Microsoft Project Task Usage View

What is the Task Usage view in Microsoft Project?  The simple answer is: a daily breakdown of the hours for each employee. You’re probably familiar with the ‘Work’ and ‘Actual work’ columns in the Gantt view, right?  The Task Usage view just breaks those numbers down by day.  The video below illustrates that perfectly.


Standard Time® with MSP Task Usage

So let’s assume you have a task with 100 hours scheduled to you and another employee.  That 100 hours is in the ‘Work’ column in the Gantt view.  (Ignore the ‘Duration’ column for sake of easy explanation for now.  It has a different purpose.)  The ‘Work’ field tells how many hours the resources are supposed to work.  Here’s a picture of how that task looks in the Gantt view and Task usage view.

Gant View with Work Hours

And Task Usage View:

Task Usage View with Work Hours

 

These two screenshots clearly show the 100 hours for our example.  The Gantt view shows the aggregate while the Task usage view shows the daily breakdown.  Now watch what happens when we add ‘Actual work’ to the mix.  The Task usage view lets you enter hours for the exact day they occurred.  And again, the Gantt view shows the aggregate hours.  (The video above shows an automated way to enter those actual work hours.)

Gantt View with Actual Work

Task Usage view with actual work

 

Of course the automated way to enter these actual work hours is a timesheet.  (I like Standard Time® at www.stdtime.com.)  Employees use a variety of tools to enter and check their own timesheets.  Once correct, all the actual work hours from the timesheet are transferred to the Microsoft Project Task usage view in one quick session – all employees, all at once.  Pretty cool, huh?

–newshirt

 

Ten Tools For the PMO Office

Now, this is what the PMO office needs.  Have you seen this?

The video below lists ten cool tools for the project management office.  (Actually the term “PMO Office” is a little redundant.)  But I really liked this set of tools.  You start with a database that displays all your projects as peers — no more discreet files on your hard drive.  Under each project is a list of assigned to employees.  Those employees see only their projects and tasks in the timesheet where they record actual hours.  Go back to the project task view and you can compare estimates with actuals.

Of course, the PMO office wants more than a simple task list.  They want resource allocation, project revenue projects, utilization reports with percentages and effective rates.  And they want some daily scrum status.  To me… it all seems to be here.  Take a look!

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVJ1AYCJ9Rw

 

Taking Baby Steps

I ran across a nice video of how to take baby steps to implementing time tracking within your organization.  It’s worth watching.  Follow the link below for the video.

The theory is that you can get immediate value from a time tracking product like Standard Time® with minimal input.  And then after implementing the product, you can take several baby steps to gaining incremental value.  It’s up to you when you reach the point of diminishing returns (when more employee participation yields less value).  But this program has enough upward latitude to allow you to explore the upper limits of your company’s needs.

Follow the steps and see what you think!

Baby Steps For Time Tracking

Small to Midsize Business Going To The Cloud

The CIO Insight article below explains that SMB’s are going to the cloud for simple apps like email and storage.  And they are not necessarily asking IT for permission.  I suppose that is because the cloud provider supplies all the support they need, and users feel they can get by without their own internal IT department.  Probably so…

http://www.cioinsight.com/c/a/Messaging-and-Collaboration/Cloud-Computing-Plays-Big-Role-in-Small-MidSized-Businesses-539145/

Inexpensive cloud solutions are getting more and more attractive.  Not only do you get a great app, but you get external hosting and support.  So instead of spending your in-house resources on server hosting, patches, backup, upgrades, and babysitting, you can spend it on your core competencies.

Another up-and-coming cloud app is timesheets – check out a product named Standard Time®.  Their cloud-based timesheet is superb.  And just like the simpler apps described above, all the support is handled by the vendor.  But this is no simple app like storage or email.  This thing is loaded!  Check out some of the features you get for $13 a month!

Here are two videos on the Standard Time dynamic duo – Timesheet and Project Management

Cloud-based Timesheet

Cloud-based Timesheet

Cloud-based Project Management

Cloud-based Project Management

 

Timesheet
Of course you would expect this.  It’s a timesheet, after all!  But the timesheet is extremely flexible and comprehensive.  Employees only see projects assigned to them.  Project tasks are included.  Sub-projects and phases show a full hierarchical breakdown.  There is an expense sheet, and time off tracking.

