Online Time Tracking, Task Management and Project Management, Reprised

| January 19th, 2010 | , , , ,

The landscape of online offerings in the time tracking, task management and project management realm of productivity tools has changed considerably in just the last year. Not only have the number of online applications increased, but the versatility and uniqueness of web-based software has also grown to meet the needs of every niche imaginable.

The suite of available web-based applications for web designers, web developers and creatives has grown considerably, most likely because the ones churning out these online apps are themselves designers and developers with experience in creative agencies.

Once your agency has decided it needs to adopt an online application for project management and related productivity needs, how do you choose which one? Naturally, we at Pelago would steer you towards our own time, task and project management app, Intervals. Ultimately, we want you to choose the online app that fits your needs best, even if it isn’t ours.

To help whittle down your shortlist of online project management apps to choose from, below are some insights based on our experiences the last ten years at Pelago. When it comes to time tracking, task management and project management, we’ve had enough mistakes and successes while running our small web design and development agency to know what we’re talking about.

Time Tracking

Every web designer, developer, creative, IT professional, PR person, freelancer — any person or agency who provides a professional service needs to track their time. This is especially critical if you bill hourly for that time. You would be surprised at the number of small businesses who still track their time on paper or using Microsoft Xcel. And I can tell you, based on our own experience and from hearing stories from our own customers, that if you aren’t tracking your time with time tracking software you are losing up to 30% of your billable time. That is a lot of time slipping through the cracks, money you will never recuperate.

Even if you don’t bill hourly for your creative services, online time tracking is crucial for internal feedback. If you know how much time you are spending on projects you will become more and more precise when you flat-bid a project. The nature of flat-bidding projects is that on some you lose money and and some you make money. You just hope it evens out in the end. With more precise flat-bids it’s more likely there will be less surprises at the end of the year. Time tracking, when practiced diligently, provides invaluable feedback crucial to project management.

Task Management

Task management software comes in all shapes and sizes, from the simplest to-do list to complex bug and issue tracking. What type of task management you adopt depends on what is coupled with the online project management software you choose and on your specific needs. For example, some web designers, especially freelancers, may be able to get by with a simple to-do app. In fact, many of them do and use Basecamp for their project management needs.

Web developers tend to be a more advanced lot and will rely on more feature-rich task management. Web developers with a background in software development will find bug and issue tracking features to be more fitting to their needs. Managing tasks from a bug and issue tracking perspective is useful because it allows developers to prioritize tasks based on factors other than the due date and provides a more collaborative approach to resolving tasks.

Look for task management features that fit your current needs and allow you room to grow. In the context of project management, task lists are useful for gauging the status of a project at any given moment by knowing what percentage of tasks are complete. Task lists are also useful for running reports on completed projects as they provide a detailed analysis of efforts put into the project.

Project Management

What small business doesn’t need project management? Regardless of whether it’s a full time project manager, an employee wearing the PM hat a few hours a week, or everyone making a collaborative effort to use online software, project management is critical if you are going to regularly complete projects on time and under budget.

As the number of projects you take on grows so will the need for more project management features. Some designers, developers and creatives will get by with basic project management features, for example, task and time tracking. Creative agencies who begin taking on a greater size and number of projects will find themselves requiring more features in their online project management software.

At Pelago we have found additional project management features to be very useful, which is why we built them into our online project management software (Intervals). We’ve rounded out the application with numerous productivity tools — milestones, document sharing, payment and expense tracking, invoicing, granular reporting — and we plan on adding more to the mix. Two in particular, project estimation and Gantt-ish reports are worming their way into our collective definition of online project management workflow.

It’s not just the number and quality of features that determine the type of project management software to adopt. Consider also the context in which you are able to access your data. The online software you choose will use a web browser as it’s primary method for accessing your data. The web browser is getting better at providing a desktop-like experience, but you won’t always be sitting in front of your computer. Consider what desktop widgets and mobile interfaces are available, especially if you find yourself out in the field quite often. Developers who want to break away from the features of the web-based version of their app will want to consider the availability of an API, a useful way to import and export your data and build additional interfaces for accessing your data.

Overall, look for software that provides the best fit. No single online project management application is going to provide every feature you need. It is likely that you will have to make some compromises when selecting web-based software for your design and development needs. Otherwise, you will get stuck in an infinite loop, dismissing likely candidates while repeating to yourself, “If only this app had that one absolutely necessary feature, then I’d use it in a second.” Let’s be honest, you don’t need that “one feature” as much as you think.

Happy hunting!

Lear

5 Responses to “Online Time Tracking, Task Management and Project Management, Reprised”

  1. Jessica Perry says:

    Hi John,

    Nice post. As mentioned above, as the number of projects you take on grows so will the need for more project management features. I have been using Microsoft’s project 2007 for collaborative project management and it helps me to manage growing number of projects, scheduling and tracking projects progress, managing resources etc. It has good time management feature like calendar management. You can also try free add-ins, tools and templates available at http://www.microsoft.com/project/en/us/project-professional-2007.aspx Regards.

  2. John Reeve says:

    Microsoft Project is overkill for most small businesses out there. And based on our own experiences using it, I would never recommend it to anyone. There are far more options out there that will do just as good a job of managing projects with half the complexity of MS Project. Take a look at the above link if would like, but I think most our readers will find themselves better suited with a simpler web-based project management application.

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A collection of useful tips, tales and opinions based on decades of collective experience designing and developing web sites and web-based applications.

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Intervals is online time, task and project management software built by and for web designers, developers and creatives.
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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