Manage & Analyze Time
Spent Working on Projects
We’ve discussed why you’re likely under-billing your clients. Now let’s dive into why your projects aren’t going as planned
According to the Project Management Institute, only 64% of projects were successful in 2015
. PMI defines a successful project as “meeting all of its goals.” For example, if your project was to build 10 features, and you built all 10, it would fall into the “success” category.
However, when you also factor in missed deadlines and overshot budgets, only 16.2% of projects succeed
. That percentage hasn’t increased from 2011 — so there’s clearly a problem.
Understanding your team’s roles
As Brett Harned explains
in The Dark Art of Project Estimation, One of the biggest problems project managers face is having a solid understanding of what each and every team member actually does on a daily basis.
Why is this so hard? Because it requires you to not just understand that, say, Carol writes the code for the front-end of a product, but that on any given day, Carol could be:
- Developing a new button or animation
- Optimizing the application’s loading time
- Making the application optimized for SEO principles
- Using an interface testing tool
When you do have such a detailed and accurate grasp of your employees’ roles, you can put together a project estimate that’s realistic without being too generous.
A time tracking tool like Hubstaff takes this enormously murky challenge and makes it nearly effortless. Because not only can you see which tasks everyone is working on, you can also see how long each task takes and which tools they use.
Back to Carol: You can look at her report and get an instant overview of everything she did. Even if you have no front-end experience or knowledge whatsoever, you’ll quickly start to understand which assignments are tricky and time-consuming, and which ones are relatively simple.
Picking the right people for the right jobs
If you can’t delegate, your project will almost certainly fail. Research shows
that, by and large, most managers and executives don’t focus on effective delegation. It’s not that supervisors don’t delegate (in fact, 97% of them do), it’s that they’re not putting in the time to give the right tasks to the right team members.
Fortunately, as soon as you know which team members excel in which areas (which you’ll learn by drilling down into their daily work patterns), you can also noticeably improve your own delegation skills.
And unsurprisingly, when you give employees the tasks for which they’re optimally suited, team morale goes up. A report from business management platform Domo found 25% of workers would be more satisfied if given the opportunity to do what they do best.
A time tracking tool will tell you how long it takes different members of the team to complete comparable assignments. Maybe Marissa spends one hour writing microcopy for the home page, while it takes Corey three hours to put together the onboarding microcopy. Armed with this knowledge, you can ask Marissa to handle 90% of the microcopy on the next assignment.
Of course, in addition to each person’s existing strengths, you’ll also want to consider the opportunity cost. You might have a superstar employee who can do almost anything you ask faster than your second choice, but if you assign that person a relatively unimportant assignment, he or she will have less time for higher-priority projects.
Again, use a time tracking tool to figure out how much bandwidth (both in terms of time and mentality) everyone has left, and divvy up tasks based on that.
Putting together a process
Projects also fail when you don’t have the right workflows in place. Not only do you need a solid understanding of each team member’s role, but you also need a really firm grip on how those roles fit together.
For example, which task hinges on another task? What can be completed independently? Is there anything you’ve been doing at the beginning of the project that makes more sense to do at the end?
You might think these answers would be obvious, but we tend to get caught up in the rush to get everything done and completely miss these areas for improvement.
To find them, you should take note of the exact times when your employees become less productive. For example, maybe you notice Jordan’s activity level dips whenever you ask him to map out the user journey for the product you’re designing.
When you bring this up to him, you figure out that he struggles to do this task without having clear user personas, which you usually have a different employee developing around the same time. Going forward, you decide to start the user personas earlier so they’ll be edited and client-approved by the time Jordan begins the user journey.
Figuring out what’s slowing down your project’s progress will make a huge difference in your overall speed and cohesiveness.
Know which employees are the most efficient
Of course, not all employees perform equally. Quantifying your team members’ varying levels of efficiency is highly beneficial. You’ll be able to reward high performers, motivate average performers, and train or reassign under-performers.
