The issue of finding the flawless way to keep tabs on the time and effort ratio in work is one of the milestones in company management. Developing a framework for tracking time honestly and transparently is a huge feather in a cap of an effective manager.
In the industry of web design and development, this is a key element of the business operation. Like for any other branch, working on an hourly rate basis, the ethical depiction of time spent on a specific task with a precise imagery of the output is one of the prerequisites. We’ve been dealing with this issue for quite some time and through multiple bumps and bruises, we’ve developed what we consider to be the best internal tracking framework available at the best cost and effort ratio for us.
Why keep track of time and progress in IT?
As you may know, it’s hard to manage a team and a project without proper performance measurement. And the question is “what exactly do we need to measure when dealing with a distributed team and a huge project?” How do you as a manager, decide who is who in your team, determine who is a hard worker and who is an idler, whether your team puts in the time it has initially estimated or not, and whether they could finish the project in time. These are the questions which our PMs are trying to give answers to with every new project, as it’s extremely important to ensure the client that everything is taken care of.
There is another aspect to it which we need to consider, and it’s the money. How much money should we pay to our employees for their work? It’s a serious issue for a lot of companies and some of them are trying to solve it by implementing the KPI. But, as we know, nobody likes KPI. That’s why you should be ready to put in some extra hours filling reports and maintaining the KPI system.
What measures a web designer’s and developer’s performance?
In our company, we are sure that by measuring working hours of our developers, we can get answers to all those questions.
- The hours tracked show exactly how much time your developers are working during the day and how deep they are focusing on the project.
- By analyzing the hours spent, you can actualize project timelines and deadlines.
- The most important thing is that you can detect the estimation accuracy for each team member and then take this into account during task estimation process, adding some risks in future.
- It also shows you a task’s completion percentage, in case your developers track their time not just on the project, but on the tasks which they are working on. Best employees in our company get paid for the hours tracked.
- It helps us motivate our developers to avoid procrastination during working hours. They also are able to work anywhere and anytime, all they need to do is just track their hours and spend no less than 6 hours a day on company’s tasks.
What time-tracking solutions are on the market?
So we’ve come to a conclusion that we need to track our working hours.The idea that people have to fill out the time spent manually at the end of the day was discarded at once. We were convinced that it had to be an automatic process.
We’ve come to terms that we needed a tool which could automatically track working hours and somehow indicate the tracked time within the task. In other words, that tool was supposed to be synchronized with our task management system. Usually, we use Jira for that purpose but we also work with some clients who use other systems like Asana or even Trello to manage tasks.
Another obstacle, which we had to overcome was operation system variations in the company. I guess it’s a common practice for developers to use Windows, Mac or Linux, and the tracking tool had to work fine on each and every of them.
Picking the right time management tool
Fortunately, nowadays we have a long list of time-tracking tools and all you need is just select the application that better suits your requirements which can also be a challenge 😉
Our first option was the Hubstaff tool. This tool had everything we needed:
- A client for all the popular operating systems — Windows, Linux, and Mac.
- Integration capabilities with most popular task tracking systems.
- The ability to display the employee activity and hourly screenshots.
- Support of projects, sprints, and tasks.
- Nice reports.
Hubstaff’s time tracking features allow you to monitor the performance of each team member by their activity levels and productivity. It also enables you to monitor which applications and websites your employees use and visit each day, helping you to eliminate employee distractions and understand exactly what your team is working on, and how much time they are spending on every task.
You can create new projects and manage tasks without any external task management system there as well. It will be an internal project but your team will be able to track their time on tasks and you can use reports to analyze it.
So this app had all the features we wanted but at the time when we started to integrate time tracking to our daily routine, that app was a bit buggy and the main issue for us was the impossibility to add manual time on a specific task.
Why was this so important for us? The reason is our task management tool — Jira. As I mentioned before, all the tracked time had to be associated with the assigned tasks to let a project manager control and manage the project.
Every project in Jira is linked to the time-tracking tool and at the end of the day all tracked hours appear in Jira. So a manager and all team members are able to see how much time they track on each task in its relation to the originally estimated rate. It’s really helpful in controlling the whole development process and completing our projects in time.
As a project manager, you can also control the project timeline using Jira’s Time Use report, where you can see all the tasks (including the closed tasks) and compare the estimated and tracked time ratio.
But this is more about Jira, so let’s go back to our time-tracking tool. We’ve worked for some time with Hubstaff and it was really great with time tracking and controlling the teams, but we had some untrackable activities, like discussions and meetings, which nevertheless, had to be tracked.
As I mentioned before, Hubstaff didn’t allow us to add any manual time editing of tasks. We tried to fix it by talking to their support, but this went without any success. Furthermore, we had some clients with their own Task Management Systems and eventually, we ended up with several Jira instances for each client. At that time, such integrations were buggy and it made us lose time synchronizations with Jira for some instances. That’s why we started to search for alternatives.
The Time Doctor solution advantages
Having spent some time for trade study, we found a tool with the same capabilities but more sympathetic support so we decided to try. That tool was Time Doctor. It did not have the ability to track manual time on tasks as well, but the support assured us that they would add it and they did it. Time Doctor has a client for all primary operating systems where you can see all your connections, projects, and assigned tasks.
Time Doctor supports integration with all major task management systems. It changes the task status to “In Progress” when you start tracking your work time on the task, so the manager and the team is able to see which tasks are in progress.
All tracked time is exported to Jira the same way Hubstaff tool does it. The design might be not as fancy as that of Hubstaff but it has everything need. A Manager can see which applications are used by team members and how much time they spent on them.
It’s really easy to view all the screenshots of the employees’ desktops and it gets the screens of all displays.
