Time tracking: our approach
There is a big debate about if a company should charge per hour or by value (meaning fix price). I’m not going to go in there: there are several valid points for both approaches. At TowerHouseStudio we do both: fix price for new clients, while for existing clients, who know and trust us, we do T&M (Time and materials).
Different companies have different processes for working with Time and materials. Some share access to tracking tools, others ask their team to fill Google Sheets manually, and so on. The objective of this post is to share our process and how we give transparency to our clients.
I’ll cover four topics,
- Find the easiest and more accurate way for your team to track time
- Separate and clean your team’s data
- Generate reports to share with your clients
- A few ideas to automate the process.
Find the easiest and more accurate way for your team to track time
No matter the business model an agency has, it is crucial to have metrics. The decision makers need to know how much time is being spent and in which task. This is very important to find weak points in the process and to define how to improve and reduce development time. And please, let’s not confuse tracking with controlling: the purpose of tracking time is not to control whether if your team is working or not (if you need to track that, you have bigger problems).
The purpose of time tracking is to have metrics: weighting the time spent against the time billed to understand if a project was profitable or not and by how much exactly.
And what’s the easiest way to do this? This is the key. If we don’t provide an easy way of tracking, then the process will step in the way of your team. It has to be natural and non-intrusive.
In our beginnings, we used to track time manually. Each developer would enter the time spent on each task on a shared Google sheet at the end of the day. The reality is that almost everyone ended up doing it at the end of the week. The main problem with that was that the accuracy of the tracking was not enough, we ended up not tracking the correct time, Sometimes we tracked less, sometimes we tracked more, there was no way of knowing.
Eventually, we switched to Toggl, and found it to be the perfect tool for us, because it is easy to use for the entire team.
Using Toggl is very simple. First of all, you need to set up your team by creating users for all your co-workers. Then you need to set up projects and clients.
The final touch that makes the use of Toggl incredibly easy is the Toggl button, a Google Chrome extension that allows tracking time for a lot of pages that are already integrated. For example, we use Jira and each time someone will start or finish a task they will have the button near the title to either start or stop the timer. That is all any team member has to do in order to track time.
Then, the manager or the person that process time reports will just need to go to the dashboard in Toggl and run a report filtered by time-frame, person, project, client, etc. And it can be displayed summarized (total amount of hours) or detailed (task by task).
In the next post, we will talk about how to clean that data and prepare it to be sent to your clients. Also, we will talk about why you will want to clean the data before sending it.