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Time-Tracking For Scrum Cost Control

by Dan Puckett on Feb 21, 2011 |

Kevin Krac has a question about tracking the time it takes to complete tasks in Scrum:

When a developer A leaves aside his task for a while (maybe a whole day or even two) to help another developer B with analysis or coding of a task… how should they specify the 'actual effort' of the story/task?

Should they assign the total hours they spent together working on the story/task, times 2 (because the two of them were working)? Just charge the total hours spent but accounting just for the developer that owns the task? Is it irrelevant?

Why would you want to track actual development time spent per Scrum task? One reason might be to try to control costs. Charles Bradley doesn't like that idea:

Trying to do cost accounting at the Sprint task level is trying to modify Scrum to do something it was not meant to do.

If you need to track the time for other reasons, use whatever you used before you knew about Scrum, but don't futz with the Scrum framework to do it. Further, don't try to compare the costed time (billable, whatever) to the time spent on Scrum tasks. Again, that's 'abusing' the Scrum framework, IMO.

Indeed, Ron Jeffries sees the question itself as a danger signal:

I think a cost focus is one of the main indicators that a project or organization is not going well. The value provided should be so visibly more than the cost as to make detailed cost accounting clearly a waste of time.

In addition, I happen to know that in almost every auditing situation, the exact details are not relevant. I base this on many years as a development executive running capitalized projects.

[...]

The cost is the integral of team cost over time. No more detail than that is needed by any business process that I am aware of.

But what if your team's time is being allocated to multiple simultaneous projects? Isn't time-tracking of individual tasks required to control costs in that situation? Ron's advice is to avoid multiple simultaneous projects entirely:

Don't do that. It delivers value more slowly to everyone. Invariably. One of the few known always bad ideas not usually prefixed by someone saying "Watch this".

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Something missing... by J S

So, what about when you work on multiple stories in a sprint and each story has to be billed to different customers? Commonly, we work on a single project with features that get billed to different customers. Each sprint is not a per customer sprint or we would not get as much done. In such a scenario I still have difficulty seeing how you can accomplish this with scrum while not tracking your time. We have a system set up so that when you check in your code for the task you add "#123 \n [hours] 8" to the comments and the backend system automatically enters 8 hours against feature #123 in a way that allows for metrics reporting presentable to management and billing. I'm not sure why something like that would be accosted for being anti-scrum as this article would seem to indicate.

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