Peter Drucker and Time Sheets

In a recent debate with a VeraSage naysayer, Peter Drucker was invoked as saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

First, let me say that I cannot find this as a direct quote of Drucker’s other than continuous and unsubstantiated citations in many articles, blog posts, and PowerPoint presentations all over the Internet. If anyone has the direct knowledge of the book or published article wherein Drucker says these exact words, please let me know. Until such time, please do not attribute this quote to Drucker.

Second, in my research looking for this quote, I found the following:

Reports and procedures should be the tool of the man who fills them out. They must never themselves become the measure of his performance. A man must never be judged by the quality of the production forms he fills out – unless he be the clerk in change of these forms. He must always be judged by his production performance. And the only way to make sure of this it by have him fill out no forms, make no reports, expect those he need himself to achieve performance. – Peter Ferdinand Drucker, The Practice of Management, 1954, page 135.

All emphasis mine.

Does anyone now want to say that Peter Drucker would be in favor of submitted time sheets to measure productivity? I rest my case.


  1. Hi Ed,

    Timesheets don’t directly measure productivity, but they do measure time spent and therefore cost. With an accurate measurement of Project cost, one can determine Project-level profitability…not just Client-level profitability. Thus, understanding costs allows an executive to decide which projects should be performed and which needs to be rescoped. Accurate timesheets provide an invaluable data set. The difficulty of timesheets is choosing the right technology to automate the process. Timesheets can be easy…accurate….and fast. -Mark (CEO, CreativeWorx;

    • Thanks for your comment, but be warned you have wandered into a hornets nest.

      I will leave your assertion that “time spent = cost” for one of our accounting minds to dispute. Hint: it is not true.

      Accuracy is only as good as the person entering or capturing the time. I have spoken before thousands of people and asked a simple question, “How many of you have never lied on a timesheet?” No hand has EVER gone up. People don’t enter (or allow an automated system to enter) time accurately. They enter what they THINK they should enter, not what is actually worked.

      Lest you think I am accusing people of gaming the system in their favor, I am not. In fact, I believe that most professionals enter LESS time than they actually spend as they do not want to appear to be foolish in the eyes of management. This renders all your talk about precision, moot. You are helping management delude themselves into thinking they have the illusion of control. Your system’s reports are precise, but they are precisely wrong!

      What is more you are making people wronger than they already are. Time tracking is the wrong measurement for knowledge workers. In focusing on efficiency, you are doing so at the “cost” of effectiveness. Effectiveness is doing the right thing for the customer, timesheets do NOTHING to assist with this since they are an efficiency metric. Efficiency is doing the thing right. Since you are doing the wrong thing, measuring time, you are helping people get more efficient at it. The better you get, the wronger you are!

      Lastly, entering time is also insulting to professionals especially knowledge workers. Who the hell goes to college thinking that when they graduate they will then be required to track what they do in six minute increments‽ (Side note: did you fill out a timesheet in college? If not what not, didn’t your parents need to assess the costs?)

      Timesheets are an abomination. They are the cancer of professions and you (while I am sure a nice guy) are spreading the cancer.


  2. Mark,

    Timesheets are only way to perform cost allocation. No one needs to look at timesheets to know a firm’s costs. More importantly, pricing needs to take into account the costs BEFORE the project is completed, not after. It does no good to know your costs if the customer doesn’t like your price. There are far superior strategies to deploy in a knowledge firm, like Leading KPIs, performing After Action Reviews (far more relevant than completing timesheets), and proper project management. All of these have the advantage of actually capturing knowledge and improving future performance. Timesheets do no such thing.

    As for why timesheets are lousy cost accounting tools, check out:

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