Information Technology Dark Side

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A Rant about Timesheets

October 16th, 2006 · 9 Comments

How much money does a time-tracking system cost at an enterprise level? I have no idea, but I’m sure it’s a heckuva lot more than my salary.

What is the point of tracking the time of a salaried employee? I have been trying to figure this out ever since I left consulting, where time tracking is important (it’s how you get paid), and entered my new life as a corporate denizen. As a salaried employee time tracking has nothing to do with the reward system that keeps me coming back to work each day. If I work long hours, I don’t get paid more. If I’m very effective and efficient and work less, my paycheck doesn’t go down. I’m not paid that way.

Or at least that’s what I’m told. Ask around and try to figure out why corporations track salaried employees’ time. So far, the best answer I’ve received is that it tells companies how much a project “cost.” This doesn’t make any sense to me. A project doesn’t “cost” any more if I work 50 hours on it or 20 hours on it, does it? I mean, in a very literal sense, do my projects at work “cost” any more if work 60 hours a week? Doesn’t a project where I work 60 hours a week for 4 weeks actually cost LESS than a project where I work 40 hours a week for 6 weeks? It’s the same hours, but the green dollar cost is very different.

Here’s my biggest beef about time tracking. What value does the business actually get out of it? What the heck do they do with a report that tells them they spent 12,923 staff hours on a project? Particularly since this really doesn’t have anything to do with the actual cost of the project if it was staffed by salaried employees. What difference does it make? Do real business people (not IT managers & executives) actually CARE about these figures? Why? How does it make the company better?

I don’t have a clue. Anyone who can enlighten me will be heralded as a genius for all the world to see. Or at least the very small segment of the world who read my blog.

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Tags: Job Advice

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Allen // Oct 22, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    How about it being a nice (not so subtle) reminder that Big Brother is watching… and he wants his pound of flesh… er I mean 40 hours. 😉

    I mean think about it….Since of course the person who hired you for the thousands of hours of college training you have taken, and trusted and valued you enough to give you your significant salary, and your boss entrusts you with the resources of a significant project, and everyone has no problem with you walking out the door every evening with a $2,000+ machine with several million dollars worth of corporate knowledge on it….

    … is ABSOLUTELY no reason why the bean counters should trust you to actually be responsible enough to work at least 40 hours. I mean Lord knows THEY wouldn’t unless someone was watching them (because I think they not-so-secretly hate their jobs)…. granted they are never up there on weekends and after 8pm to actually know the hours you are putting in. In fact for a grin why don’t you ask them who in their department carries a beeper 😉

    It’s just another area where the Sensible Judging bean counters clash with the creative archetypes that they don’t understand and don’t trust (Sensible Perceivers, Intuitive Thinkers, Intuitive Feelers)

    It reminds me of a quote from Dilbert’s pointy haired boss “I don’t understand it… so it must be simple”


    “I’m not bitter, I’m just….OK I’m bitter”

  • 2 Allen // Oct 22, 2006 at 10:33 pm

    Ok… my buddy Mitch just pointed out that if you are providing services for 3 departments, then actually charging out your time proportionally would be a worthwhile and accurate thing to do.

    (I still think I’m right 😉 And he says it’s a way for the bean counters to justify their jobs and how important they are.

  • 3 Jon Mischo // Nov 3, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    There’s actually a good reason to track time: estimation. A lot of organizations with salaried employees implement time tracking systems for exactly this reason (and then never use the data).

    How does it work, you ask? Let’s say I’m UberMegaCorp and I bill my clients by the project, on a contract basis, and pay my employees a fixed salary. I set the delivery date, the number of resources required, and rates based on the scope of the project, the complexity of the tasks, and the skills of my resources. If I grossly overestimate, I’ll bid myself out of the contract. If I grossly underestimate the time and resources involved, my employees are going to be very overworked…which leads to an unhappy, unproductive employee (and occasionally homicidal rage, but let’s forget about that for now). If I slightly underestimate, my employees probably won’t be disgruntled the first or second time, but constantly doing it will wear on them, and I’ll be cheating my shareholders out of profits.

    So, you see, it really does come down to money and productivity, which is often called “cost”, albeit in a different context than my UberMegaCorp worker bees are used to thinking of it. Besides, someone has to pay for the extra power and pizza for the late night work when I goof, and you’d better believe the client isn’t interested.

  • 4 dave // Nov 3, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Agreed! Any organization that actually bills clients for the work they do has an excellent reason for tracking hours. I love that you point out that few organizations actually put this data to any sort of productive use.

    So, what about the organizations that DON’T charge by the hour for their services, like a corporate IT department? I’m still not satisfied that there’s any real business value derived from time tracking for cost centers like IT.

  • 5 Joe Egan // Dec 27, 2008 at 2:35 am

    Time tracking of all hours spent on-the-job allows collection of all kinds of data: How much time is spent doing menial tasks that could be shuffled off to a less skilled, lower paid employee? How much time is spent fixing and updating computer systems? Might the cost of a new, more reliable system be justified? How much time was estimated for a particular project? Was that accurate? If not, the next time around a more accurate estimate might affect pricing. Is it cheaper to write code, or to buy and modify existing software, or to hire a freelance code writer with expertise in the field? You can't know unless you've tracked time spent writing it in-house and know what it cost.

    If it takes an employee 30 hours or 60 hours to complete a job, he may be paid the same, but if he can do twice as many jobs in 60 hours as he can in 30, either the company makes twice as much money or it gets twice the productivity out of that employee. Unless the jobs have no value to the company, there is a cost savings by increasing productivity.

    Time sheets are about cost and profit. Salaried employees benefit from keeping them only if there is a profit sharing plan and the data from the time sheets is used to make the company more profitable.

    Did the original blogger say he was a consultant? Did he really not know this stuff?

  • 6 davidray // Dec 27, 2008 at 3:36 am

    Ah, Joe, obviously you've never worked at my former employer. Imagine knowing all the things you've listed are true, and then seeing timesheets implemented in such an incompetent way that none of the goals of collecting the data can be realized. And then, add an organization that establishes strict (and onerous) requirements for filling out the timesheets, but doesn't leverage the data (because they can't), but still plows forward because executive bonuses are tied to implementing a timekeeping system. Thus, the rant.

  • 7 All longitude and no latitude: the joy of timesheets | Don't Compromise // Jun 26, 2012 at 10:06 am

    […] I can’t put it better than one of the comments on a post at, let me just quote from it: There’s actually a good reason to track time: estimation. A lot of […]

  • 8 Vincent Churchil // Mar 15, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Its a must for an employer to track all its employees and their activities with respect to time, to understand what exactly they do and how good they use their time. Now a days, tracking time has been so easier with so many tools available at minimum prices. But selecting the best tool and getting the best out of it is the big deal.

  • 9 All longitude and no latitude: the joy of timesheets - ASK Europe // Jul 7, 2016 at 3:24 am

    […] I can’t put it better than one of the comments on a post at, let me just quote from […]

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