Project Management
In addition to the timesheet, Standard Time gives you project rollups.  (Yes, this is all on the cloud!  Pinch yourself!!!)  They let you track actual work verses estimates.  Track percent complete.  Attach documents to tasks.

PTO Accruals
Need to track comp time for employees working over their scheduled hours?  Got it.  Need vacation tracking?  Got it.  How about automatic time off accruals on a daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.  That’s in there too!

Expense Tracking
What would a consulting tool be without cloud-based expense tracking?  It’s in there too.  In fact, you can run a client invoice that contains all the timesheet hours plus expenses.  Or, you can run a report that includes them both.  Or separately.  There are even custom reporting capabilities.

It’s a little hard to believe that cloud-based hosted services have evolved this far.  I guess somebody’s been hard at work.  Check out Standard Time if you’re a consulting firm, manufacturer, or government office.  Here’s a link to their YouTube channel.  New videos are posted all the time, so subscribing is a good itea.

http://www.youtube.com/user/scoutwestinc

Why Use a Timesheet?

If you’re a consulting or contracting company, the answer to that question is a no-brainer.  Or so says the video below.  In this video, the author asserts that consulting companies absolutely must use a timesheet for the job.  I tend to agree.  Consulting has become so complex, and the margins so slim that you can’t afford to lose a single hour of billable time.

Consultants regularly check their utilization rates to make sure they are making money.  Utilization is the ration of billable to scheduled hours for the employee.  For example, if the employee is scheduled for 40 hours and only works 35, then he is only 88% utilized.  And because he hasn’t worked the full 40, he is not billing as many hours as possible.  Therefore, his effective billing rate is lower than what the company actually charges for his work.

Here’s an example of a poor effective billing rate.  Suppose a consultant bills at $100 per hour.  But he only gets 10 hours per week of billable work.  His effective billing rate is now only $25 per scheduled hour.  And if you miss any of those hours, the rate goes down.  So using a timesheet to collect and account for all the billable time is probably a no-brainer.

 

Manufacturing companies like to track project hours using a timesheet.  It allows them to connect with their employees and see where their time is going.  But it has more value than that.  Manufacturers who track projects want to improve their deliverable schedules, milestone predictions, and task duration estimates.  This obviously lends credibility to their project management efforts.  The only way to get good project task estimates is to use a timesheet.  They must collect actual employee hours so those hours can be compared with the original estimates.

And finally, even if you are not a services-based company that tracks time for client billing, and you are not a manufacturing company that tracks project management metrics, you may still just want to see employee status and weekly hours.  That’s a good enough reason to use a timesheet.  Simply keeping an eye on employee activities is a worthwhile management practice, even if you don’t have a hard reason to use a timesheet.

All these reasons are illustrated in a nice little YouTube video.  Check out the ScoutwestInc channel for additional timesheet videos.  Some of them make a lot of sense.

YouTube Video: Consulting Software

This YouTube video for consulting software is pretty neat. It covers a lot of ground in five minutes, and is worth taking a look at. Amateur, but neat. The premise starts with a timesheet and closely related time log view where consulting hours are displayed. Of course, the timesheet is a typical Monday thru Friday grid with client projects on the left. Things got cooler with the time log ivew. The time log displays the same records as the time sheet, but in a top-to-bottom view.

Consultants will drool over this. Trust me.

For every time log record (which is also displayed in the timesheet) you get a client field, project, category, start and end times, actual work field, client rate, client cost, billable, and billed columns. There are other columns not shown that can be added to this view. Plus, you can filter that time log view to show only the work you did for a certain client or project, or only the work for a selected consultant. Or only work for a selected date range. That’s slick! You can also filter out the non-billable records and only see what is billable to the client.

But this is only where the app just begins…

The video goes on to show a glimpse of the billing rates window. (Wish it showed more.) It seems that you can set the billing rates for each consultant, and for each project they work on. So every consultant has his own rates for every project. And they only see the project they work on. Nice. But again, the video is brief, so you have to check this out for yourself – it’s just a five minute overview.

If time tracking is not enough, there is a menu item to show project revenue over a 12-month timeframe. This lets you see trends for the coming months and identify bad months that require attention. If only it also showed historical results for the last 12 months… That would be cool, but probably not as useful. Every project has its own win/loss percentage projections so it acts like a sales funnel. But all that’s a side issue that consulting companies get for free. Sure, you’ll use it, but the real stuff is logging billable hours.

