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A typical difficulty in implementing time tracking in companies is that employees are rarely engaged with time tracking tasks, seeing them as a waste of time. I'm wondering if a gamification approach to time tracking would help, or if it's possible to identify metrics that, shown to employees, activate a positive feedback loop in time tracking.

Would gamification increase employee engagement with time tracking?

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You're starting with the assumption that the employees are wrong and that time tracking is a good use of time. Perhaps you could explain exactly why time tracking is valuable to your organization in order to help us answer your question. –  Dane Feb 27 at 14:47
    
The scope of your question has narrowed to avoid closure as an opinion poll. Feel free to edit further if necessary. –  CodeGnome Feb 27 at 16:37
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@Dane While that should certainly be evaluated by the business itself, it's not relevant to this question. It's sufficient to accept the premise that time tracking is necessary, and that the answers should address the practical aspects of implementing it in an engaging way. –  Adam Davis Feb 27 at 17:26
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@AdamDavis I've thrown my hat in the ring with an answer. I believe that the purpose of time-tracking is important to consider for this question. As my answer indicates, however, I believe that gamification is unnecessary if the value is real and known. –  Dane Feb 27 at 18:57
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The problem with gamification is that it does what it says on the tin: it turn things into a game. And things than can be gamed get abused. I'm not sure you want that for time-tracking... –  haylem Feb 28 at 10:17
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4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

My team uses Lego to track work done and what we're spending our time on.

This was our last iteration (two weeks):

Enter image description here

The section at the front shows task completion. White bricks are added when a task is developer done and committed, orange bricks are added when they're QA complete.

The section at the back shows what people spent their time on by day. We have:

  • Green: time working on tasks for the team and project specific meetings (estimation, planning, etc.).
  • Red: time spent fixing flaky tests, broken builds, etc.
  • Blue: meetings external to the team (developer communities of practice, etc.)
  • Black: misc interruptions.

This is how the same iteration looked when laid out flat:

Enter image description here

(We had some issues with our continuous integration (CI) in that iteration!)

It works quite well, and people are more inclined to play with Lego than they are filling in information on a tracking tool!

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That's an awesome idea... Really! However, I am just curious about something: What is the unit? One lego brick is like 1 hour? 1 day? –  valeuf Feb 27 at 23:30
    
A 1x1 brick is 1hr on the time tracking bit. –  Ben Feb 27 at 23:32
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Wow that's a great idea! Although it doesn't allow for detailed reporting (for example I doubt I can extract how the time of "John Doe" was divided among "Green"/"Red"/"Blue"/"Black"). –  d.grassi84 Feb 28 at 7:16
    
@d.grassi Actually, it looks like the G/R/B/B is indeed per-person in the first picture - it was sorted and laid flat for the second. –  Riking Feb 28 at 7:22
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Not per person, per day of the iteration. We're less interested in what individuals are doing and more how the team spends it's time collectively. Could be adapted for individuals if that's important to you though –  Ben Feb 28 at 9:20
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In my opinion, gamification of time-tracking shows that you've either failed to do anything worthwhile with time-tracking data, or you've failed to communicate the worthwhile things that you have done.

A random website gives these as the top reasons to track time:

  1. Data for future project costing/estimation.
  2. The ability to value work in process (especially if you have flat rates).
  3. Data for processing payroll efficiently.
  4. Data for billing/invoicing automation.
  5. Insight into costs.

Do you use your time-tracking data to create accurate estimates? Do you ever make meaningful decisions based on the value of work in progress?

The biggest reason that I have seen that employees find time-tracking a waste of time is that the data is not honest and that it is not used for any valuable purpose. If the time-tracking data is valuable and that value is communicated, then professional employees will also value time-tracking.

