Time tracking provides businesses of all sizes with quantifiable data about where their time and money are going.
However, all data is meaningless unless you transform it into actionable insights. How do you do this? By making reports. Only with reports can managers monitor progress and load and make sure projects are within scope in terms of allocation, schedule, and budget.
To provide actionable insights through reports, 3 crucial elements are required:
- Data – the specific information you want to convey
- Visualization – the way in which that information is conveyed to the audience
- Narrative – the message you want the audience to take away
Without actionable insights, time tracking is useless. So, let’s look at a few best practices for making time tracking reports that provide the insights which managers, teams, and companies need to act.
1. Make a list of questions that your time tracking data has to answer
You’re tracking time because you want answers. However, many people will generate a report without knowing what they want to find out. That makes reports less useful, the conclusions drawn from them less actionable.
So, before making any reports, start by formulating some questions that you want your time tracking data to answer. For example:
- How much time have we spent on a particular project so far?
- Which of our customers/projects is most or least profitable?
- Are we dedicating too much time to certain types of tasks over others?
- How much should we bill that customer?
- How many billable hours have we accrued for all of our customers?
- Are any of our employees logging a lot of overtime?
- How much time will we need to complete this upcoming project?
- Are we underestimating or overestimating the time needed?
- Is the value of our employee or contractor’s logged time greater than their salary/fee?
- How much time has been spent on capital expenditures (capex) for the purposes of applying for tax credits?
These are just some of the many questions that time tracking reports can answer, and if you formulate them first, you’re more likely to make a relevant and targeted report and know what to look for in it.
2. Put processes in place to ensure accuracy of time data in reports
If you use spreadsheets or time tracking software that is separate from the platform your people are working in, your time tracking data is more likely to be incomplete and inaccurate. This will lead to reports that don’t tell the full story, or worse, tell the wrong one.
So, use a time tracking tool that’s fully integrated with your work management platform. For example, if your people manage tasks and projects in Jira, use a Jira add-on for time tracking like Timesheets by Tempo. As a Jira app, all time logged in Timesheets is associated with a particular Jira issue. It also comes with features that enable users to record time quickly, efficiently, and accurately. For example, being able to log time on a timesheet or inside a Jira issue, automated “suggestions” for how much time should be logged based on activity data, and a stopwatch timer for recording time.
Organizations can also use the timesheet approval process that comes with Timesheets in order to encourage accountability for tracking time and the accuracy of the data. This stipulates a set period to track time, after which a team lead or manager reviews and approves the time that’s been logged.
Another good practice is to encourage employees to log time at the end of every day. If they work in Jira and use Timesheets, get them to do it while they’re in the issue. Time entries are much more likely to be accurate if they’re done daily or on the go. It’s also a lot easier. If you have to enter a whole week’s worth of time, you’ll struggle to remember the things you worked on and waste time dredging up notes and going through your calendar. Timesheets can actually make the process even easier by connecting to your calendar or development tools and filling in your time entries for you.
Finally, if you use a separate reporting tool for time tracking, make sure that is fully integrated too. Otherwise you’ll be making reports manually, which takes time and breeds errors. You’ll also be doing it with data that isn’t live or up-to-date, and your reports will live in a separate place to the one everyone’s working in, not immediately accessible to the people who need them. Timesheets is fully integrated with Custom Charts for Jira so that users can make live, customized reports directly on Jira dashboards and all time tracking data gets pulled in automatically.
3. Make sure your reporting solution can answer your questions from best practice #1
As an experiment my marketing manager Teodora Vasileva used Toggl to track all her time over the course of a month. She logged time for every task, including eating, sleeping, and exercising, hoping to get some nice reports out of it.
However, it turned out that Toggl’s reporting left a lot to be desired, and the only comparison Teo could make was billable vs non-billable hours. She had wanted to see how how many hours she spent at her desk, how many she spent socializing, how many she was idle, based on the labels she used for each activity. In the end she had to put all the data into a spreadsheet and make the reports herself (cue the problems highlighted a moment ago!).
So, when you invest in a time tracking solution, make sure its reports give you the insights you need. If it doesn’t, invest in an integrated reporting tool that will.
4. Visualize your time tracking data in charts
All three of the aforementioned best practices are about making sure you have the right data. But to drive action, you need to consider visualization in your reporting too.
If you present your audience with a grid, list, or table of numbers, they’ll find it difficult if not impossible to spot patterns, trends, and anomalies quickly, and probably won’t remember them if they do.
Many time tracking tools let you have the data, but don’t let you visualize it, because they’re not data visualization tools. This is why you need a data visualization app integrated with your time tracking software, so that you can present your data in a way that’s accessible, engaging, and memorable.
For example, all Tempo reports bar one are presented as a grid or list of figures. These are great for when report-makers need to crunch the numbers, but if you want to communicate something important to your teams, you’ll need a more visual medium.
This is why Timesheets and Custom Charts for Jira make such a great pairing. Custom Charts is a data visualization tool that lets you make pie charts, tile charts, bar charts, stacked bar charts, and others out of your Tempo data, and customize the colors, labels, data order, even the positioning of the legend. That way, you can present your insights in the way most likely to draw attention and engage.
5. Tell data stories with dashboards
The final crucial element is an actionable report is narrative. If your report is a grid of numbers, you’ll need to provide a written explanation of the message those numbers are conveying, or hold a meeting to walk the audience through it. You can’t expect the story to tell itself, because a grid of numbers just won’t.
However, a story that tells itself – without the need for constant meetings – is exactly what we all want. For Jira users, this is where Jira dashboards come in. On a Jira dashboard, multiple charts and graphs work together to tell a story about how teams and projects are progressing, and don’t require a written or verbal explanation to be understood. A Jira dashboard is a story conveyed in pictures. And if you use a dashboard reporting app like Custom Charts for Jira, you’ll enjoy a lot more freedom over what those pictures should look like.
As mentioned at the start, there are 3 crucial elements of an actionable report: data, visualization, and narrative.
That fact that most of the best reporting practices in this article are about having the right data means you’d be forgiven for thinking that data was the most important of the 3 elements. But if you’re making reports for others, visualizing the data and making sure those visuals tell a story are the most important of all. This is why dashboards full of customized graphs and charts are a great medium for data storytelling, and the best solution for any enterprise that wants to find out where its time and money are going at a glance.
If you’re a Timesheets by Tempo user and you want to start crafting visual data stories on your time tracking, try our fully integrated reporting app, Custom Charts for Jira, free for a month.
Christopher is a self-confessed nerd who’d probably take the cake on Mastermind if Star Trek: Voyager was his specialist subject. He writes fiction about time travel, conspiracies and aliens; loves roller coasters, hiking and Christmas; and hates carpet, rom-coms and anything with chilli in it. He’s written extensively for technology companies and Atlassian partners and specializes in translating complicated technical concepts, specs and jargon into readable, benefits-driven copy that casual readers will understand.