Archive for category Automation and Collaboration

Here are the Top 5 Reasons why Timesheet.com is a Solid Time Tracking Solution

Written by : Tanya Grant – Project Manager PMP, Upland Software

After some extensive research, we have identified the top five time & billing issues faced by companies today, and propose how Timesheet.com can help address them.

1.   Inaccurate billings/billing errors: Errors of any kind can be bothersome and frustrating. Errors in billing however cut into a firm’s profitability, ultimately hurting the company and its accounting department. Timesheet.com’s Billing & Invoicing module has been designed to automate your entire time and billing and revenue reporting process. With certified connections to your CRM and accounting system, an opportunity in CRM becomes a project in Timesheet.com where it is planned, budgeted, tracked and billed. Detailed or summary project cost and billing information is then posted to your financial system’s accounts receivable, accounts payable and general ledger modules, ultimately eliminating billing issues by streamlining the billing process, making it easier to track, plan, budget and bill.

2.   Timesheets not entered: Incorporating a systematic time tracking system can be a little overwhelming. Timesheet.com eliminates unnecessary time entry and/or errors with its simple and easy-to-configure interface. Users quickly adapt, improving collaboration and strengthening employee organization.

3.   Missed milestones: Missed milestones can occur when costs and budgets aren’t being properly monitored. Setting up dashboards and extensive reports is easy with Timesheet.com, improving analysis and financial visibility – so you never have to worry about financial mistakes again.

4.   Incompatibilities: Choosing a time and billing system and then discovering it does not integrate with your existing applications can be discouraging. Timesheet.com has built-in and certified connectors to all leading financial, ERP, HR, payroll and CRM applications. The connections are built-in. No custom programming is required for standard integration. Data can be exported to and exchanged with leading systems for accounting (Great Plains, Navision, Solomon, Sage MAS, Accpac, Peachtree, Pro (SBT), SAP Business One, Epicor, QuickBooks, Intacct), payroll (ADP, Ceridian, Paychex), ERP (SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft), project planning (Microsoft Project), CRM (Salesforce.com and Microsoft CRM), HR (Taleo), and much more. In other words, there is no need to “rip-and-replace” your existing applications.

5.  Capturing timesheets in multiple disconnected systems:

- Some departments track time for payroll processing: IT and product development teams use their own project tracking system and may capture project time and expenses; the professional services team uses spreadsheets or a silo-ed time and billing application. It takes considerable spreadsheet gymnastics, manual adjustments and merging to compile data from these disparate systems into operational time, cost and revenue reports.

Using spreadsheets or multiple disparate tools to track time leads to inefficiencies, and poor project cost/revenue visibility. Your management team does not have access to real-time report on projects and operations to measure progress and make informed decisions.

- Out-dated or in-house developed time tracking software: Legacy-outdated time tracking systems have high maintenance costs, ongoing fix and enhancement tasks; divert precious internal resources and attention away from the organization’s core business.

- Lack of effective internal controls for time sheet management: Weak internal controls for time sheet and expense reporting lead to violations of company work policy, inaccurate cost accounting or violation of employment laws; your business may face severe penalties and lose investor confidence when such weaknesses are discovered.

Are you having any issues with your other time tracking processes that aren’t on our top 5 list? Please feel free to let us know.  We would love to hear your feedback, questions or concerns about the above

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The Recession Generation

In this Newsweek article http://www.newsweek.com/id/229959 the author explores the impact of the recent financial crisis, the new age of uncertainty, and severe economic downturn on employment and spending patterns.

