Time Tracking: Friend or Foe of Engineering Productivity?

· 4 min read
Time Tracking: Friend or Foe of Engineering Productivity?

Imagine you’re an engineering manager at a tech startup overseeing a fully remote team of developers. Features are being delivered behind schedule, littered with bugs. Your developers are taking longer and longer to complete tasks. You try contacting them on Slack or email, but their responses are slow and sporadic. You have no real window into how they are spending their days.

Your boss is starting to come down hard, demanding to know why development velocity has slowed to a crawl. You try to explain that with a remote team, you have less oversight. But the excuses are starting to wear thin.

To get insight into where your team’s time is going, you implement a time-tracking process and calendar syncing despite knowing the team will resist being micromanaged.

Soon after starting Tracking, tensions rise. Your team hates having their days dissected into quantified chunks. They push back against being measured like this, saying it suppresses creativity and autonomy. They start gaming the system, tweaking their logged hours, and adding fake time. Instead of providing visibility, the time data becomes meaningless.

Track Your Time to Boost Productivity

I know time tracking is a pain, but it can actually make your life as an engineering manager way easier! When you start tracking how much time tasks take, you get this crystal clear picture of where your team’s hours go each day. Suddenly, you can spot problem areas you didn’t even realize existed.

For example, code reviews consistently take way longer than you scheduled for them. Now you know reviews are a bottleneck, so you can dig into why and fix it. Boom — smoother sailing on features across the board.

Time tracking also helps you keep budgets under control. If a task starts blowing up its estimated time, you find out right away instead of after the fact. Then, you can take action to rein it in. No more nasty budget surprises down the line.

Don’t underestimate how time Tracking improves communication, too. When everyone can see each other’s tasks and time spent, they stay in sync. Nobody’s wondering, “Who was supposed to do that?” or “When is this due?” anymore.

Some of your engineers might even want to track their personal time to help them maximize their own productivity. Apps like Toggl make it simple for them to do.

Finally, time data helps you build realistic schedules. When you know how long tasks truly take, you can estimate durations like a pro. Your project timelines will be way more accurate.

Tracking time requires some investment up front, but trust me, it pays off big time. Use it to take the guesswork out of resource and task management. Give it a few weeks, and you’ll be hooked on the insights it delivers.

The Case Against Time Tracking

We often see detailed time tracking as the path to increased productivity. Log how engineers spent last week, identify inefficiencies, and optimize workflows.

In reality, mandated time tracking can seriously backfire for engineering teams. Here’s why you should reconsider before imposing detailed time accounting.

First, time tracking pressures engineers to focus on checking boxes over solving hard problems. When you judge engineers by the hour, they prioritize superficial busywork that’s easy to log over substantive efforts like deep thinking and complex problem-solving. Don’t let logging hours trump real impact.

Second, strict time tracking shatters the creative flow, which is vital to quality engineering. Constantly interrupting work to log tasks hampers concentration, problem-solving, and innovation. Give your team large blocks of uninterrupted time so they can truly focus.

Their best work will come from getting into a flow state.
Most importantly, mandated time tracking breeds distrust, not collaboration, especially with new team members. Micromanaging engineers convey that they can’t be trusted to do their jobs. This adversarial dynamic poisons morale and motivation.

Instead, focus on outcomes and trust your engineers to achieve them in their own ways. They’ll respond with ownership and loyalty.

Some light time tracking can be helpful in moderation. However, imposing detailed hour-by-hour accounting usually backfires. Support your team’s autonomy, creativity, and intrinsic motivation. Avoid needless distractions and focus on real impact. Both your engineers and products will thrive as a result.

Implementing Time Tracking While Keeping Your Team Onboard

Want to track how your developers spend their time? Time data can provide useful insights to improve efficiency. But you need to bring the team along to make it work.

Be upfront from the start. Tell developers exactly what time data you plan to collect and how you’ll use it. Make it crystal clear you aim to improve overall team performance, not micromanage them. Share back findings so they benefit too.

Stay flexible on time accounting. Don’t demand strict minute-by-minute Tracking. Give developers latitude to manage their own time. Refrain from hawkish monitoring or scolding for “unproductive” periods. Respect their judgment.

Get your team’s input early on potential upsides and pitfalls of time tracking. Incorporate their feedback into the approach. Make it a collaborative effort, not a top-down mandate.

Set realistic targets for time estimate accuracy. Perfection is tough. Aim for “close enough” without overburdening developers. Give room for learning curves and adjustments down the road.

Regularly step back from detailed data. Look at high-level trends and takeaways that could inform improvements. Time stats are only one piece of the puzzle.

With transparency and trust from the start, you can tap time tracking’s benefits without sacrificing autonomy or morale. Stay open, flexible, and focused on big-picture gains.