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Here’s the Thing Development Leaders Get Wrong About Time Tracking

We get a number of surprising questions from managers and leaders using the 7pace product. In particular, we get a number of questions that let us know they are using the app in completely the wrong way.

One of the most common:

“What do I do if my developers say something will take 5 hours and it takes 10 instead?!”

You can hear the panic in their voice just reading it.

It’s natural and understandable to want to react to this scenario in some way. As a manager, it sucks. You had specific expectations – and likely communicated those to others–that turned out not to be reality.

The knee-jerk reaction is to take some kind of action to reconcile this discrepancy. There must be a way to right the books and make sure this doesn’t happen again.

After all, time is money, right?
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But this misses the bigger point which is why this discrepancy exists in the first place. It may be that the engineer in question did not have the necessary skills or knowledge to complete the task in the expected timeframe. Or it could be that they did a poor job of estimating how long the job would take.

In either case, the burden for improving future efforts ultimately falls on that developer.

They either need to focus on growing their own abilities–so that this task would, in fact, only take 5 hours rather than 10. Or, they need to better understand their capabilities so far as it allows them to more accurately gauge the amount of work for a specific task.

No amount of chastising or punishment here will help the situation.

This is the central thing that most development managers don’t seem to understand about the role of time in software development and the role of time tracking as a tool.

When we created 7pace, we didn’t do it because we wanted to build something that gave managers a better way to keep an eye on their team. We wanted to give developers a way to track and measure their own performance over time and without extra effort. We wanted to create a fitness tracker for engineering ability.

The reason is that we know that developers do their best work when they’re powered by intrinsic motivation – when they’re driven by their own desire to solve difficult problems and improve their own abilities.

Any skilled engineer with sufficient motivation and interest in the work they are doing will have a drive and desire to improve their own performance over time. Just as people hope to improve their own performance and physical fitness when it comes to running, swimming, or lifting weights.

And through that mechanism, companies and managers will also benefit.

When given the right circumstances – and absent the wrong ones – engineers will increase their abilities and their productivity over time. They will learn to solve new problems in less time and how to more effortless control every minute and hour of their day.

But this kind of progress can’t be heaped upon them by a manager dictating from a timesheet.

The disconnect between management and engineers when it comes to time is largely a matter of who owns it–how it should be tracked, managed, and spent.

So how should managers deal with scenarios in which developers don’t meet their estimates?

In the same way they would deal with their team member not meeting a fitness goal or an activity challenge. Give them the information and encourage them to set goals and work toward those outcomes. Then, let them figure out the best way to move forward.

At the end of the day, it’s their time – it’s their life. They’re the only one who can ever truly own it.

7pace Timetracker is the only integrated, professional time management solution for teams using Azure DevOps.

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