Some key takeaways:

  • It’s no accident that the psychology of entire generations is shaped by the milieu in which they grew up; economic research tells us that our lifelong behaviors are determined in large part by the seismic events—good or bad—of our youth
  • Even one really tough year experienced in early adulthood is enough to fundamentally change people’s core values and behaviors
  • Recession babies not only invest more conservatively, they tend to make less money, choose safer jobs, and believe in wealth redistribution and more government intervention
  • This division between capital and labor and the permanently high unemployment that it seems to encourage not only depresses wages, it depresses people; a large body of research shows they tend to withdraw from their communities and societies after being laid off (their spooked neighbors, encouraged to work ever harder, do too)
  • Parental unemployment has huge negative consequences for children, making them more likely to fall behind in school, repeat grades, and exhibit anxiety disorders
  • The worry today, say Reich, Soros, and political scientists such as Harvard’s Robert Putnam, is that fearful, vulnerable people will become more easy prey for ugly class politics, being drawn, as Reich puts it, to “populist demagogues on either side of the political spectrum.”
  • Americans generally have a high tolerance for inequality. Yet that tolerance may wane as we enter a new age in which young graduates can’t expect to do better than their parents—and one in which Wall Street is perceived as being able to continue business as usual while Main Street struggles. “Americans are OK with inequality,” says Reich, who believes we are at a tipping point, “as long as they feel the system isn’t rigged.”

All this said, there are some glimmers of hope in the New Normal.

  • Post-crisis, consumers are putting a greater value on time spent with family and friends than on money (a good thing when there’s little of the latter around)
  • There’s also a glimmer of possibility that hard times might make us nicer to each other … simply thinking about money made subjects less sensitive to pain, and less likely to help each other or want to connect with strangers

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Gartner Highlights Key Predictions for IT Organizations and Users in 2010 and Beyond

Here are Gartner’s predictions for the coming years in IT:

http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1278413

The most interesting one is “By 2012, 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets”. The argument they make is that essentially more and more organizations will use cloud computing and refrain from buying their own equipment. Also, more and more users will access corporate data using personal mobile communications and their own laptops. In other words the company will own and control less hardware; the equipment will all be owned and managed by third parties.

This is a surprising and rather aggressive prediction. I agree with the trend and I can see a future in which IT departments focus a lot more on strategic initiatives rather than managing now commoditized IT equipment and infrastructure. Cloud computing is radically transforming the IT function and will have a major unquestionable impact on IT budgets and how IT is perceived within the organization. But 2012 is awfully close. I do not think the transformation will occur so quickly.

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The Laws of Simplicity

In these prior blog posts:

Applying Occam’s Razor Principle to Product Design – Lessons learned from our Project Management Software design experiences

Occam’s Principle Applied to IT Investments

I outlined how Occam’s Razor principle could apply to product design and IT investments. I recently stumbled on to the writings of John Maeda who has authored a book on the laws of simplicity. A summary of the laws can be found here:

http://lawsofsimplicity.com/category/keys?order=ASC

A review of the laws is a good refresher for anyone in charge of project management, new product development and software design. The last law states: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful. This is actually Occam’s principle which I described and provided some examples for in the above mentioned posts. In fact as John Maeda mentions in his book and on his website Occam’s principle is really an encapsulation of the first nine laws.

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Localism – There’s No Place Like Home

A great article by Newsweek magazine (http://www.newsweek.com/id/217029/page/1) on the trend towards staying local. Here are some of the key takeaways:

Perhaps nothing will be as surprising about 21st-century America as its settledness.

Yet in reality Americans actually are becoming less nomadic. As recently as the 1970s as many as one in five people moved annually; by 2006, long before the current recession took hold, that number was 14 percent, the lowest rate since the census starting following movement in 1940. Since then tougher times have accelerated these trends, in large part because opportunities to sell houses and find new employment have dried up.

Our less mobile nature is already reshaping the corporate world. The kind of corporate nomadism described in Peter Kilborn’s recent book, Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America’s Rootless Professional Class, in which families relocate every couple of years so the breadwinner can reach the next rung on the managerial ladder, will become less common in years ahead. A smaller cadre of corporate executives may still move from place to place, but surveys reveal many executives are now unwilling to move even for a good promotion. Why? Family and technology are two key factors working against nomadism, in the workplace and elsewhere.

