What are timesheets?
Timesheets in this context are the documents, electronic or otherwise that record what time was spent by the person on what tasks. Some time sheets might also record the start and end time of each task rather than just the total time.
Why use timesheets?
The argument is sometimes around the fact that professionals work at different efficiencies so recording time against each task tends to normalise professional activities for the wrong reasons. By their nature most professionals need to apply some creativity to their work so they may have different approaches to their work: this is good. Professionals also take pride in their work so they will work to the task rather than the time: this is also good. Timesheets may be seen to undermine that.
The argument for timesheets is about having some record of people’s activities and contribution to the organisation. Of course, measuring contribution is very difficult and arguably subjective; however, using time is also arguably better than nothing. A record becomes important for a number of business functions if nothing else. Some of those are about the person’s performance but most are about the metrics of any associated project and the organisation as a whole.
So what is the value of timesheets?
Person level: the person is communicating their contribution to the organisation and to each project or activity in terms of time. They are acknowledging that they have satisfied the requirements of their employment contract. In some sense, when all the members of an organisation are completing time sheets, there is an implicit fairness between people, of the roles and contributions by those people. When summarised, the split of work between different types of activities can be calculated; that is, their utilisation. At the person level, utilisation, when compared to others in similar roles, provides information about their work habits (good, bad or otherwise).
At an organisation level and for service based businesses the time sheet data is very often the record for invoicing. Timesheet data improves an assurance that the invoice is reasonably determined.
Utilisation can also be calculated at a team and an organisational level. In this case it provides information about how good the processes are at allowing people to do their primary role (their real job).
Timesheet data can also be compared to planned effort for any project or task to track the accuracy of those estimates. In some cases this might inform decisions about how the project or task advances. In other cases it might simply inform the next project or task of the same type.
Timesheet data can also be abstracted to a cost (using a cost rate for each person). In this case, it can be used to track the costs actually incurred on a project or task and compared to the planned costs. Reactions to a difference between actual and planned costs can be slightly more sophisticated because balancing straight time may not be as important as balancing project costs.
Because timesheets are typically recording admin and leave time (annual leave, sick leave, parental leave, etc.), they also become the record for leave entitlements.
Often the reason to require timesheets of staff are compelling: because they provide the data for invoicing to clients. Otherwise, timesheets are a good democratiser of the efforts of people in an organisation. Finally, the value of timesheets to the managers of the business invariably outweighs the imposition to people in the organisation. That imposition should be minimised by using a timesheet mechanism that suits the nature of the business.