Why we’ve never completed time-sheets and why we’re just about to start.

When I started our firm, I was clear that we would not introduce timesheets and that we would agree fixed monthly fees with our clients, I viewed this as one decision not two.

My view on timesheets was that they take time to complete and that often, staff don’t complete them accurately. Having inaccurate information can also be worse than having no information at all. If we were going to bill fixed monthly fees then timesheets wouldn’t be required for billing purposes.

Anybody who ever leaves practice always tells me “I’m so happy that I never have to complete a timesheet again”, so clearly there is a morale issue amongst those completing timesheets. Furthermore, there is also the fact that timesheets are a staple of the professional service firms of old, if we are going to carve out a reputation for innovation, surely we need to shake off such an anchor.

I still broadly stand by all of the above beliefs, however as our business grows, I am less able to absorb every activity and conversation that happens in the firm, I therefore find myself reaching for statistics that are not available, how much time has gone into client A? What is the profitability of the B department? Are our assumptions around non-chargeable time accurate?

As a business owner I work long hours and often ask myself, where did all that time go? Again, a question I could not answer, I therefore decided to impose time sheet completion upon myself and I’ve been surprised by the results. For accuracy purposes, I knew that timesheets needed to be completed in real time and not on a Friday afternoon. I therefore signed up to Harvest, which can log time as a chrome extension from any webpage and on my phone with an inbuilt timer.

I’ve found that I’ve become much more task oriented, instead of trying to do five things at the same time, I focus on one and take it to completion. I’m also more accountable with my time and spend less time on activities that don’t contribute to our aims. I’ve therefore found that whilst the timesheets take time to complete, this is outweighed by increased productivity.

My initial asserting that hourly billing and timesheets are intrinsically linked is also obviously wrong, we can still have fixed fees and record our time, we need to know which client relationships are working well and which ones need attention.

So how do I ensure the data captured is accurate when my colleagues start completing timesheets? From a practical perspective, we need to make it as easy as possible to record time. We’re going to be issuing all colleagues with basic tablets running the time recording app (This is also to facilitate multi-factor authentication for logins). We also need to issue clear guidance that it’s OK to record activities such as making tea and that where we think some things are taking longer than they should, we will be supportive and give guidance as opposed to being critical. It’s also my hope that making clear how valuable this data is to the running of the firm will ensure a good buy in to accurate completion. Everybody knows that if the firm is profitable then we can afford to give pay rises and make further investments.

So what about the morale issue? Well we will have to wait and see on that, the data collected will be one of several factors affecting future remuneration reviews and we will ensure that team are paid their hourly rate for all the time they work. Hopefully they trust us enough to see it as a worthy process.

I’m sure timesheets will continue to be a hotly discussed topic but ultimately if I had a client who bought and sold tens of thousands of pounds of physical product without tracking it, I’d be having words!

Portt Ltd is registered in England & Wales, company number 9640521, registered at 19 Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, London W2 6LG, UK