Timesheet functionality has become an invaluable tool in project management by helping organisations keep track of the effort spent on individual tasks and/or the project as a whole. This article will explore some of the key points to consider when implementing timesheets in Project Online.

Some of the key benefits of timesheets and the visibility they provide include:

  • Insight into workload – help Portfolio/Resource/Project Managers understand where resources are working at a given time. It can inform who has too much on their plate and who is underutilised.
  • Improve Estimation – enabling Portfolio/Resource/Project Managers to access more accurate insights into how long specific tasks take to complete. Comparing this data to original estimates will help improve future scheduling.
  • Focus on priorities – tracking actual time can help Portfolio/Resource/Project Managers detect early warning signs of project efficiency and evaluate whether they are worth continued investment.

Time tracking is integrated within Project Online, meaning time can be assigned to tasks and schedule progress updated without having to transfer data between or integrate different systems.

Whilst there is clear value in task-level reporting – by enabling the update of task progress to support Project Managers to co-ordinate completion of their project in the most effective way – the approach to time tracking needs some thought.

Depending on the maturity level as well as organisational needs, it may not be necessary or even appropriate for project resources to record time at the task level. That’s why one of the first steps involved in implementing timesheets is understanding the big picture; why does the organisation want to set up timesheets and how will the data be utilised? Answering those initial questions will help inform the next step, choosing the right level of detail. Not enough detail may devalue the benefit of the system but too much detail may overburden employees.

To accommodate different organisational needs, Project Online provides two options for time reporting. Timesheets can be configured to capture time at the Task level or Project level.

With Task Level time reporting, once a user has been assigned work in the schedule, and that project schedule has been published, the user will then be able to visit their ‘Timesheet’ in Project Online to view a 1-week view of their task assignments.

Note: In addition to task assignments, administrative categories such as holiday, sickness, travel etc can also be displayed on the Timesheet.

Task details include Start and Finish dates, Duration of the task, the amount of work assigned, complete, remaining etc. On the right-hand side is the time-phased data section, where the work is displayed as hours per day for that period. This is where team members will enter the actual hours spent each day on their tasks.

When a Team member turns in their timesheet, it is received by their timesheet manager. They review it and if everything looks good, the timesheet is approved. The task updates are also sent to the respective Project Managers to review and approve/reject. Once approved, the time then counts toward the total amount of work done on the task, and the amount of work remaining on the task is reduced.

Task Progress Lifecycle in Project Online

Note: whilst line and project manager can be configured, timesheet auto-approval is available.

With Project Level time reporting, or “Top-Level” time reporting as it is referred to in Project Online, project schedules and timesheets are decoupled. Synchronisation is one way, whereby any Projects where a user has been added to the project team will appear in that user’s timesheet for them to record time against. However, on submission, any actual time reported does not feed back through to the schedule. Instead, the actuals are stored in the Timesheet table from which they can then be surfaced and compared to forecast data in reporting tools such as Microsoft Power BI.

Key differences with Project Level time reporting include:

  • The timesheet row for each project will display “Top Level” in place of the Task Name
  • Planned Work does not pull through as this is linked to task assignments

Timesheets in Project Online

With Project Level time reporting, task-level resource assignments are not required, in fact, a resource only needs to be added to the project team (Build Team from Enterprise) to enable them to book time against it, which can also make setting up schedules for timesheets easier.

Again, it all depends on the information needs of the organisation, but where an organisation is new to time tracking, we’d often recommend implementing timesheets at the project level initially. This will still provide the number of hours that have been spent on a project without placing the administrative burden on end-users by having to submit updates against each individual task. Note, switching to task level time reporting in the future is always an option.

A negative culture has grown around timesheets, whereby introducing timesheets is often perceived as a way for employees to be spied on by management. It is therefore vital that the need for timesheets is well communicated to employees/users as part of the implementation. Be honest and transparent about how the information will be used and the business value generated. Make sure it’s clearly understood that timesheets are not a way to monitor and control or micromanage employees.

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