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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Time Equals Money, but Extra Money Does Not Equal Extra Time

I received a copy of Curt Finch's new book, All Your Money Won't Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us.

1. I think HR understands the importance of other people tracking time--IT, Lawyers, non-exempt employees, but struggles with the idea of tracking our own time. I so often go from project to project and back, that I feel it would be difficult to track my time. Why should HR implement time tracking in our own department?

Staff justification is one reason that I've seen. When a company is under financial pressure--just like an airline customer of ours has often been--the big executives often look to HR as a place to cut people. After all, they often think, "HR is pure overhead, right?" Once you have data that indicates who is working on which projects, like "Pilot Union Negotiation" or "Health Benefit Cost Analysis Project," then those executives are forced to make a decision on which projects to cut, not which people. It tends to make HR jobs more secure.

2. My business has a lot of people who "think." Since we eventually make an awful lot of money off what these people think up, how would you recommend tracking time for this group?

Knowledge workers think. Most Americans are now or soon will be working in jobs that are all about thinking. That thinking is our new cost of production today, the inventory of our century. Surely some of their thinking is coordinated and directed towards some kind of goal, and completion of that goal is eventually desired. Time tracking can give insight into the ROI of those activities. If such knowledge workers are not tracking time, then some of them are inevitably working on something that will never make money for the company, and they should perhaps consider redirecting their efforts towards something that the market will reward them for. If you're associated with activities that clearly make money, it makes for a better resume, better compensation, and a better feeling of self-worth.

3. Part of your argument for Time Tracking is so that we don't have to "remember" what we did--there will be a record. While part of that is appealing to an HR person (Bob, we talked about your performance on June 2 from 2:15 to 2:22, I have it right here!), another part of me thinks that level of accuracy just isn't needed. I'm sure you'll disagree, so convince me.

If your time is less valuable, then it is probably less worthwhile to track it. For example, most companies consider people who work for minimum wage to be more fungible. If your time is expensive, however, then knowing where it goes is more critical. I once worked at a company, TKG, where we increased our revenues by millions and ran off a competitor with nothing more than excellent time data and an attitude problem. Your company can do that too and some of those millions will trickle down to the frontline workers (or you should quit anyway because there's a company culture problem.) Of course, some smart manager has to care and look at the data for any of this to be useful.

4. What's your best argument for getting exempt employees on board with the idea of time tracking?

If your company continues to flounder about without a deep understanding of the costs of production of knowledge work, you will get crushed by whichever one of your competitors figures it out first. Change is accelerating in our world. You have to get out in front of it and innovate to win. But if you don't understand the costs of that innovation, you will fail. It's not that some projects shouldn't be risky and expensive--they should--but you need to be managing all of these risks and costs consciously. Consciousness in this arena requires an understanding of project costs, which requires that you track your time.


Anonymous said...

Ask any attorney about the joys of time tracking. It is called billable hours and it is a pain in the rear.

The Engineer said...

OK. I'm in. How? Suggestions on systems please. I often end the day wondering "what did I do today??"

Teri said...

"we increased our revenues by millions and ran off a competitor with nothing more than excellent time data and an attitude problem."

I'm guessing this was crystal clear when you were talking to him, but I'm confused: who had the excellent time data and who had the attitude problem? The way it's written it looks like the competitor had the excellent time data, or else TKG had the excellent time data and ran them off in spite of TKG's attitude problem, or what?

JKB said...

The downside I see is that the most innovative knowledge work isn't linear or limited to the workday. Many innovations come from tying together disparate information from many subjects to create a new process. The collection of that information may not be attributable to a single goal or even seen as part of the solution. Innovations also come in the dark of night as well as at kid's soccer game more often than in the office. In fact, being focused on the problem consciously tends to prevent the solution whereas, eureka comes on the drive home. I'm not saying that tracking isn't something to try but the very act of consciously tracking your time can interrupt the creative process as that generally involves being out of the moment.

Masani said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
project timesheet said...

Teri, this is Curt.

Yes I meant that TKG had great time data and a strong attitude which helped it succeed.

And JKB, you're right. Tracking creative time - like when you're dreaming about solutions to problems in your sleep, isn't really necessary in order for the data to be useful. If you could just say, I spent 40% of my time today on project X, that is enough over time to give statistically interesting results.