There is a robust report system in Time Doctor with flexible capabilities for team management.
If you don’t the much time to get into the intricacies of those filters, you can still control the tracked time of your team using daily and weekly email reports. Using those reports is a piece of cake.
You receive the reports by email and the information is available right away with no redirection necessary. If you see that somebody has spent insufficient time, you can discuss the reason with the specific worker and solve the problem without delay.
How attention deficit disorder affects productivity
Well, obviously not in a positive fashion. ADD is a marker of our time. Average folks like ourselves, check their phone once every 12 minutes. Often times this doesn’t even involve push notifications, which means we are just addicted to distractions.
Every now and then, it’s totally okay to refocus and have a minute or two to reboot and return to work with a fresh perspective. However, the problem is when we can’t fully commit to the task we are solving just because we have all these strings leading to various social media profiles and content sources springing from all around us.
Can any sort of tool battle that and increase productivity while not making an employee miserable along the way? When we first started, our CEO was obsessed with creating an environment of trust and comfort. A lot of the accomplishments of that policy, we are still enjoying the benefits of. However, productivity is not always inner-based. It has to be initiated by objective factors.
We found that tracking time is objective for all of us. Can that time-tracking tool also be a constant buddy reminding you in a friendly way to maybe stick to your tasks while it’s on? Definitely. We don’t prohibit distractions unless you perform at a rate that satisfies our clients. The problem is when the inner control mechanism is not enough.
Time Doctor does a great job of doing both — providing a friendly “poke” and letting the managers know what exactly bothers the employees so that they get distracted while working on the active task. Or perhaps this might be a totally uncontrolled action which might indicate another problem. Anyways, it’s always healthy for a top manager to know the troubles of their employees. Time Doctor is really a therapist capable of making an ethical analysis.
Our Time Doctor workflow
As a software development company, we have dozens of approaches to managing our clients’ projects. We can definitely distinguish a couple main strategies which most of our clients appreciate. Among these are time and material and fixed price. These two are the most popular approaches and clients are usually familiar with the intricacies of both. Though being completely opposite, they are united by one thing: in both cases, it is necessary to control the time spent. Let us demonstrate how we do it in our company and how Time Doctor helps us with that.
- The client shares their somewhat formalized ideas or just pitches to our project manager.
- Then come the discussion and deep consideration of the high-level idea and some details. At the end of this process, the project manager has to know all the details and be ready to explain them to the team.
- After that, the project manager formes every feature into a task or a group of the tasks and shares them with the team.
- The team estimates each task in terms of efforts to be put in and the time to be spent. The accuracy of this estimation determines the dynamics of the entire project.
- The project manager then, evaluates the risks and makes adjustments to the team’s estimates and refers them to the client for approval.
My most loved features:
- Time Doctor Client. It has a built-in feature which helps us get rid of the common distractions that affect productivity. When people start spending time on all sorts of addictive stuff like checking Facebook feed, Twitter, or just chatting, Time Doctor will prompt you, asking whether you are still engaged in the task. Also, once installed on a computer, Time Doctor will record what the user is doing during the working hours.
- Time Doctor screenshots. I think that it’s a killer feature of Time Doctor. It helps resolve a lot of conflicts with the clients and our team. As a manager, I can be confident my team is focusing on the relevant tasks. You always have all the evidence that you have been working on the client’s project tasks and not playing games and such. Your clients will be able to access all the screenshots of your working day which can be the evidence in case of a conflict situation, that the task required just as much time as you have spent on it.
- Daily & weekly email reports. This feature is really impressive and saves a lot of time for a manager. I can easily control the team just by looking through the reports in the email. It’s an easy and safe way to manage time and it lets you control your team without bugging team members with reports. Let them do what they do best — perform. Time Doctor covers the rest.
- The ability to grant the system access to a client. Some of our clients want to control every penny and they have the right for that. The best way to ensure transparency, in that case, is to provide screenshots and reports of their projects. Time Doctor lets the clients manage their access and control their project specific. On top of that, we are sure our clients will not be able to access the screenshots of our other projects.
- Sites and applications using reports and notifications. Time Doctor Client has a great feature to help you get rid of the useless stuff that might affect employees’ productivity. When they start spending time on external websites, Time Doctor will prompt you, asking whether you are still working. Also, a manager will get the web and app usage report, where they can see all the websites and applications which have been used during the working hours.
- Time Doctor integrations. This is really impressive. You can integrate your account with popular task management solutions like Jira or Asana. In our company, we have several Jira instances connected, due to the fact that some of our clients have their own and custom task management systems.
- Working with statuses. Time Doctor moves the tasks you are working on to a further status (in progress, in our case) so your team is able to see the tasks proceeded to in progress as it’s happening.
- Fast and responsive support. The Time Doctor team has always been quickly implementing all of our specific requirements. They are always ready to answer any question 24/7.
Currently, we have chosen Time Doctor as our main time-tracking tool and Jira as our main task management tool, and the two work in pair just fine. Jira sends active tasks to Time Doctor and Time Doctor sends the tracked time to Jira.
I think this is a one awesome and useful approach enabling us to control the team and project without any hassle. We count the tracked hours in monthly invoices for our clients with base and material projects. Our clients also have the ability to see the tracked time and screenshots of the team in their projects to ensure complete transparency and honesty.
From our side, we are absolutely sure that our client will not be able to see time and screenshots of other projects, owned by other clients because Time Doctor has a great user management system. Also, some of our developers do not have a fixed salary but we pay them for the time tracked on projects. It cuts a lot of difficulties in our management and really motivates the developers. Time Doctor makes our job easy, efficient, and transparent for our clients.