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Tracking Time the ROWE way

Chris Kelly

ROWE means getting results done and not worrying about when it happens or how long it takes. This is a great way to get things done, but the amount of time spent on tasks can be an extremely useful metric.

At Highgroove, we’re strictly ROWE: it doesn’t matter what hours we work or how much time we spend on things, as long as the work gets done and the customer is happy. Some people work the 9 to 5 while others work off and on 24 hours a day. Some people manage how they get things done with tools like paper or Things.app, and everyone has a different workload and different set of customers they interact. This is great because tons of work gets done and we don’t have to continually interrupt ourselves to track how much time we are spending on projects.

That said, tracking time comes in very handy for us in two ways. First up: new hires that are new to ROWE and not used to having the freedom and flexibility to work however they want don’t always pick it up right away. Imagine that you’re used to someone telling you what to do every minute of your day and suddenly:

  • The office is regularly half-full due to people working crazy hours and/or working remotely (from home, other cities, and other states)
  • All meetings are optional and people regularly skip things that feel they don’t need to go to
  • Someone leaves work early because they got a beta invite to Star Wars: The Old Republic and want to start playing
  • Beer is poured right after lunch on Friday

Sounds like, uh, time to just go sit by the pool and read comic books! That works for a day or few, but when your project falls on it’s face and your customer is unhappy, you probably won’t have a job for long.

Until new developers at Highgroove feel comfortable that they have ROWE figured out, they are encouraged to track their time with Freckle or TicToc or something similar. This isn’t used for firing people or judging performance or billing, but when combined with good metrics like customer satisfaction it’s extremely useful: 20 hours a week and your 100% project’s customer is happy means that you get more responsibilities if you want (and more pay). 60 hours a week and an unhappy customer means that something isn’t working right, and that something (project management, responsibilities, development practices, customer communication and expectations, etc) needs to change.

Once developers get a feel for how to get work done where only results matter, the time tracking can go away which tends to make people happier more and productive.

However, the second useful case for time tracking is that developers track their time because they want to and they find it to be useful for gauging their efforts. For some, knowing that 40 hours of work done makes it easier to skip out early on Friday. For others, it’s a handy way to divide up effort between multiple projects.

A handful of us have started using RescueTime which sits in the background and figures out if your computer usage is productive or not. This is a fantastic tool because it requires no effort or data entry and gives you similar metrics about time spent on projects. I was able to see that those two weeks that I spent playing what seemed like far too many hours of Kingdom Rush may have affected other things, but didn’t prevent me from spending the usual amount of time on work and getting all of my work done.

Do you track your time even if the numbers are only for you? Is the mere thought of time tracking enough to send you running in the opposite direction?

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