Nothing allows for geographic choice more than the ability to work at home. By 2015, suggests demographer Wendell Cox, there will be more people working electronically at home full time than taking mass transit, making it the largest potential source of energy savings on transportation.

Some studies indicate that more than one quarter of the U.S. workforce could eventually participate in this new work pattern. Even IBM, whose initials were once jokingly said to stand for “I’ve Been Moved,” has changed its approach. Roughly 40 percent of the company’s workers now labor at home or remotely from a client’s location.

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Scrum Project Management

Here is an amazingly good video that describes the Scrum development methodology in less than ten minutes. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get a quick and effective introduction to a new and now proven project management and software development methodology. We have started to use scrum in some of our R&D projects. We decided to use Agile/scrum to develop two new product modules that require a highly iterative creative approach. We continue to use traditional PMBOK type project management for feature enhancements and core product development. After some debate we concluded it is better to initially apply Scrum to “blue sky” type R&D projects. What we learn from these new projects can then be applied to our feature enhancement and core product development efforts. I will be able to share our experiences regarding these new methodologies in about six months when we are closer to the end of these pilot projects.

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The No Collar Workplace

Here is an interesting article that examines the types of personalities that can excel at working remotely or from a home office. These are the main takeaways:

Duff assumed it would be the quants, introverts, and reclusive types who would thrive in a virtual work situation. After all, they’re the ones who keep their heads burrowed in their cubicles. But it turns out it’s the extroverts — the office gabbers, the life of the break-room party — who thrive in the land of virtual work. Left on their own, these types of employees are the ones who work closely with clients, chum around with colleagues, and talk it up with bosses. They stay connected no matter where they are.

Shy, disorganized types are better kept in-house. The office environment is more forgiving of the scatterbrained; its structures help provide external reinforcement — as in your comrade popping his head into your office to remind you that you are late for the meeting (again). There’s also something to be said for the social interactions of an office environment. It doesn’t require much to keep up basic relationships when you are physically at work.

Duff also thought that mobile workers would tend to be seat-of-the-pants types. Again, the opposite turned out to be true. “Mobile workers are far more organized, personally, than their office-bound counterparts,” he says. “They have to be on top of their game the whole time.”

Based on our experiences with remote offices and employees I mostly agree with these findings. Here are a few of our own best practices for remote workers:

  • The best remote workers are people you have worked with in a physical office. The longer you have worked with them the more likely it is for the remote relationship to be a successful one. Of course, the above criteria still applies. If this person is a disorganized introvert then going remote will only make matters worse.
  • Do not hire someone who has always worked from the office as a first time remote worker. This is too much of an adjustment for anyone. A more gradual approach to going full remote (let’s say two days a week to start) is much more likely to succeed.
  • Invest a lot of time in nurturing the remote relationship. We assume too much when we work with others, especially those we do not see. Taking the time to talk to them frequently, asking them how it’s going, and finding opportunities to connect with them virtually and in person goes a long way in making the relationship successful.
  • It takes a village to go remote. You have to make sure that remote workers have the collaboration from everyone in the main office and access to the information they need to feel connected and get their work done. For example, if you are having Internet issues in the main office or any major pending announcements, your IT and HR personnel should immediately notify all remote workers of such events. After the fact is too late. Every event is an opportunity to build trust and enhance communication. Lack of such updates actually alienates people and hurts their trust in you and the organization they work for.

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Eight Business Technology Trends that Validate Project Workforce Management

Thanks to Parallax View, one of the blogs on CIOInsight.com, we found a summary of a new report on The McKinsey Quarterly’s web site that describes eight-technology-enabled business trends that will help shape businesses and the economy in coming years. These eight trends fit in perfectly with the concepts underlying Project Workforce Management.

The full article on The McKinsey Quarterly is here:
http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_page.aspx?ar=2080&l2=13&l3=11&srid=27
(free registration required)

The blog post on CIO Insight, which we quote below, is here:
http://blogs.cioinsight.com/parallax_view/content/emerging_technology/
eight_businesstech_trends_to_watch.html

McKinsey groups these trends into three categories, around relationships, capital and assets, and information. My comments follow in italics.

