theres_more_than_one_way.jpgWe get calls at our office reasonably often that start like this:

“We need a project management system,” the caller asks.

“What kind of project management system do you need?” we reply.

“You know,” the caller says somewhat frustrated at our questions, “the kind of system that manages projects.”

There are, of course many different kinds of project management systems.

Given that we spend so much of our life at HMS in the enterprise timesheet space we also get this call even more frequently:

“We need a timesheet,” the caller says.

“Great,” we reply.  “HMS publishes a timesheet called TimeControl.  What kind of timesheet are you looking for?”

“Um,” the caller says, confused.  “How many kinds can there be?”

Quite a few turns out to be the answer.

The point of the conversation is the same in both cases.  Whether you’re looking for a project management system or a timesheet system, you need to start with articulating the nature of your business challenge.  You need a timesheet? To do what?  What is the specific problem you think our TimeControl might solve?

But, as I’m updating one of some of collateral on the subject over at, I thought I’d share just how different timesheet systems can be.  Here are a few categories that we deal with often:

Time and Attendance

Time and Attendance timesheets are by far the most popular type of timesheet.  There is a Time and Attendance timesheet that is part of almost every financial system and typically these timesheets are tied to the Payroll system.  The primary focus of a Time and Attendance timesheet is documenting how much time each employee was at work and how that employee should be paid for this time.  Time and Attendance systems are interested in the start time of the work day and the end time of the work day.  Such systems are often tied to physical devices which are descendants of the old punch clock.  Today’s clocks may be a swipe card or proximity card system or a fingerprint or retina display.

Time and Attendance timesheets also have screen entry.  Sometimes it’s made available to all the employees, sometimes just for their supervisors.  The screen interface manages the exceptions such as whether special pay is required for overtime, exception days such as holidays, vacation or, sick leave.

Time and Attendance timesheets are divided into two types of entry: Positive-Entry or By-Exception.  A Positive-Entry system requires each employee to complete his or her timesheet for a given period.  A By-Exception timesheet requires a timesheet only for recording absences with the reason for the absence.

Time and Billing

Time and Billing systems are most commonly used for professionals such as lawyers, accountants, engineers and consultants but are also often found within large organizations for internal chargeback of hours between departments.  The basic purpose of a time and billing system is to capture hours, apply rates to those hours and then generate and justify invoices to clients.  The key element of each detail item is the client identifier.  Most time and billing systems allow for a descriptive element.  This is to ensure that there is enough information to justify an invoice for each period.  Terms such as “project” and “task” are common in such systems but they are usually best thought of as qualifiers for an invoice rather than a pre-determined set of tasks each with a schedule, budget and scope.

Time and Billing systems are often driven by per-client or per-project rates rather than per-employee rates schemes.

Human Resources exception timesheets

HR Departments will also often require a timesheet to track time spent out of the office on “exceptions” to being present.  This is sometimes done as part of the payroll’s time and attendance system and sometimes done distinctly.  HR is often tasked with tracking the entitlements of employees such as remaining sick leave, vacation time, personal time off or other such time and ensuring that policies regarding the time allotted and time taken per employee are respected.

Task-based, Project-update timesheets

These days, almost every project scheduling system includes some kind of timesheet entry.  These interfaces are designed to allow end-users to enter time against planned activities.  The timesheet data, once entered, is used to update the activity’s resource progress.  There is often some level of project-manager approval commonly referred to as line-item approval.

For many project management environments, this type of timesheet is all that is required.  However, these timesheets and the architecture used to produce them are rarely sufficient for financial purposes.  Most project management systems are, by their very nature, forward-looking analytical tools.  For a planner, the actual-hours per task is only interesting to the degree it reveals the future.  A planner, for example, might elect to delete a task from a project.  Perhaps future plans have changed and no additional work will be done on that task.  Or, perhaps the task will be replaced by two or three other tasks which have been now defined in more detail.  No problem for the planner, they are only interested in what will happen in the future.  For anyone interested in historical timesheet data, however, there may be more of a problem.  In many project-update systems, the loss or change of an activity means the automatic removal of any data linked to that task.  Even if data is not deleted, the financial controls for timesheet data such as post-period adjustments, financial approvals, and business rules compliance are rarely managed within such systems.  Even simple functions such as determining if all timesheets have been entered are often not supported in such a system.  This makes project-update timesheets best suited when only the project data must be updated. 

Field Data Collection Timesheet

For those working in industrial situations such as heavy construction, mining, ship building, pipeline laying or plant shutdowns, the type of timesheets we’ve described aren’t sufficient.  In these kinds of situations, crews will work as a unit on different elements of work on a given shift and, at the end of that shift, their foreman or shift supervisor will be called upon to record what work was completed in that period of time.

There will probably already be some kind of Time and Attendance system that records when employees arrive at the site and depart.  This is often also used for safety, when miners descend into a mine for example.  But that will be insufficient to determine what work was required.

A field data collection timesheet will need to be able to record timesheet for the entire crew as well as any materials consumed and any equipment used.  They will need to record information about the crew’s shift including possibly weather, safety incidents, location and anything else that might affect the project or the crew’s performance.  Often the amount of output produced will also have to be documented.

Multi-purpose timesheets

But wait.  Did you find that you needed more than one of these systems?  As I’ve written here and elsewhere in the past, this can result in multiple timesheet systems being deployed.  In a worst case scenario, an employee might be required to fill in 2 or 3 or more timesheets at the end of their week in order to fulfill the data requirements for multiple systems.

Our own TimeControl was designed because of this exact problem and as a result, is a highly flexible timesheet that can fulfill multiple purposes at one time.