How we run a software company: Monitoring commercial progress
23 March 2012, by Chris Harris
Some important questions for any business in a service industry are:
- How does each individual know what they spent their time on last week, and how much more time they need to spend?
- How do they communicate this to the people who need to know?
- What should the company do with this information once they’ve collected it?
I’ll give Softwire’s answers to these below.
Individual time tracking
Many of us are charging our customers per hour we work, and they’re going to want to know what we’ve been spending our time on. Even for those of us who are working on fixed-price items, it’s vital to know how we’re performing against estimates.
Since we spend most of our time at the computer, it makes sense to have a desktop application which helps us to track this. So early on in Softwire’s life, my colleague Gareth wrote a lightweight application called “Task Tracker”.
You click the “plus” button to describe a new task that you’re about to work on, or click the longer lozenge to select an existing task from an ordered and categorised list. Clicking on the timer will provide you with a detailed breakdown of what you’ve been working on this week. There’s also a nice intuitive interface to allow you to correct mistakes.
Company time tracking
In the early days of Softwire, we had a spreadsheet for each project, and every Monday each employee would need to locate and update the spreadsheet for each project they had worked on the previous week. This was rather unwieldy, and it didn’t lend itself to company-wide commercial analysis.
So a few years ago, we created the Timesheet Application (TSA), into which we can enter our timesheet information either manually, or automatically via Task Tracker. This saved us all a lot of hassle on Monday mornings, and it also made it much easier for project managers and senior management to see how things were going commercially.
Using this information
The most obvious use of this information is to help us bill our customers accurately and efficiently. But we have also discovered other benefits. It helps us to resource effectively, since we can also tell the TSA how long each task has left.
It also allows us to produce a complex report that tells us exactly how well we did as a company last week. Actually, for various reasons it’s not quite exact – and obviously commercial performance is only one of the important metrics we need to be aware of – but we have found it to be very informative.
Now we have sufficiently refined this report, we have taken to sending a commercial update round to the company every week. This supplements our quarterly company-wide commercial meeting, and serves as a great motivator, since the numbers sent round directly affect our bonuses.
This weekly email also includes some metrics on customer satisfaction, and we are working on a cunning way to measure employee motivation too. And when we do, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.