Ask VeraSage: Timesheets and resource planning

Michelle Horn from Bullfrog Solutions writes:

We are on board with selling value and losing timesheets but I have a concern.

Since we provide services, it is important to know what a service will take resource wise so that we can somewhat account for getting the project done. If we don’t keep time sheet, how will I know how long something takes today so that when we do it again in the future I have an idea of the resources required?

For instance, if we customize a piece of software to do some automated functions, I need to know that it takes a body some sort of time say 20 hours so that I don’t double book that person. I also would like to know in the future that a similar task takes 20 hours so that when I am pricing I have some semblance of what it will take.

Ron Baker has previously spoken about the three defenses of the timesheet: 1. pricing tool, 2. productivity measure, and 3. costing mechanism. The question you are asking Michelle is perhaps the fourth defense — resource requirement planning. In the resource planning usage timesheets from previous engagements are examined as a guide for future work. O, that this were actually being done! In most firms previous work is rarely consulted, but even if it were it still does not take innovation into account. It also assumes that the previous work was completed with the “right” amount of effort. Is that really true? How do you know? Will it be easier or harder the next time? Will the same person being doing the work?

These are all questions that relate to resource planning. At VeraSage we have never been opposed to resource planning, i.e., attempting to predict the duration and effort of a task. Resource planning is a critical element of project management, but you do not need timesheets to do it. In fact, resource planning is doing your timesheets in advance, which is exactly what we advocate. So, yes, Michelle, you need to plan resources accordingly and have systems in place that help you schedule and balance those resources, but note this is not a time keeping system. Your organization should plan and schedule resources, just not account for them afterwards.

Many of you will now claim, ok, be doesn’t that imply that I will now need to do a timesheet to see if I got it right? The answer is no. Once again, this is now the third defense, see Ron’s booklet entitled Trashing the Timesheet for more.

One last distinction that I hope you will find helpful is the difference between effort and duration as they relate to project management. Duration is the number of days or weeks that a project task will take to complete. It is the window of time in which the result must be achieved. Effort is the actual amount of work, usually expressed in resource hours. A task can have duration of 8 hours; however the effort could only be 15 minutes. Alternatively, a task with duration of 8 hours could also have 24 hours of effort. Project management is more about duration than effort, although both are important and certainly a customer only cares about duration.

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