Time Tracking: Turning Developer Burden into an Engaged Activity

Time tracking in development teams comes in various shapes, forms, and sizes
Use Cases
Eduardo Levenfeld
February 20, 2022
Time Tracking: Turning Developer Burden into an Engaged Activity

Time tracking in development teams comes in various shapes, forms, and sizes. Without a doubt though, there is one recurring theme everyone engaged in leading agency teams and development projects faces. One that comes full circle like clockwork towards the end of every month: challenges around creating invoices based on time logs. Reasons: colourful, yet a little less than desirable.

Team lead: "Mike, what was it you were you working on during the second half on Tuesday? You know, for the travel platform guys from Portsmouth."

[Out of respect for Mike, imaginary as he may be, we leave out his reply where he struggles giving an on-point answer.]

Team lead: "Yes, I definitely want you to check back on that in your notes. But next time can you just fill your time logs on time in the tool?"

But it’s not just having to track everyone’s steps back in detail throughout logs that you wish had a little less semblance with a 5,000-piece puzzle of a starry night sky. Getting on call with a client for a line item review isn’t necessarily among the most anticipated engagements of any software development leader. This holds all the more true if it is to explain generalistic entries such as “coding”, “testing” or “analysing”.

And aren’t coding-flow-breaking questions for your developers such as "Where were you last Tuesday at 3.40pm?" best reserved for crime scene investigators in trenchcoats? (Ideally on TV, and ideally not towards your developers – unless they have an approved side gig as a movie extra.)

Let Science Lead the Way

As with any challenge, addressing the symptomatic consequences requires first understanding their source. We find them strongly linked to the motivational factors specific to software developers, as scientific research shows:

Considering the nature of software development, its results come as no surprise. The study underpins that technically challenging work, recognition for work done as well as rewards and incentives are front and centre in instilling and maintaining motivation for developers in their day-to-day.

Enquiring with them whether they find these drivers present in time tracking will invariably produce all but extremely rare moments of enthusiastic confirmations.

Curating a Culture of Time Tracking that People Welcome‍

This beckons one key question: how can we leverage these scientific insights to evolve an intellectually uninspiring yet essential task into an activity that sees your engineers thrive instead of dive?

Science has you covered. Enter the flow cycle.

The cycle consists of the following 4 phases:

Struggle. This phase is where most of us stop. It embodies the difficulty of leaving our comfort zone as well as the resistance towards starting activities we consider boring, or even complex.

Release. When we make it past the first phase, our struggle is released and being engaged in action becomes easier.

Flow. This is right where the magic happens: actions and awareness merge, your activity becomes almost effortless. You’re in the zone. Execution happens naturally and often time feels like it’s flying by.

Recovery. This final phase is often overlooked yet essential after being in flow. Taking time off and away from the screen is important to give yourself an opportunity to recharge the batteries for your next challenge. Good options for this are resting or exercising.

Towards Joy and Engagement: The Path from Struggle to Flow

Finding a way to run this full cycle more often is key to resolving our developer time tracking puzzle. Even where this need has clearly emerged, there’s a risk to try and keep the wheel spinning with the wrong kind of grease: merely communicating around the goal will only go so far and tends to taper off in effect soon. Worse, leveraging negative consequences for non-compliance and other means centred around forcedavoidance are almost bound to fail and harm the culture of teams or entire organisations.

What’s needed is incorporating habits that speak to a mix of flow triggers aligned with both intrinsic (good for habit maintenance) and extrinsic (good for taking action).

These strengths are unified under the concept of one umbrella: gamification. In itself, gamification delivers on engaging several triggers like “fun”, “winning” and “perks” at once. Weaving the intrinsic and extrinsic into a coherent formula, it helps implement and maintain habits like time tracking that without it seem a burden more than anything.

Gamification in Action

Not unlike reinforcement learning in machine learning, your gamification solution is executed as a gentle yet consistent cultural behaviour nurture for developers. This requires first clearly defining habits and processes you wish to see more of.

Then rally your team and leaders around those in a gamified recognition program and fuel their enthusiasm. In our example: make logging hours right after task completion something that cultivates a sense of accomplishment. This doesn’t take away from big-ticket success stories, but inspires a notion of little personal everyday wins.

These goals are best achieved via the two following interconnected pillars.

Tools & Visibility

The last thing you want is execution becoming an extra burden in your everyday operations for your teams and leaders. Technology designed specifically for the intersection of rewards and gamification flows can bring them on board seamlessly from day 1 and help drive visibility.

A solution developed specifically to solve this problem and truly enable developers and leaders alike is Yera. It offers several flexible types of gaming elements and allows integration and automation with tools like Jira, Jira Tempo, Slack, Trello, Wrike, and Azure. Foundationally, this not only fully enables the desired outcomes for time tracking but is directly extendable to delivery, quality and other processes including agile cycles.

Culture & Motivation‍

Understanding scientifically what gets software developers flowing with motivation is essential. Round it off by getting a good feel on the pulse of your people as individuals to know how to keep them engaged personally. Companies are a team sport in their own right, and rewarding groups instead of individuals usually works better, but this can vary. So finally, invite everyone for an open discussion around how exactly rewarding should be done.

When it comes to rewards specifically, we recommend reviewing Yera as a solution along with its Perk Store. This feature hosts a catalogue of rewards that people can freely choose from, which can alternatively be enhanced with your own or an additional results-based system.

Game for the Win‍

Engagement matters. With employees as much as with customers. It transcends and influences processes, short- to long-term change management, and business results. Where it really shines is when activities considered boring or simply plain laborious are enriched with positive outcomes and rewards. For this type of result both extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors need to be considered and applied in the equation.

According to research this can even increase the creativity of your developers.

To achieve this, combine gamification elements, flow state triggers, a broad range of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation sources. The most effective approach in this context is technology developed to address exactly this goal in a seamless, integrated manner: Yera has your back. You’ll be surprised by how much your former moan moments turn into crowd pleasers amongst your developers. You’ll connect and engage them  positively with their process and in tune drive their job satisfaction – while unlocking previously unleveraged hidden potential for new and elevated business outcomes.

The graphics in this article - "Software Engineer Motivators" | "The Flow Cycle" | "Triggers of Flow State" | "Gamification" | - leverage and were created based on the following 3rd party research:

1) Sharp, Helen; Baddoo, Nathan; Beecham, Sarah; Hall, Tracy, and Robinson, Hugh (2009). Models of motivation in software engineering information and Software Technology", 51(1)pp. 219-233.

2) Kotler, Steven (2021). The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer.

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