Donald On Software

Just my thoughts, my interests, my opinions!

The Power of Time Tracking

I love to keep track of time. It could be related to my love of data and all the information that I can extract from it: how much fuel does my car use, how much time do I spend on stuff each week, how many hours am I away from my family.

Actually my attraction to time tracking goes much deeper than that. I never planned to start my own business when I made the career change into software development so many years ago. I had seen how it worked being self employed as I grew up in a family owned business and my father was in charge of the service department of an auto / agriculture dealership. One of the things I noticed was that as the billing was being discussed from the details obtained from the back of the work order, the customers would be requesting a discount because they did not see enough detail that explained why the job took as long as it did. This was not something I was looking forward to experiencing myself being self employed.

I do not like to negotiate. I am not a good negotiator. Instead I would like to have my work speak for itself and it has for many, many years. So when I did end up being self employed presented my client with an invoice, I also had the opportunity to present them with a detailed accounting of what that invoice represented. Sometimes it read just like a book, but I never had to explain my work. There was never any negotiation about the amount of the invoice that I was presenting and I always got paid on time. Mission accomplished.

That was my original motivation to really get into time tracking, I have built various pieces of internal software (after all, I am a software developer) that have helped me to maintain my goals. Since then I have discovered other benefits to keeping tracking of time and for the rest of this article I want to detail these benefits.

Deliverable

When working on a long project many times the client would only pay on some sort of a deliverable. We can all agree that we don’t want to pay for something we have not yet received. I did discover that I could use my detailed time tracking entries as a deliverable since the client was able to receive something from me that they could use to justify approval of payment.

When I was in college an instructor said that we should be paid for each stage of the software life cycle. At first I had trouble with the concept because at that time I only pictured the deliverable as the final finished product. However, my perception was very small in the overall grasp of developing software for a client. I soon discovered that sometimes all that I ended up doing for the client was research and some feasibility studies, sometimes working on the specifications and never got a chance to work on the actual software. Also, I have worked on projects where the specification phase went on for almost a year; collecting rules and processes and writing about the software that would be built. I needed regular pay periods. The only way to do this and justify my demands was to provide a deliverable that ended up being the details from my time tracking efforts.

Resolve Disputes

Anytime you need to resolve a dispute, details play a very important role. I worked on a project quite some time ago that did lead to some legal confrontation. My recorded project details were used to justify the amount of time that was spent on the project and why a deposit should not be returned. It is important to keep track of how and where you spend your time.

I know that this is also a good rule with dealing with tax situations. Revenue Canada and the IRS want details and many legal actions have been taken against individuals simply because they could not produce enough details. I can hardly remember what I did a few hours ago let alone days, months or years, but if I have details in front of me, it sure helps jog my memory.

How Much Does it Cost?

We all have ideas as to how long we work on a task or even a project. Sometimes I can hardly believe that a certain task took me as long as it did. It felt like five minutes but in reality it took me four hours. When you start tracking details of your day with real time, you get very clear evidence of the time that was really consumed.

In my own anal way I not only record the time and detail that I can bill my clients, I also keep track of how long I spend on the road, reading my technical books and papers, and the internal projects. This altogether tells me how much time this is costing me away from my family. It helps me keep my life in perspective and allows me to make better decisions. If I have only allowed for a few hours of time to spend with the family this week, maybe it is time to go and have that game of handball with my stepdaughter or go for a nice leisurely stroll with my wife or give my stepson a call just to see how he is doing.

This is a very monetary world and time costs us money. Sometime this is good since it helps us to provide for our families and sometimes the cost is great because it takes us away from them. However, if you don’t track it, how are you going to know how well you are balancing your life? What is the cost?

This raises another thought from another life. When I was into the financial world, (okay I was an accountant for the family business), I would have people asking me advise on how they could construct a budget. My advise is always the same; you first need to be extremely anal about tracking your spending, because before you can start budgeting you need to know where you money is going. That is how I see Time Tracking.

The Plug

Over the years I have built several applications that tracked time. First with an Access Database, then a VB front end and SQL backend. The problem with both of these was the synchronization to a central data store. For the last three-and-a-half years I worked for a company that built a time machine on the web. I thought that I would continue working for them until I decided to move on or retired, so I stopped thinking about building a better time tracker. Their software allowed me to keep track of all the things I had become accustomed to tracking.

I regretted this decision when the company got sold to a medium size corporation that was acquiring software companies across the country. The head office insisted that we use a multi-million dollar time tracking system which was in my eyes worthless. I could not maintain the level of detail to which I had grown accustom. None of us could see the point of this since it did not produce detailed invoices for our clients. Now red flags were flying for our clients, they all loved to know the details of what we were doing for them. Anyway, the company closed its doors and I found myself again being an independent software developer and needing some form of time tracking system, so I built Time Tracker. The product is still evolving and I may release a commercial version of the product some time in the future.
Time I spent away from my family in September
If you would like to know more about my Time Tracker program and or are interested in finding out how you can implement Time Tracker in your facility, send email to: TimeTracker@TheWebWeWeave.net

My name is Donald L. Schulz and I like to keep track of my time.