An interview with Curt Finch, CEO of Journyx, Inc., on why tracking time is a necessary business practice. Here are some excerpts from the interview on task and time tracking, Software as a Service, and encouraging employees to provide accurate data.
Why tracking time against projects and tasks is important
Well, the most obvious thing is that tracking time on projects (which is less common than you might think in companies of all sizes) gives you an early warning system for when things are going to overrun. Projects are generally divided into phases or tasks, and if the early tasks are running longer than your initial estimates indicate they should, later phases will often run longer as well.
At Pelago, we discovered this after struggling with spreadsheets and software that didn’t fit our needs. We finally ended up duct-taping rudimentary time tracking functionality onto an existing opensource bug tracking application. Neither the opensource application, nor our frankensteined version of it, is around anymore. We learned our lesson and built our experiences into Intervals. This one thing has saved us from overrunning projects on several occasions.
Why you should use a web-based time tracking service, and not build your own
Opportunity cost is ignored because the lack of a time tracking system leads to the lack of understanding of per-person per-project profitability. There is one most profitable thing that a particular employee can be doing right now for the company. Building an in-house time tracking, CRM or issue management system is almost certainly not it. If you haven’t been measuring costs (i.e. tracking time) you can’t possibly know where you’re profitable and where you’re not.
This is true today, but it wasn’t true when we first built Intervals. Today, there are so many options available that it makes sense to try them all until you find one that is the closest fit for your needs. When we started building Intervals, however, there weren’t any web-based services that allowed a business to track time against projects and tasks. Applications of this sort are relatively new on the scene, and many of them are evolving from basic time-tracking services into more comprehensive apps that also do invoicing and reporting. Don’t waste your time building your own system. Find one that is a close fit, and then become an active member of its community, where you can influence the developers to build the features you need.
Tips on accurately tracking your time
If somebody has more than 20 or 30 choices on their time entry screen, they will provide inaccurate data. If you want data accurate to the day you need to enforce entry every hour. If to the week, every day. Nobody remembers what they did last week. Often project managers want to do a lot more… and this creates a level of detail that is unmanageable for the front line worker.
Balance is perhaps the hardest thing to achieve in life, and this extends to time tracking as well.
Any time tracking or project management service you use can only do so much. They can keep the interface minimal and gently remind you to enter data. The rest is up to your management style and the team you’ve recruited. Good time tracking skills need to be learned, but are extremely useful for finding balance in your life.