s not that it would be technically difficult to deliver this feature.  The projected hours could have come from the project plan, for example and populating each cell on a line for that task isn’t a major programming challenge.

No, the difficulty is what would happen if we delivered such a feature.  As desirable as it seems to be for end users, we are certain that the result would be bad data.

Imagine that I ask an employee, “What did you spend your time on this week?”

Instead of answering with hours and tasks, they respond to my question with a question, “What do *you* think I should have spent my time on this week?”

I’d be instantly concerned that if I give my expectations that the feedback I’d receive would be tainted by the employee’s desire to please.

Or, imagine this scenario.  You come to the end of your week and your timesheet happily pops up your expected hours.  “Uh oh,” you think to yourself.  “I can see that I was supposed to spend 35 hours on task #27.  But I didn’t spend a minute on task #27.  I spent 35 hours instead on task #25.”  The pressure you’d feel to put at least *some* hours of your timesheet on task #27 would be enormous.

In the over two decades we’ve been selling TimeControl, we’ve seen these scenarios play out in countless organizations.  It’s not that employees want to lie.  They just don’t want to disappoint their managers.

Here at HMS when we get this request we now know to ask what the client wants this feature for and then we ask what they expect will happen to the quality of data if we were to deliver the feature.  The request always fades away.  As it should.  After all, life happens to projects.  The chance that something changed between the plans for the week on Monday morning when the week started and Friday when the timesheet was filled out will be the exception, not the rule.

Instead of prompting people with what they should have done, we want TimeControl to ask something very simple: “What did you actually do?”  TimeControl can preload tasks from a project system’s schedule or from personal preferences to save time in looking up those tasks but TimeControl won’t prompt with the hours per day that were expected.  The result is high quality timesheet data and in the end, that’s what will make managers happiest.

For those who are interested in how to save a minute here or a minute there on configuring and entering their timesheet, the TimeControl website has a section on Best Practices for timesheets at www.timecontrol.com/resources/best-practices.

Check out our Timesheet Best Practices Solution Portal

Timesheet Best Practices Solution Portal partial Over the last few weeks here at HMS, we’ve been doing some hard work assembling collateral, questions, answers, and other materials about the best ways to use a timesheet. We’re happy to finally reveal our new solutions portal for everything you need to know about timesheet best practices.

HMS Software employees are often asked for advice on the best practices for timesheet use, and many of these questions are not TimeControl-specific. This is why we’ve created a solutions portal with materials that will help you use timesheeting to its full potential.

We realize that timesheet usage is multi-faceted, so we divided up our efforts. Some timesheet usage recommendations are appropriate to the organization, and others are more focused on the individual. With this in mind, we divided the best practice information based on the end-user’s perspective and their information needs. You’ll notice that the solutions are categorized for use by the organization or the individual. This will make it easier so that you can quickly and easily find the recommended best practices you need.

One of the key new sections included in the best practices portal is the Timesheet Best Practices Q & A page. Ever wondered just how much time is too much to spend on entering your timesheet? Do you question just how much detail is productive in a timesheet? Or, perhaps you’re wondering if it makes sense to track the start and stop times of the day along with the durations for each task. We turned these types of timesheet questions we most often receive over to our technical staff. Their answers to these questions, and their timesheet expertise on these topics and more, are now available and ready to be shared with you.

There are many links, materials and collateral referenced by the Best Practices Solution Portal including white papers on how to increase resource capacity through better timesheet practices, guidance for executives on how a timesheet system can benefit the organization, videos of how to be effective with your timesheet system and even a blank timesheet process template for creating your own timesheet process.

Check out our new Timesheet Best Practices solution portal today! You’ll undoubtedly discover something some new information that can help you to get the most out of your timesheet.

To access the Timesheet Best Practices, visit timecontrol.com/solutions/bestpractices.

New white paper on Time & Billing

Time_and_billing_wp We have a brand new white paper to add to our collection entitled, Using TimeControl 6 for Time-and-Billing.  This 25-page document is just loaded with useful information whether you have purchased TimeControl or are still in the evaluation process. 

This white paper describes how to configure TimeControl for Time and Billing. While there may be many possible configurations for Time and Billing that TimeControl would support, this simple design covers all the basics including project-based per-employee rates, projects grouped by client, summary and detailed reporting and exports for Finance and Billing.

For more information on using TimeControl for time and billing, visit the Time & Billing Solution Page on the timecontrol.com website or click here to go directly to the white paper.

