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.

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