Scrum Rules: As a Team Member I Do Not Track My Hours or My 'Actual' Time on Tasks

August 10, 2020
7 minute read

Scrum considers tracking the time individuals spend on individual tasks to be wasteful effort. Scrum is only concerned about time when it comes to the time-boxes of the Sprint and Sprint meetings. Scrum also supports sustainable development, which implies working sustainable hours.

When it comes to the completion of Product Backlog Items and tasks, the team is committed to delivering value. The PBIs and tasks in the Sprint Backlog represent the work that the team has identified for delivering on its committed increment of potentially releasable value for the current Sprint. The tasks themselves have no value and therefore should not be tracked. Scrum is only concerned about burning down to value delivered. Time spent on individual tasks is irrelevant. What if I track my hours or my “actual” time on tasks? This promotes a culture of “bums in seats” – that it is more important for people to be busy at any cost instead of getting valuable, high-quality results. This also promotes bad habits such as forcing work into billable hours even though it is not valuable for the client. Overall, time tracking in a Scrum environment does much harm and can undermine the entire framework.

Organizations track hours for a few different reasons. However, we acknowledge that for any situation, this is a difficult practice to change. In Scrum, we try to change from individual task-based tracking to team sprint-based tracking. This change depends upon a number of other rules of Scrum including that all Scrum Team Members are full time on a single Scrum Team working on a single product. Therefore, it is necessary to deal with those rules first before trying to make this improvement. Depending on which reason or reasons your organization demands hours be tracked, different practical techniques will help to adopt this rule of Scrum.

  1. Billing or Accounting

    Financial tracking of costs is important. There are two sub-categories here: billable vs. non-billable hours and capital vs. operational expenses. In both cases, the solution is the same or similar: put a billable/capital value on each Sprint. Charge the client per Sprint, or account for the capital value of each Sprint, using a consistent dollar figure. For example, a team with 10 people working on a 1-week Sprint for a client might be billed out at $40,000/Sprint. If you break that down to an hourly billing rate it equals $100/hr. As another example, if your accounting department is using a fully-loaded rate per team member of $50/hr for cost tracking, and the team is averaging 70% capital work vs. 30% operational work, then with the same team as the previous example, the capital expense per Sprint is $14,000. Working out these numbers is only the first step. Clients and stakeholders will need to be “sold” on this simplified tracking system. Depending on the type of business you are in, and the other reasons for tracking time, this can be quite difficult and take a long time to make the changes. This is an important job for your ScrumMaster.
  2. Regulatory Compliance

    Regulations are often written to be focused on ensuring desirable outcomes. Regulations are rarely written to prescribe specific activities. As such, the first step in understanding how to stop tracking hours in a regulatory environment is to actually read the applicable regulation. In most cases, you will never see a regulation that says “employees must track hours”, or if you do, it will be in the context of being an example, rather than being a prescription. Most organizations, however, find that tracking hours is a familiar and “easy” way of accomplishing the goals of the regulation. The second step, is to talk to the people who are responsible for ensuring compliance with regulation and collaborating with them to find alternative means of achieving the regulatory outcomes without tracking hours. Because of the diversity of regulation, it is difficult to be more specific. We recommend finding an experienced consultant in your industry to help with this.

  3. Estimation and Planning

    Some organizations use past data about estimated cost/time and actual cost/time in order to try to improve future estimates and planning. This information is useful only in limited circumstances. For most environments where Scrum is applicable, and where a team is working on complex problems, there is little repeated or repeatable work done by the team. Everything is new and unique. This property of the work means that it is extremely unlikely that past data will be directly applicable to the current work. Additionally, most organizations doing this have incentives associated with making good estimates. These incentives have to be removed as they are destructive to quality and long-term productivity (this is a deep topic and can be explored more here). Again, someone working to help a team stop time tracking will need to find the people in the organization who care about time tracking for estimation and planning purposes (often a Project Management Office) and work with them to find ways of addressing their concerns and needs.

  4. Management Distrust

    Tracking time is sometimes a way for managers to see in more detail what people are working on and how they are working. This desire for transparency and detailed information is often related to past experiences with individuals working ineffectively or even in ways that are counter-productive. Sometimes, it is even because the managers don’t trust themselves, and just apply that distrust to everyone around them! This sort of challenge can only be addressed indirectly – you will never convince a manager to give up time tracking if they have this attitude about their team. Instead, such a manager should be provided with opportunities for leadership development through training, coaching or mentoring. An effective approach to this is the Leading to Real Agility program that provides one-on-one mentoring or the Certified Agile Leadership training that provides a transformative classroom environment.

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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