Managing Relationships

1. Distributing co-creation that furnishes companies radical new ways to harvest the talents of innovators working outside corporate boundaries.

The report makes note that while software and editorial content are easily co-created today, this trend will expand to physical goods.  In my opinion, this will continue to "flatten" the world so that even more types of work are managed by globally dispersed teams.

2. Using consumers as innovators by exploiting Web 2.0 technologies to tap a new mood among consumers to engage online with organizations of all kinds.

In this sense, a business’ customers are becoming its innovation partners, and the lines defining a "corporation" are becoming even more blurred. Business organizations are less and less defined by the buildings where they are headquartered or by a well defined group of full-time employees.

3. Tapping into a world of talent that allows companies to outsource increasingly specialized aspects of their work—such as finance, marketing, IT and operations—while still maintaining organizational coherence.

4. Extracting more value from interactions through tools that promote tacit collaboration, including wikis, virtual team environments and videoconferencing.

These two trends have "Project Workforce Management" written all over them: using technology to enable a truly project-based workforce, consisting of the best available talent wherever it may be found. The McKinsey article goes into some detail about how creativity and motivation–and therefore productivity–are enhanced as a result.

Managing Capital and Assets

5. Expanding the frontiers of automation by interconnecting existing automated systems through common standards. This information can be combined in new ways to automate an increasing array of broader activities, such as inventory management and customer service.

This trend is all about breaking down the information silos: a major objective–and a critical prerequisite–to enablement of the project workforce. According to McKinsey, " Companies still have substantial headroom to automate … and to interlink “islands of automation” and in so doing give managers and customers the ability to collaborate and communicate better than ever before." In other words, there is a lot of opportunity for technologies including Project Workforce Management to improve the ways in which we work.

6. Unbundling production from delivery by disaggregating monolithic systems into reusable components, measuring the use of each and billing for that use in ever-smaller increments.

The delivery of services is becoming uncoupled from the infrastructures, as we see with wireless services and some other utilities, and with Amazon.com’s offering of its ecommerce platform. Just as organizations are breaking down into more flexible and usable project teams, monolithic systems are breaking down into usable and reusable parts.

Leveraging Information In New Ways

7. Putting more science into management to help managers exploit ever-greater amounts of data to make smarter decisions and develop insights that create competitive advantage and new business models. Ubiquitous standards-based technologies promote aggregation, processing and decision making based on the use of growing pools of rich data.

McKinsey’s article cites several examples of fascinating ways that companies are using technology to generate more useful and actionable business information.  The authors state: "… it’s hard to believe that we are only at an early stage in this trend. Yet we are." Given the  vast amounts of data that businesses can now generate, the next imperative is to put it to use.

8. Making business from information by capturing accumulated pools of data in numerous systems to serve as the raw materials for new, information-based business opportunities.

This trend is where #5 meets #7: breaking down the barriers between large silos of data and generating new business as a result.

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Project Managers: Avoid the MESS with Meeting Miser

By way of this post by John Hollon on Workforce.com (Workforce Management magazine): How Much do Bad Meetings Really Cost?, we found the Meeting Miser, a wonderful little tool for calculating the cost of a meeting.

The Meeting Miser is available on Payscale.com, and if you are not careful, you can waste valuable time playing with it!

Using the Meeting Miser, I can see that a meeting at my office in Montreal Quebec, between myself and four colleagues would cost the company approximately $5.00 per minute, or $300 per hour. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much, but considering the number of meetings that many companies indulge in, and the fact that many meetings have even more participants, the costs can be staggering over time.

More people in our flattening world are gaining an understanding of the MESS (management by Meetings, Email, SpreadSheets) that is eating up our productivity. Tools like Meeting Miser–even if it is just a fun widget–are raising awareness about the real costs of the MESS.

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