One thing that I noticed is that lots of employees forget to log the number of hours that they worked on a task. Is there a way to provide incentives for them to measure their work accurately? (either in time spent or progress on a specific task)
Generally I explain to my team members that time tracking is important element to improve the way we work and my incentive is to explain why I ask them that: In short :
I split task into category (like realization, test, and deployment) and ask them to give accurate number in this category if they can’t do better
I explain them that estimations are based on previous experiences and so I will consider that same work will take almost the same time and will give the same repartition between categories. So wrong or incomplete information, will give us a bad estimation. Sometimes it could be overwork to do; others times our proposition will just be too costly and we won’t work on an interesting project regarding competitors.
I explain them also, that analysis during (or at the end of) the project will help to understand where we must improve. By example, if the realization budget category is globally correct but we explode in validation, it may have 2 significations :
a. We didn’t finish correctly the work and so we paid it after in validation (by bug and overwork)
b. Customers change his mind and it’s important to show it to management. So by doing correct tracking they can preserve their work and their time.
First, +1 to Michael on getting the value out and understood by people on the team. This is important for people to find value in it because if you don't care, they won't care. If you're just bubbling it up because you have to, your team will sense that and agree with you... in the negative way.
The next thing is to make it easy and meaningful to how they work day to day. It's good practice for me to break my tasks down incredibly small so I have very directed inch-pebbles against which to work. At the same time, I won't do this if I have to break it down that small for reporting purposes. Consider having people report on items that are larger... perhaps multiple days. This allows easy "I worked 8 hours yesterday, and it was on this" instead of "I spent 15 minutes on this, 45 on that, and I think i touched this other thing, but forget it because I don't know how long I spent"
Finally, consider more balanced ways of aggregate reporting. In Scrum teams, can you bill/report on overall staffing for a 2 week period instead of using individual time sheets (contractors excepted)? Allocation to R&D isn't too bad in those cases because you have the list of committed and delivered scope to use in justification.
I've never found a positive, constructive and team empowering approach to this... (so, I'm hoping someone else has a better answer!!)
Generally, team members get little value in their actual hours listed for a task. People believe they can (perhaps mistakenly) get a good feel for over/under estimation based on the pain they have suffered in completing a task. So, you are fighting a fair amount of apathy. However, ff you can give the team a reason that -makes sense- to them, they will record actuals. (rather than view it as "useless busy work")
The best justifiable reason I have found is - In the US, you can qualify for corporate tax breaks if so much of your activity is in "R&D" activities. You need to keep books to back this up, and the breaks can be quite large sometimes. (There also can be regulatory reasons why the company -needs- to record its employee's time...)
The best way to ensure the actuals are filled in is - Have a morning stand-up (5 minutes) to review yesterday's activities and state today's plan. As PM, you can gently (but effectively) ask/remind people to update their actual hours on tasks and you can have a 1-on-1 with team members who are chronically late in filling them in.
hope this helps!
Not enough context here.
Is this a contracting firm that bills by the hour/day, or is this a product development shop that makes money off of its wares?
In the former, make it as easy for them as possible. It's an interruptive discipline, so you're working against climate. My company measures client work in days, with the understanding that a 10-hour day is no more valuable (and probablyless) than an 8-hour day. It simplifies accounting.
If you are a product shop, don't bother. Seriously, don't measure individual employee's time on a particular task because it doesn't matter. It matters that they do things that make you money, and you're paying for the whole day of time anyway. Concentrate on doing the right things, not measuring the time spent in doing them.
Also be aware that optimizing time-on-task is a bad idea for a development shop, because it lends itself to a culture of minimal time for effect; this in turns drives up defects and technical debt, which drives down productivity, predictability, and ultimately customer satisfaction. Be sure you really want to do this.
If you are their manager why not just tell them you are requiring it now as part of reporting that you need, or want, to do? Have them each submit a sheet at the end of the day containing major milestone/project related accomplishments, other accomplishments that are part of a larger project, and significant roadblocks. We just recently started tracking at this level. The daily tasks of all employees will then be consolidated by the manager. At the end of the year there will be 52 weeks of neat reports with each weeks major milestones.