  1. If you EVER move numbers or instruct employees not to track every hour worked, then they know that the data is bad and won't be useful for creating accurate estimates. You need real, honest data, and then you need to show how you used that data to create a more accurate estimate for future work.
  2. Work in progress should be valued according to tasks being accomplished, not hours worked. You must prove to your employees that your valuation of work in progress affects meaningful decisions.
  3. If you have salaried employees, the only thing they really need to track for payroll is their use of vacation/sick leave/PTO etc. That's not "time-tracking." If you have hourly employees that really get paid by the hour (and not an artificial "you will always log exactly 40 hours each week" directive), they will have plenty of monetary motivation to log their time.
  4. If you truly bill your customer in an hourly fashion, professional employees will fully comprehend the importance of logging hours so that the company can bill the customer. If you're on fixed price contracts, employees know that this is a lie. If there is a legal/contractual requirement that you log hours on a fixed price contract, explain that legal/contractual requirement.
  5. Data is not insight. This goes right back to numbers 1 and 2. Show that you make meaningful decisions based on time-tracking data and professional employees will embrace tracking time so that the decisions can be better.
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+1 for the points on making sure that the data you collect actually has value. –  Ben Feb 28 at 14:45
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"I'm wondering if a gamification approach to time tracking would help..."

I believe that gamification has the potential to solve the problem with engagement, but it also generates some serious risks of unintended consequences.

  • if very engaging, employees may spend too much time on time tracking / playing the game; this may make work more fun but may distract everyone from the core mission of the business
  • employees may learn to 'game the system' to generate more rewards from the game, while providing worse data (examples: if employees are rewarded for completing the tracking quickly, they may make mistakes; if employees are given a "most improved" badge, they may intentionally fall behind only so they can improve)

"...or if it's possible to identify metrics that, shown to employees, activate a positive feedback loop in time tracking."

This is definitely the best approach: show metrics to employees that communicate the value of this data. As Dane explains in his excellent answer, if you provide information to your employees on why this tracking data is useful to the company, then they should have a positive response to providing accurate time tracking data. "If the time-tracking data is valuable and that value is communicated, then professional employees will also value time-tracking."

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I know I came down hard on gamification, but a question I could definitely get behind would be this: "How do I effectively communicate to employees how important time-tracking is to the company?" –  Dane Feb 28 at 17:48
    
Exactly! I think the OP would like an answer to that question, since the end goal is just to have a positive feedback loop. IMO effective communication and shared goals can provide this. –  Luke Feb 28 at 19:39
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I think that gamification would help as well as make the timetracking more meaningful. The first gamification element to consider is feedback. Let the employee know their input performance right away (i.e.: how many end-of-day updates they missed/made).

Follow that up with leaderboards. Make it public who is more successful at making their targets (top n teammembers; I don't think its useful to humble the bottom n). In a large organization you may need to limit the leaderboards to departments so that the comparisons are more meaningful to the participants. Plus it's going to be the department manager who is responsible for improving the participation level. Maybe a department level leaderboard to show which departments have the best participation.

Badges can be issued for improvements/successes in participation. i.e.: successfully updated 5 days in a row, 4 weeks in a row, etc.

You probably should reward participants on a variable reward cycle. So that there is a tangible benefit to performing well in the 'game.' Variable so that there is no feeling of entitlement nor is it boring that 'the' top scorer, who can never be displaced for whatever reason, is always the winner. For example the person who earns the most badges this month gets a designated parking spot for the month.

In that most companies that I've worked for, adhesion to the time tracking polices was part of the job description, a high-level of competency in performing this job duty should be rewarded (higher evaluation during performance appraisal = increased merit raise or bonus). Therefore performing well in the game would also provide a tangible benefit. Performing poorly would lead to increased training, counseling, etc.

As noted in other responses above, gamification is not going to be as helpful if there is no useful purpose to gathering time tracking metrics.

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Just for your consideration when comparing employees: at one company I worked for with insane time-tracking policies, some folks would bill 100% of a day to a single code (say a developer dedicated to a big project), whereas I touched multiple projects on more than one code per project, resulting in having 30 or 40 codes used in a two-week period. Of course I would be on the bottom of the list and the one-code guy could easily stay at the top. Also, said company had a shame board (bottom performers), but nobody cared because we knew those folks had the most complex time sheets. –  Dane Feb 27 at 22:03
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I would be very wary of unintended side effects. The rules of the game may lead to some people gaming the system and thereby entering in bad data. Bad data could be worse than no data at all. –  Luke Feb 27 at 23:09
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