The biggest asset in any professional services business is time. We buy time — in exchange for salaries — and then we sell that time as projects. Time is truly money. And timesheets are the way that we bring structure and accountability to understanding how the business performs and to help us make critical decisions.
Can we get this wayward project back on track? Do we do more with this client, or less? Should we quote more for this service, or not?
Strong timesheet adoption puts the company on the front foot to act early and with confidence. Yet all too often timesheet adoption is poor, people are weeks or months behind, and companies lose their ability to keep their finger on the pulse.
In this post we’ll let you in on the secrets to successful timesheet adoption and provide 2 suggestions you can implement within your company to achieve rock-solid adoption.
Why Does Timesheet Adoption Matter?
Let’s start by first establishing what strong timesheet adoption looks like. It can be boiled down to 3 fundamental elements:
- Everyone completes their timesheet (there are no renegade outliers)
- Entries are accurate (there is an acceptable, small margin of error)
- Timesheets are up to date (nobody is running weeks and weeks behind)
Why is this important? Let’s take them in turn.
If everyone completes their timesheet, project financials will be reported correctly. Missing time entries results in an under-reporting of cost and an over-reporting of profit. This can give the false impression that certain cohorts of projects perform better than they do.
If entries are accurate, the reports we rely on to make key strategic decisions will be accurate. Unreliable data — e.g. from people guesstimating what they did on a 6-week-old timesheet — compromises the confidence we have in our decision making.
If timesheet entries are up to date, not only does it mean they’re more likely to be accurate — see example above —, it also means the company sees the current state-of-play, projects displaying signs of concern can be identified, and rectifying action can be taken before it’s too late.
Why Is Timesheet Adoption [Often] Weak?
There are 2 key factors that lead to poor timesheet adoption:
- Lack of education leading to misunderstanding
- Resentment due to lack of reciprocity
The number one cause is education. Surprisingly few people understand the real purpose of timesheets. Often there’s a perception that it’s Big Brother keeping tabs on them or a draconian productivity measure solely for finance.
The number two cause is resentment. Psychologically, timesheets are a thankless task that gives nothing back in return. Zero gratification or reward.
In the absence of the true purpose of timesheets being communicated and a lack of reciprocity for their efforts, it’s little wonder timesheets are misunderstood and resented.
How Do We Achieve Strong Timesheet Adoption?
Now that we know the 2 main antagonists to successful timesheet adoption, what can we do to tackle them?
If the number one cause of weak timesheet adoption is education, the answer lies in educating your workforce.
Timesheets aren’t a spying tool. They enable the company to report performance correctly and make key decisions for the future. Are people having to regularly work long hours to get projects finished because we’re not quoting enough? Is this unpopular client also unprofitable and we can therefore look to stop working with them? Is this exciting new service line profitable and we can look to accelerate our growth plans for it?
The truth is, there are a wealth of reasons why people should care about timesheets. Timesheet data has a direct impact on the shape of their work life.
The good news is that education is something you can action quickly and easily. You can hold training sessions to explain the importance and establish buy-in. You can include timesheet education in your new hire onboarding. And you can start this today.
If the number two reason is sentiment, the feeling that it’s a task that doesn’t give anything back in return, the answer here lies in giving something back.
At the simplest level, this means allowing people to view the data they’ve provided in a useful and accessible way. Allow them to see the clients they’ve worked with, the projects they’ve worked on, how much time they’ve contributed, and so on. Rather than have their timesheet data disappear into a void, bring it to life.
One of the most effective ways of doing this is with something called “personal budgets”. Now, this is going to be easier with an automated system (like CMap), but the premise is nonetheless simple.
Present the individual with a personal budget for the project(s) they’re working on. This is simply an allocation of time from the project’s budget. This gives them a sense of ownership and accountability. Then, as timesheets are completed, allow the individual to compare this data against the personal budget. This allows the individual to see how they’re performing against their personal budget: a personal budget vs. actual.
Not only does this achieve the core aim of giving timesheets purpose, but the knock-on effect is project performance improves as individuals are motivated to work within their personal budget. The ripple effect can be massive. Commercial awareness improves. Utilization improves. Profitability improves.
Strong timesheet adoption benefits everyone, not just senior management, or finance. The key is to make sure everyone in the organization is educated on their importance, understands the value it will bring to their life, and that there’s some sort of feedback mechanism that gratifies them and enables them to see the impact of the data they’re providing.
If you’d like to know more about “personal budgets”, please feel free to check out our in-depth blog post.