Grouping Projects for Selection

Blog_Grouping_1Many TimeControl clients group their projects by various categories such as; by client, project  type, billable / non-billable and other criteria.  When an employee needs to select a project from the pick list for inclusion on their timesheet, the common practice is to select the category first then drill down to the projects included under that category. A common example of this is to select by client first then select the project associated with that particular client.

This type of grouping is most typically identified as a user defined field on the Project Table and may be named however required. This field can be used to create a tree-like display on the project select list when inserting a new line item on a timesheet. Grouping_blog_2An example of this would be a company who has a lot of projects that are associated to a specific client. Being able to choose the client first and then the project makes it easier for an employee to select the appropriate project, when completing their timesheet.

The setup of the tree field for the project table is completed on the Administration / System Preferences tab. For the Project tree structure, select the filed you wish to use for grouping by using the dialog box. If you wish, you can choose multiple fields and have a multi-level display.

Once this has been setup the project pick list on the time entry screen will show in a cascade fashion following the user fields. Grouping_blog_3
It is important to note that these are global settings and will affect all users.

TimeControl charges restricted by assignment

By default, TimeControl allows users to see every possible project and every possible charge code in the system. There are, however, a number of features within TimeControl to restrict what projects and what charges each employee should be allowed to choose from.

In the TimeControl Employee Table, the administrator can declare a pre-defined filter to apply to the project selection and charge selection that will be applicable to each employee as they enter their timesheet. Popular filters include “only projects which are open” and “only charges which are open” or “only charges with a start date within 2 weeks of today”. These kinds of filters are relatively easy to create.

There is another request that we hear from time to time from those with experience in popular project management systems. These systems often constrain the timesheet to only accept charges from the employee’s assignments. This makes more sense when project resource scheduling is being done at the individual level which may not be the case for many environments. But, where individual assignments are identified, these project systems will present or show only those records for which the employee has a valid assignment.

Can TimeControl provide the same kind of functionality?
It can.

First, when TimeControl is linked to a project management system, we provide the option to bring in all the resource assignments. It’s not a requirement but when the option is selected, a table is loaded which is attached to the Resource Table. This data is called the “Preloading list” and shows all resources attached to a task back in the project system. Within TimeControl we can add or remove from this list manually. The list can be used for pre-loading but we can also take advantage of the list to make a filter that can constrain both the projects and charge codes that can be seen by each employee.

Project Filter
First, let’s make the filter for the Project List. Add a new filter, give it a name like “Project Assignments only” and select the Project table. The filter we want to make can’t be created from the standard field menu so clear the “Always generate the SQL when saving” option and click on the SQL tab. Now copy and paste in the follow SQL command:
SELECT TCPROJ.PRJ_KEY FROM TCPROJ WHERE ((PRJ_NAME = ‘ADMIN’) OR (PRJ_KEY IN (SELECT DISTINCT CHR_PRJ FROM CHARGE WHERE CHR_KEY IN (SELECT DISTINCT CRS_CHR FROM CHRRES WHERE CRS_RES = (SELECT EMP_RES FROM EMPLOYEE WHERE EMP_KEY=%TSH_EMP%)))) AND TCPROJ.PRJ_STATUS <> ‘Closed’)
Save the filter, go to the Employee table and select this filter in the Project Filter field.

Charge Restrictions
Ok, now here’s the Charge filter. Add a new filter, give it a name like “Charge Assignments only” and select the Charge table. Once again the filter we want to make can’t be created from the standard field menu so clear the “Always generate the SQL when saving” option and click on the SQL tab. Now copy and paste in the follow SQL command:
SELECT TCPROJ.PRJ_KEY FROM TCPROJ WHERE ((PRJ_NAME = ‘ADMIN’) OR (PRJ_KEY IN (SELECT DISTINCT CHR_PRJ FROM CHARGE WHERE CHR_KEY IN (SELECT DISTINCT CRS_CHR FROM CHRRES WHERE CRS_RES = (SELECT EMP_RES FROM EMPLOYEE WHERE EMP_KEY=%TSH_EMP%)))) AND TCPROJ.PRJ_STATUS <> ‘Closed’)
Save the filter, go to the Employee table and select this filter in the Charge Filter field.

Before you scramble off to make this the default for all your users, you’ll want to consider a few questions:
How often do people do work on activities to which they were not originally assigned? How good was the original plan? If people typically work on activities to which they weren’t assigned, you’ll need to do a lot more updating of the Preloaded list or linking to an updated project schedule with assignments in order for users to be able to complete their timesheet.

