Time Tracking Isn’t Just for Hourly Billing

| October 16th, 2012 | , , , ,

Time Tracking Isn't Just for Billing Hourly

I’ve had many conversations about the pros and cons of time tracking with several different web design agencies, creative agencies, and IT services companies — and their corporate in-house counterparts. One of the most common questions that comes up is, “why would we track our time if we aren’t billing hourly?” It’s a valid question. One with several answers.

Why should a small business or in-house department consider using web based time tracking software when they aren’t billing hourly? I’ll be the first to admit time tracking isn’t for everyone. But for those small businesses that do want to gain some invaluable insight into their current workflow and improve their processes, the following are a few benefits of using a time tracking software.

Accountability

Web design and creative agencies must answer to their clients. In-house departments often times answer to a department head, a VP, or sometimes the CEO. This is true regardless of whether or not they are billing hourly for their time. A client that has contracted a web design agency may want to know how much time is being devoted to their web site project — is the junior designer spending enough time on the first round of comps? The department head may want to know how her team is handling their current workload — is the team overcommitted, or working on the wrong projects?

Time tracking data will answer these questions in a tangible way. The web design agency can show the client that the junior and senior designers have been focusing most of their time on tomorrow’s deadline, pulling two all-nighters in a row. And the in-house IT department can show they’ve been spending a majority of their time patching web servers, but that they are spending too much time setting up the CEO’s new HDTV.

There are an endless number of scenarios — some good, some needing improvement — that will be revealed when using online time tracking software to provide accountability.

Seasonality and Predictability

There can be an unnecessary level of uncertainty when running a web design or creative agency. Incoming projects tend to ebb and flow. One month might see several new projects while the following month sees none. If there is any seasonality to your small business, especially if you target a niche market with inherent seasonality, time tracking data will reveal such patterns.

Understanding the ups and downs of seasonal work, and being able to predict and prepare for such fluctuations, empowers the small business owner. Know when to hire on more subcontractors, when to focus on business development, and when to plan events, vacations, and conferences. By looking at the time we’ve tracked in the past, we can make educated predictions as to where our time needs to go moving forward.

Estimating

Having weeks, months, or even years of historic time tracking data at your fingertips is only the beginning.  In addition to making informed predictions, the data can be used to estimate projects and tasks more accurately. Web design and creative agencies tend to work on similar projects for different clients.

For example, the amount of time it takes to build an online eCommerce site for one client is going to be roughly the same for all clients. If we are tracking our time on these projects we’ll have a pretty good idea as to how long it is going to take to build a similar site for another client. The more projects we track, the more data we’ll accumulate, and the more accurate we’ll be able to estimate similar projects in the future.

Teamwork

When it comes to working on a team, not everyone is the same. It’s an unavoidable fact that people work differently. Some web developers are nocturnal, some project managers prefer the nine-to-five workday. Every single team member has a slightly different way of getting their work done. When these differences become a point of tension, the overall productivity of the team suffers. Time tracking software provides the data necessary to cut through finger pointing and emotional accusations.

The time tracking data can reveal that the nocturnal web developer may be late to work each day, but he is working his hours from home at night. And that project manager who leaves early on some days? She’s actually putting in more than enough hours, often times knocking out several tasks from home before arriving at the office. We all work in different ways at different times. Time tracking software can be an equalizer that frees up a team from too rigid a schedule and gives them the flexibility to work when they want, regardless of whether they are sitting at their desk, at the kitchen table, or in a coffee shop downtown.

Time Tracking Improves Workflow

Intervals doesn’t just offer web based time tracking software. We provide workflow improvements based on years of experience tracking time, tasks and projects for hundreds of clients. We are proponents of time tracking, because we believe it will improve small business workflow. Click around on our blog for more useful articles on small business best practices. And check out our plans and pricing to see if Intervals online time tracking software might be a good fit for you.

Photo credit: Cookipediachef

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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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