The video sticks right to the point: client receivables and consultant utilization rates. That’s is the heart and soul of consulting. Get those wrong and you fail. So those reports let you see where your money is coming from, and what your effective billing rate really is. In other words, how much is your organization is billing for the work it does. Reports like this naturally raise the question, “How to increase your effective billing rate?” Edging out small increases is what consulting is all about. If you spend too much time on non-billable or in-house jobs, you die. If your effective billing rate is too low, you die. If you don’t book gigs, you die. If you don’t invoice billable hours, you die. This program seems to get that.

What is not mentioned in this video is equally valuable: expense tracking, client invoicing and QuickBooks integration. Yes, the product has those things, but the video fails to highlight them. Why? Not enough time, I suppose… I’m not sure. But it’s nice to know that there’s more to this product than the basics that can fit in a 5-minute video. Definitely worth a look.

Check it out: Consulting Software

Task Lingering: Employees Avoid the Unfamiliar

Actually, not just employees… Everybody avoids the unfamiliar. But this post is about employees, and specifically project team members that engineer or develop new technologies. It’s about how employees sometimes try to settle into familiar tasks and avoid new and unfamiliar ones. And it’s about how to prevent that.

But wait… why prevent it? Isn’t efficiency gained by perfecting the familiar? By polishing your craft so you can perform it virtually without thought?

Yes, but this isn’t really about that. It’s about the propensity of employees to spend too much time on project tasks they have become familiar and comfortable with, to the exclusion of those upcoming tasks they dread the thought of.

I’ve heard reports of engineers racking up 200 – 500% extra time on tasks that could have been completed at the estimated time. Here’s the reason: people become comfortable with tasks they’ve spent significant time on and don’t want to leave them. The next task on their list may be unfamiliar and scary, so they stay on the one that doesn’t give off those vibes. The justification is that the current task could use some more polish.
Problem is, you’ve got to keep marching on. Your projects must be completed and delivered. You can’t afford to dally on project tasks you’ve already completed.

Here’s a technique you can use to discourage task lingerers. Set your timesheet “percent warning” to 75%. At that time, the task will begin reminding the employee that it’s time to move on. Of course, they may resist, but it’s a good reminder. Then set the “percent error” to go off at 125%. That stops team members from entering any more time. You can extend it with an administrator override, but at least you have some controls to monitor and manage task lingering.

Here’s a YouTube video that describes task lingering.

Timesheet Administrators: Lock Your Timesheets Quick!

Have you ever locked your company timesheet when the week or pay period is over? If not, you’re probably wondering what for? Why lock an employee timesheet? Or you might be wondering how to do it at all.
Locking employee timesheets is done for two primary reasons: payroll and client billing.

First, payroll: If you use your timesheet hours to pay employees, those hours must be verified and deemed correct before entering them into payroll. Nobody wants to be shorted just because they missed a few daily entries, but it happens. You also don’t want to pay crafty employees twice what they should get, just because they entered 80 hours in for the week. Again, you’ve got to verify and certify before timesheet hours go to payroll.

But what happens if an employee makes a change after the hours have gone to payroll? For instance, they realize later that they actually worked a few hours overtime. Understandably, they want to be paid for those hours. But they may not know you have already cut the check. So they innocently enter the extra overtime hours, and nobody notices! The check was already cut before they entered them. Yikes!

Locking all the employee timesheets before you cut checks is the only safe solution.

In the example above, the employee would not be able to enter his overtime hours for the previous pay period because it was already being processed. Lock it down and they can’t enter any additional hours. Of course, they’ll come back screaming, but at least you won’t miss the hours. Just tell them to enter the hours for next week and they’ll get paid for them in the next check.

Second, client billing: It’s the same issue as payroll above. Employees who enter time for the purposes of billing clients may not know the exact time you cut an invoice. The scenario is the same: The Accounts Receivables department cuts an invoice for the previous month’s work… and then a day later one of the employees working on that project enters some additional hours – AFTER the invoice was already cut!

That’s a bad situation!

The Accounts Receivables department doesn’t realize that more time was added to this invoice date range, and, the employee doesn’t realize that the invoice has already been cut. So the billable hours he entered are effectively lost. Sure, they are in the system, but nobody knows they should be included on an invoice.

Oops!

Again, the safest solution is to lock the invoice date range before cutting an invoice. This prevents any new hours from being entered. Employees will get an error and realize they should put the hours into the next pay period instead.

Try locking your timesheets, if you deal with payroll or client billing!