(This blog post was originally posted on Medium.com in response to Rick Webb's blog post. Rick is the co-Founder of ad agency The Barbarian Group) Rick — This is a very enjoyable read, and I look forward to buying your book. With all due respect though, you make several bold, yet incorrect, statements that are based on your experiences from twenty years ago!
Technology has come a long way, and the bottom line for anyone complaining about timesheets is simple:
Timesheets don’t suck. Yours do
Technology has made the professional world more efficient and more competitive. People tasked with running businesses need operational metrics to run those businesses effectively. Presuming that executives care about shareholder value and helping grow their companies, it’s inadequate to limit profitability reporting to the client-level. Companies need to know their strengths and weaknesses to make the strategic decisions that will improve their faults. Companies will succeed by responding to their own performance analytics. They can’t fix what they don’t measure.
As margins shrink and procurement departments demand best practices, it is incumbent on the agencies to adopt tools and technologies that can improve their performance. Those who resist change will continue to see the erosion of margins, productivity and ultimately client satisfaction. In multiple blogs and speaking events, ad industry veteran Michael Farmer continues to describe how the industry is spiraling downward by not respecting important business metrics.
Manual timesheets are the problem
Anyone who has ever had to report their time will acknowledge the impossibility of being productive while also capturing their activity with accurate billing codes. The work day simply has too many interruptions to do this manually. Asking busy professionals to remember to hit start and stop buttons is ludicrous and ineffective.
As Rick writes in his upcoming book Agency: Starting a Creative Firm in the Age of Digital Marketing, billable employees learned to avoid submitting timesheets for 2–3 months. That irresponsible behavior only exacerbates the problem by undermining the accuracy of the timesheet data and therefore impeding the ability of executives to make informed strategic decisions. It also provides a false justification that timesheets are ineffective.
People are working long hours, multitasking and getting interrupted. No manual process will ever be effective, and Rick's suggestion that “At the end of the project, the producer fills out a simple one-page form” is fantasy. That suggestion only masks the problem and provides incorrect data that continues to undermine resource planning and allocations, budgeting, and ultimately profitability.
Numerous studies have highlighted that timesheet accuracy diminishes significantly when employees don’t capture their time immediately. So there’s a dilemma: Be productive or be accurate.
Technology has provided a solution
The good news is that the problems of late and inaccurate timesheets have been solved. TimeTracker by Openhour (www.openhour.com) is a plug-in solution that automatically captures work activity, intelligently assigns proper billing codes, and generates real-time timesheets for easy clean-up and submission to virtually any financial workflow. With a global footprint, TimeTracker is answering the global problem that Rick highlights.
Executives must implement the solution
So the truth is out: manual timesheets are ineffective and impossible to do; accurate timesheet data is critical for agency survival; and a true solution exists. Executives can no longer demand that employees do the impossible without giving them the tools to get their job done.
To suggest that “[timesheets] are an outright lie” and that electronic capture tools cannot work indicates a contempt for the process without research of the existing technology. For example, Openhour TimeTracker has empowered many agencies and creative professionals around the globe to understand their company’s metrics and improve their productivity, profitability and employee job satisfaction.
Timesheets can build a better culture
For timesheets to be effective, they must respect personal privacy first and foremost. This process must be 100% about informing peers to help them get their work done. It must not even hint of being a surveillance tool. If you cannot achieve personal privacy, stop and start again.
The process must be dead-simple…preferably automatic…and highly accurate. An effective timesheet process must allow the billable employee to adjust the timesheet before submitting it. There are simply too many scenarios where the data needs to be altered, not the least of which is the recording of personal activity, such as when employees work at home in between personal activities.
Once a tool empowers more fluid communication between departments…with less effort and tension, benefits become obvious and pervasive. Timesheets don’t kill creativity. Bad processes kill creativity. When the process gets out of the way, people perform better and the company grows.
Efficiency and productivity yield better informed client teams and enable billable employees to focus on their work (instead of timesheet admin). That’s a win-win-win that pleases employees, executives and most importantly clients.
Mark Hirsch is the CEO and Founder of Openhour a cloud-based productivity platform focused on the professional services industry. The initial product, Time Tracker, automates the time and activity reporting process by integrating with the world’s most popular software and tools (including Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, calendars, phones, and more).
In addition to freeing up employee and management time, the result is highly accurate, data-driven insights that help individuals and organizations capture more revenue, reduce costs, streamline processes and have better visibility into their operations. Real-time data for On Demand business.