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Tracking for Transparency

by Marek Tyniec on May 26, 2015
Published in The Interviewed Add Comment

Changing people’s habits is always hard, but using time tracking software can be beneficial for your customers, company, and employees. How can you achieve this win-win-win situation?

We had a chance to invite Alari Aho, CEO of Toggl to our office. While he and our COO, Milosz Bazela enjoyed a short coffee break, I took the opportunity to ask them about their experience of using time tracking software.

Alari Aho, CEO of Toggl in the middle, Milosz Bazela, COO of XHTMLized on the right

Alari Aho, CEO of Toggl in the middle, Milosz Bazela, COO of XHTMLized on the right

The first question was quite obvious, yet fundamental.

How important it is to track work time?

Alari Aho: We have three main types of Toggl users. Consultancy companies who need to have transparency, show how they spend the time, whether they are under budget or over budget.

The second group are product development companies who also need to have transparency. If they spend e.g. three months in development of the product and nothing is yet ready the question of a customer is, where did the time go? Actually, a lot of teams use Toggl to get the better understanding in what part of the product they spend the most of the time on.

And then the third group are actually people who are using Toggl for themselves. We call them “productivity freaks”, that want to measure everything in their life, including time. Each group has obviously different goals to capture the time.

And which group do we belong to, here at Xfive? Are we looking for transparency or we’re just “productivity freaks”?

Milosz Bazela: For us, the most important thing is to track time spent on the projects to see what the real cost was for us to be fair with the price for the customer. Thanks to that knowledge, we can offer attractive prices and yet still the project can be profitable.

For me, the most important point is transparency, because we have two sides: the customers and the developers. Was it hard for both of you, to show developers that time tracking is also beneficial for them?

Alari Aho: Actually it is. When you have a product like this with which you have to teach people something new or change their habits, it’s really hard to sell it. The resistance is quite big. That’s why we’re targeting those groups that are aware of the need of time tracking, so we don’t have to commit them.

In teams we’re working with, there is usually a key person that team is Toggling to and who believes the team needs to track time. And that person actually does the hard work of making the team use it. It is not easy.

We have seen that it sometimes takes a couple of months to form a habit of tracking time. It is almost impossible to do it without that key person in the team.

Milosz Bazela: In our case, it didn’t take so long to make it really work. I think the most important thing is being very fair with the team and explaining to them what the main reason is for tracking the time.

At the beginning we said that we’re not using Toggl for checking “what are you doing personally”. We’re using Toggl, because we need to know, what we’re doing right now for our clients. We need to know our cost.

They really got it quickly and saw that it’s not against them but just for the company. That was the perception. It’s not against developers.

What we see in our two years of heavy Toggl usage is that it’s working quite nicely. Of course, it sometimes happens that someone forgets about using it, but they can fix their report at the end of the week.

On the other hand, I’ve heard from one of the developers that he doesn’t like it as an idea, but Toggl is much better than writing everything down in an Excel spreadsheet which still happens in even big companies. So can you tell us a little bit more about making Toggl more user-friendly?

Alari Aho: From its beginning there were two main things about Toggl: that users don’t have to spend time to track time. Basically it has to be a very efficient way to capture time.

It has to be just a couple of seconds to open it and start the time running. So it should be effortless. And if it is effortless, then you can track time as it happens.

I think this is the key point of tracking time, because you don’t lose time for doing it. Because if you are doing it at the end of the day or at the end of the week and approximating,  you can forget about some small parts of the job you have done.

You can easily forget e.g. half an hour of your project if you didn’t do it immediately. And if you lose few such items during the week and multiply it with 52 weeks it occurs that you’ve lost quite a lot of tracked time.

That was the point that Toggl has to be effortless and always there for you so you can track time as it happens.

And how does it work here? Is it really effortless?

Milosz Bazela: You know, nobody is happy using a time tracker. I don’t know of a single person who likes it. Ok, maybe managers like it…

…and you’re a manager, so do you like it?

Milosz Bazela: Well.. I’m not using Toggl myself unfortunately, but as a manager I like it because I have that transparency of the production cost of our projects. It’s a great and huge tool that gives me really important knowledge. I’m absolutely sure that developers are not happy, because nobody like to do extra things.

But if they have that primary knowledge of why we are using it, if they know the reason, if they know that it makes sense, they understand that it is important for the company, and it is relatively easy to use and friendly, so I think it’s working.

I see that it is working in our company because I don’t have to remind people every second “Guys, please remember about your Toggl”. It’s happening from time to time that somebody will forget about their habit, but in 90% of time it’s working really fine.

People understood that it’s important, then accept that extra effort. Probably they can invent better ways to spend that time than Toggling it, but on the other hand they see benefits over using other solutions such as Excel.

And do you have some estimations how using modern time tracking tools makes companies more competitive?

Alari Aho: We have a feedback from our users, that they can earn more money thanks to the transparency they provide to the customers. E.g. the budget was 60 hours but we’ve spent 80 hours and we can show how and for what it was spent. And then it’s easier to ask for the real price. That’s actually what people are saying.

It’s not exactly about being more productive, but definitely companies are gaining from using Toggl. And the second thing, and I have this personal experience, if you start tracking time, it makes you more focused. You see that the clock is ticking and now it’s the time to do that exact thing.

It helps especially if you have a tendency to multitask, to do many things at once, which is very unproductive actually. If you start time tracking you can say: “Ok, now I’m doing this and only this”. It’s a huge helper to focus. It’s written and the clock is ticking. So this way it helps you to be more productive.

So generally speaking it’s all about transparency and productivity. For us it’s about transparency, so we can show our customers what we are working on during the contracted time…

Milosz Bazela: Yes, that’s the part of the deal with our clients who are buying bulk packages of hours. We’re showing that we’ve spent time working for them. That’s definitely an important thing with using Toggl.

So in conclusion we can say that Toggl doesn’t make developers miserable because they see that they can earn more money for the company and themselves thanks to being more transparent?

Alari Aho: Yes, that’s a nice conclusion.

About the author

Marek Tyniec

Marek Tyniec joined Xfive in 2015 as a marketing specialist. When not thinking of CTRs and Conversion Rates, he rides his bike and writes a cycling blog.

More articles from Marek

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