Friday, March 14, 2008

Lack of Motivation for Time Tracking

While waiting in the airport to head back to Seattle from SXSW (SXSWi was awesome BTW) I got to thinking about why it is so hard to get good data on how long it takes to perform tasks.

I ran across the following quote and it got me to thinking:
A typical problem, a few organizations in this industry face is collecting the required and accurate data. The performing teams needs to be oriented towards the importance of collecting data in an accurate manner. The team needs to be appraised on how the data collected is going to benefit their organization in future projects. Once the team is aware of how important the data collected is, how the data is going to be used etc., accurate data collection process will automatically be part of the project execution system.

- Size Based Estimation For Legacy Applications, G. Varghese and V. N. Iyer, 2005
Well now, that’s such wishful thinking I don’t really know where to start. Yup, just tell those developers why it is so important that they fill out the time card and I’m sure they’ll be happy to jump right on it. The key line in this is “how the data collected is going to benefit their organization” (emphasis mine). Few people really give a crap about how something will benefit their organization. They care about how things will benefit them personally. Now if you’re lucky these things are aligned. But in this case they are so not aligned that it would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

If it were that simple there would be no struggle to get folks to fill out timecards or use other time tracking software. They simply would because what’s good for the organization is good for them, right? Rising tide, all boats, blah blah blah. Right.

Let me put it this way. Developers (professional ones anyway) typically demand source code management software. Try telling your developers that you want to get rid of their SCM and use simple file shares because it has less bureaucracy and is faster. Go on, try it. I’ll wait…
Oh, you’re back already? How’d that work for you?

Not so good huh?

Well it’s not friggin’ surprising since the developers can see a clear group benefit as well as a personal benefit to using SCM. They can see an immediate impact upon their own lives and how happy they are from doing this even though for any one action it is clearly harder.

Now time tracking… what’s in it for me? This is one of those “the dog didn’t bark” things. See if it really were true that filling out a time card improved how everything worked then everyone would be doing it. You’d have to fight your developers to pry their time cards from their cold dead fingers. So I’m claiming that the fact that nobody much really likes to fill out time cards suggests that there’s really no personal benefit to doing so.

Until we can make it obviously beneficial to the individual to track their time, they either won’t, or will do it very poorly.