- Project Management

Timesheets for Budget and Schedule

Seeing so many of my clients and peers not use timesheets is still interesting. As a consultant who has always worked in the private sector, timesheets were unavoidable and, in some cases, such as with public projects, mandatory. In some cases, when we had federally funded work, for example, our timesheets had to be visible on our desks and fill out daily, even though they were submitted weekly. And I am not saying that we have to become slaves to the timesheet and keep track of every 15 minutes (usually the smallest reportable timeframe) but rather as a way to help the project manager track the budget and the schedule baseline. In addition, the three-line graph, which we all know as PMPs, relies heavily on actual cost, and hours spent on a project, in turn, is a factor in determining the actual funds spent on a project at any given time. Again, this is because hours worked to have a rate charged against the cost baseline.

Timesheets for Budget and Schedule
Timesheets for Budget and Schedule

Currently, I am working on a project with an official budget, reimbursable costs, and hourly charge-out rates, while at the same time, volunteers provide some of the needed work. Therefore, we track the number of hours pro volunteers provide. It is a condition of the grant funds we have received, but also because we want to track the hours spent per task for future purposes. The purpose is future similar projects. Therefore, we want to use this project to determine how many volunteers and volunteer hours we need for these kinds of projects. To that end, it is not enough to log hours per week or month, but rather to log them per task. For example, since we have volunteers fundraising, performing outreach, and administrative tasks, to name a few, the hours spent have to be logged to the appropriate task (i.e., fundraising, outreach, and so on.)

Even though timesheets are great, and I am a fan of using them, there is a downside. In some organizations, timesheets determine “productivity” or “utilization rate,” which indicates how much billable work a staff member performs. Some companies require minimum rates. For example, an engineer may have a “utilization” goal of 80%, meaning s/he has to bill out 32 hours (40×0.80) weekly. This goal is easy to achieve when there is plenty of billable work but very difficult to reach when times are slow. And suppose the organization has stockholders who expect a steady rate of return. In that case, staff members, who are consistently unable to meet their utilization rates, are usually the first ones to be laid off, even if the situation is beyond their control. Also, staff may end up working extra hours for free if they fear their productivity will be too low; this leads to inaccurate reporting and, therefore, poor lessons learned. So, for timesheets to truly work, staff must always feel comfortable with reporting the actual hours they worked. And if there is a “productivity” issue, they may require training or reassignment, not redundancy.

Timesheets for Budget and Schedule

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