There are two widely-used methods of tracking employee performance:
- Production counts (sales, keystrokes, units produced)
- Personnel data (work attendance, hours worked, absenteeism)
Both methods, while not foolproof, require some form of time tracking. Measuring production counts is only meaningful if there is time involved.
Finding a baseline
Over on the QuickBooks blog, Suzanne Kearns recommends starting by establishing a baseline
. Baselines are fairly easy to develop when you’ve got a group of people doing the same thing; for example, if you manage a group of developers, you can fairly easily figure out the average lines of code each developer is writing per day, or the average numbers of bugs each person is fixing, and so forth.
However, when each of your team members is completing different types of work, how can you establish a baseline?
First, you can compare current performance to past performance. Maybe one of your employees has historically produced two designs per day; now, she’s averaging 2.5. Obviously, this positive increase says her productivity is increasing.
Consider using Hubstaff, or a similar time tracking tool, to automatically log your team’s completed tasks.
The second way to establish productivity baselines: measure activity levels. The great thing about this technique is that your employees’ roles have no impact on their activity levels, meaning you can compare virtually everyone.
Perhaps one of your workers is 68% active, while another is 75%. Compare output with activity rates, and it should be fairly clear who’s being more productive.
Furthermore, by creating an average activity level for the whole team, you can quickly see who’s performing the highest. You can also periodically measure this level to see if your team is becoming more productive over time. (If it’s not, ask yourself how you can better motivate or support your workers.)
Wondering how to gauge activity levels in the first place? Hubstaff analyzes keystroke and mouse movements to provide activity levels for all of your employees. If you want a birds-eye view, these activity levels are color-coded: all you have to do is glance at your dashboard.
You can also see who’s online, when each person last logged in, average activity level per session, and total time logged that week.
On a more macro level, absenteeism and attendance will tell you how dependable each person is at showing up for shifts or fulfilling hours. A good time tracking tool will make it easy to view this data:
This feature is especially important if you’re managing a partially remote or distributed team, as it’s easy to lose track of each employee’s “day” when everyone is going by different time zones and schedules.
Incentivizing your team members
After you’ve established baselines, you should separate your team members into three categories: the high performers, the average performers, and the under-performers. This will help you better motivate and support each person individually.
High performers: According to a 2013 report, 88% of workers say “praise from managers”
is extremely motivating.
With that in mind, try to recognize the contributions your high achievers are making with genuine, specific positive feedback.
Delivering praise is even more important when you’re working with freelancers (as opposed to full-time workers.) As Jessica Rohman explains
on Great Place to Work’s blog, freelancers score as high or higher than traditional employees on engagement and satisfaction–except when it comes to commitment.
"Independent workers are more likely to think about finding another client, even when the arrangement with their current primary client is expected to be long-term", Rohman writes.
To boost their commitment, make sure you’re recognizing your temporary workers.
Average performers: Once you identify those on your team with average activity levels, you should try to work with them to improve their performance.
Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media, said
, “Sometimes, an employee thinks they’re doing a good job and is shocked to find out they’re actually one of the average performing employees.”
So one of the first tactics you should try is scheduling individual meetings with these workers so you can discuss their work.
You might say, “(Name), I wanted to talk to you today because your activity levels are 10 to 20% lower than others on the team. How can I help you boost that percentage?”
In addition, use clear metrics to motivate your team members. For example, you could say, “Right now, most of the blog posts you’re submitting have around seven errors. It takes our copywriter some time to find these errors and correct them, so I’d like to see tighter drafts. Let’s get that average number of errors down to two or less per post.”
Low performers: You’ll need to decide whether to let go of your worst performers or invest resources in bringing them up to speed.
, the vice president of aviation intelligence company Diio LLC, poses two questions to help you make this choice:
- Have you given this person clear expectations of their responsibilities and expected output?
- Have you provided feedback about their performance?
If you don’t respond yes to both questions, then it’s probably not entirely this employee’s fault their work hasn’t been up to your standards, because you haven’t defined those standards.
But if you do answer yes, Laherty says to ask yourself a final question: Would you keep this person if they turned around their performance?
Decide whether or not to work with them based on your reply.