Remember the days when you just handed a client the software they wanted and they just walked out the door, never to have problems again?
Yeah, neither do we.
You can’t ever expect a software project to follow a linear path. Change happens, and it’s exactly this realization that gave rise to agile development principles back in 2001.
In the years since, the agile philosophy has grown to include many project management techniques. One of the more viable methods — especially if you find yourself constantly overwhelmed with “stuff that keeps coming up” — is the Kanban board.
A Kanban board is essentially a big to-do list that separates items you’re currently working on from those that are added to the backlog.
What makes it an effective management tool is that Kanban limits the number of things your team can have “in progress” at any given time — meaning that once you hit your limit of simultaneous things your team can be working on, no new work will be taken on until the clog has been cleared.
In short, it’s a system for managing workload.
But if you only focus on the load without looking at how long your team works on things, you’ll hit roadblocks very soon.
Here are three big reasons you need to be tracking the time your programmers spend working on their tickets.
1. Time Tracking Teaches You Your Team’s Pace
Cycle time is defined as the total time a developer spends working on a ticket, from the moment they draw it from the queue up until it’s completed.
It’s also a vital metric you want to keep a very close eye on.
Making sure your team is not overburdened is all well and good, but if there’s no sense of urgency to clearing your “in progress” field, you’ll soon end up with a gigantic backlog and one very frustrated client.
Tracking your cycle time gives you an accurate overview of how long individual tickets take to complete. It’s true that programming can be unpredictable and problems can appear out of the blue, but that’s even more of a reason to start collecting data about your team’s overall pace.
After all, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Which brings us to another major benefit of keeping an eye on time.
2. Time Tracking Teaches You To Plan Better
Software development is tricky business, and the only guarantee you ever have is the certainty of unexpected problems. So how do you prepare for them?
Knowing how to factor in the unexpected when planning a project is a part of something called “business intelligence” – your ability to make informed decisions about the vital aspects of your business.
It is distinctly different from “business guesswork,” which is the art of not giving a damn.
Imagine you’re negotiating a budget with a new client. Given that agile development not only facilitates change, but actively encourages it, your best bet is to come up with a reasonable budget with a sufficient financial cushion, based on your experience with previous projects – all of which could be very different from one another.
If, at this point, you have time tracking data about your developers’ work, sorted into categories – like “prototyping,” “bug fixes,” “code review,” etc. — you will have a wealth of recorded data about different kinds of problems that might come up, and how long your team might take to solve them.
Given that your client will always see your work as cheaper than it really is, you will want to be armed with facts rather than guesses when asking for their money.
3. Time Tracking Teaches You How To Scale
When you run a software consultancy — especially a smaller one — scaling isn’t as simple as plugging in more workforce and leaving your accountant to sort out the money. More likely than not, you’ll be managing a balancing act of trying to keep your cash flow positive as projects wind on and payments are delayed.
In short — developers are expensive, and you can’t hire too many too soon.
Time tracking makes the hiring decisions easier. Say you have an increasing backlog of maintenance tickets from a growing client base. Your developers will have to address and work on these issues on top of the work they’re already doing for new clients.
Keeping an eye on the actual time cost of these maintenance issues will alert you to staff shortages on time. So if you suddenly find that you have four programmers spending two extra hours each and every day working on support issues, it means it’s time to hire a new full time employee. It’s simple math.
All of the cases described above come from the same key problem – the human inability to account for time. We can guess with decent accuracy how long it took to grab a cup of coffee, but the longer the time we have to estimate, the bigger our margin for error.
In business, unaccounted errors are a killer. And just like you wouldn’t keep a “rough guess” on your finances, you shouldn’t trust your hours to simply work themselves out. Consider using a time-tracker app, like Toggl, to make sure your can learn the right lessons about the direction of your team.
Have you used a time-tracker app to make your business more efficient? What were your experiences? Are there downsides to time tracking? Let us know in the comments below!
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