Is there an administrator available that can update the preloaded list as required? They’ll need to be available for sure near the end of the work week to quickly update possible entries.

Does the work and procedures that are necessary to keep this list maintained, add more or less work than the alternatives? It’s important to think of the ROI. Clients often ask for this option with the thought that it will reduce inaccurate data. If, however, there is so much effort maintaining the assignment list accurately, it may outweigh the benefits.

Frustration of users may be high if they can’t find their charge codes, resulting in bad data. If a user can’t find the right charge and can’t reach the administrator to make sure it’s in their assignments, then they might choose any charge in order to complete their timesheet. If that happens, Administrators may spend more time reassigning charged time through Debit/Credits to fix bad data.

On the other hand, if assignments are generally quite stable then limiting choices in this way may reduce user confusion in choosing the right charges.

Remember too that if the data is in the pre-loading table either through manual input or automatically by linking to a project management system and transferring the assignments, then the timesheet can be pre-loaded with the correct assignments when it’s added. That may be enough to encourage correct data without having to restrict it to absolutely these charges.

Think about the pro’s and con’s and test out the new filters with a small number of users before deciding to adopt it wholesale.

Why not put in the hours for me?

I get this question all the time. Users who look at the robust TimeControl interface ask why we can’t seek out the planned hours from the project scheduling system and populate them into the timesheet. ‘We must have access to the planned hours from the task assignments in the project system,’ they argue so surely we could make their lives easier by simply putting the hours into TimeControl for them. ‘We could go one step further,’ they say. We could look at the remaining hours not accounted for by the project system and fill them in with ‘Miscellaneous’ to make up a 40 hour work-week and complete the timesheet.

‘Wouldn’t that ease of use increase the overall percentage of compliance of the timesheet and therefore be better?’

It wouldn’t.

The problem is not technological. These people are quite right. We do have access to the hours planned in the project management system and automatically populating the timesheet with all the hours would be technically easy to do.

Why not do it then?

Because of what we already know about human behavior. Imaging a timesheet which is pre-populated for you. You need only click ‘Ok’ to complete the timesheet and send it on its way for approval. It’s the end of a long week and the weekend beckons. Do you click ‘Ok’ or, do you review each line to ensure it’s correct? Most people will just click ‘Ok’.

Ok, your personnel are diligent people who would never just click Ok. Let’s accept that. Now imagine that it’s the end of the week and the timesheet system indicates that the plan of the week was to spend 35 hours on that design task and 5 hours on that documentation task. Unfortunately you’ve just done the opposite. You’ve spent 35 hours on the documentation task. Won’t there be a tremendous temptation to click ‘Ok’ with a promise to yourself to make it up later? There will.

Here at HMS we know that the most valuable thing TimeControl can deliver is accurate complete information so that management can make better decisions. If all we do is return data that matches expectations, then there’s little point in tracking it at all.

So, TimeControl can optionally pre-populate a list of the tasks you were scheduled to work on based on the assignments in a project management system but it won’t put in the estimated hours for each day.

Years ago I was in a presentation showing TimeControl to a small group of technology professionals. The Chief Financial Officer was in the room and at one point asked why we didn’t automatically complete tasks in the project management system from the TimeControl timesheet. I pointed out that we did, in fact, allow the Estimate to Complete to be entered in TimeControl and that when there was nothing left to complete, the task would be marked as completed in the project management system. The CFO though was insistent. Why didn’t the timesheet just figure that out from the hours worked.

“What would you expect to happen,” I asked, “in a task with a plan of 40 hours when you’d done 40 hours of work?”

“I’d expect the task to be automatically marked as complete,” he answered.

I was stunned. “But what if it’s not complete?” I replied.

“I don’t understand your answer,” the CFO said. “If you’ve done 40 hours then the task is over.”

A senior VP had to take the CFO out to explain that life doesn’t always match up to our expectations in a project.

We’ve remembered that lesson very well at HMS and it’s reflected in the TimeControl design. There are all kinds of links between TimeControl and project management tools that give users a tremendous access to data from both the timesheet and the project management environment but we have resisted the most requested feature in the system for over 15 years now. TimeControl will pre-populate a list of what the end user was supposed to work on, but it won’t load all the expected hours. End users are responsible to declare what they actually did with their time.