Archive for the ‘Basecamp’ Category

Lessons learned in time-tracking with Basecamp

BasecampWhen you run a consulting business, time is money. The system you utilize to keep track of time spent on work (especially those pesky billable hours) is critical to your company’s fiscal foundation, and needs to be reliable, easy to use, and efficient. At PICnet, we’ve gone through our lessons learned in time-tracking, and we’ve realized that unless you want 10% of your productivity spent tracking-time, finding the right tool for your team is critical to your efficiency.

To start, we rely heavily on our Basecamp, which provides us a very nice communication collaboration platform. Basecamp has included in it a time-tracking tool that allows one to track time ad-hoc as well as by todo item, which is useful to very easily track time to a particular task.

What’s interesting, but not necessarily most surprising, is that the tool and the manner in which the time is tracked is critical to seeing high levels of time tracked per week. In short, if your time-tracking tool is cumbersome or hard to use, no one’s going to track time well.

We’ve gone through three phases of time-tracking tools:

  1. Directly into Basecamp. This provides you the direct interface with the Basecamp system, but can be cumbersome when you’re switching between multiple projects. Why Basecamp doesn’t have a solid, cross-project time-tracker is still a head scratcher for me.
  2. Via a summary page made with the API. We had our developers whip up a basic PHP script that would load all the projects for a given PICnetter, and then essentially present a big form, with updated times tracked for that project, and boxes to enter new time. The problem here is that loading the data via the Basecamp API can be slow, hence tracking minute tasks could become 45 second time sinks.
  3. Via an API-based time-tracker. We simply cut the fat in #2, and made a simpler, PHP-based API time-tracker that had a dropdown of the projects, a basic timer, and the ability to enter in a comment. This loads the timer faster, and is slim, so it can fit in a sidebar for Firefox.

Even though we’re getting the technological advantage, the biggest determinate of good time-tracking is practice. One needs to find their own rhythm that is reliable and becomes part of their flow. For instance, I tend to insert my information before I start working on a new task. Then, when I’m done with that task, I can just hit the Send button, and move on.

It’s not easy to find the flow, but once you do, and you have the right tool, time-tracking can really provide your business valuable data.

We’re in a Ubuntu, Mac, and Windows environment at PICnet, so a Web based tool that everyone can use in a common browser was important. If you have any time-tracking tools that you like, please share them, we’re always looking to learn more!


Basecamp and Joomla integration anyone?

Basecamp LogoWe PICnetters use Basecamp for project management and when we learned they had released an API and saw the interesting things people were doing with it, we thought, “hey let’s integrate”. Not because it’s cool (though the closer we get to Web 2.0 tools, the cooler we all seem here around the office), but because we saw a need, at least internally, for some extended functionality: easy time tracking and reporting.

Basecamp allows time tracking and it is very nice when checking off a task to record how many hours you spent getting it done. But sometimes we get so engrossed in our work we forget when we started. So, we built a sort of stop-watch application which allows us to punch-in, punch-out, write up a description then send it off to Basecamp.

Another pet peeve of ours is when we run over the number of hours we’ve dedicated to a project, and with several people contributing time to a project that can happen easily if the time isn’t closely monitored. So next up on the integration effort is to develop a warning system which will alert project managers when we’re nearing that limit.

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