The Tools that Make our Web Agency Tick: Harvest
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This entry is part one of the series: The Tools That Make Our Web Agency Tick
Extensions, apps, and tools make our daily life easier, in and out of the office. From tracking our health goals to managing our inbox, we interact with dozens of plug-ins and apps every day.
At Planet Argon, there are a handful of tools that our web agency couldn’t operate without. They save us massive amounts of time and help our business operate. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to a few of these apps and tools. This will give you insight into how our company works and the systems we have in place, and may help you choose new tools for your business as well.
As a design and development agency, we work with our clients on both a project and retainer basis. Projects are a set roadmap of work over an established period of time. As we complete work each month on a project, time is billed toward the established project budget. For retainers, clients are able to reserve a certain number of front and back-end developer and project manager hours for the month – and as we work through their goals for the month, we bill toward their retainer amount. While this is happening, we also have several team members working on internal projects as well. This could be developer resourcing meetings, updating our website, or writing a blog post.
To keep all of our internal, external, and retainer projects on track and limit surprises, we use Harvest to track time spent on every task. For external projects, we track the exact time on each item in each client's backlog. Harvest is a handy time tracking tool, complete with a desktop app, mobile app, and Chrome and Safari extensions. It integrates directly with project management tools like JIRA (which we use), Trello, and Basecamp to make time tracking seamless. Plus, Harvest is built with Ruby on Rails – which of course, we love.
Harvest doesn’t attempt to be an all-in-one tool. It doesn’t handle actual client billing, and it isn’t a project management tool. It’s a simple time tracker that integrates seamlessly with the other tools you need to run your business.
When tracking time spent on projects isn’t intuitive, it’s often forgotten or roughly estimated at the end of the day. The ease of use that Harvest provides makes it painless and ensures our time is tracked accurately.
Our System for Team Members
Harvest pairs well with our project management system, JIRA. All of our clients are separated into different JIRA boards with their own backlogs and tasks. When a team member is working on a client’s project, they find the task they’re working on in JIRA, identify the type of work they’re doing, then copy and paste the ticket number into Harvest, and start the timer.
Under each project or retainer bucket in Harvest, there’s the ability to put in the type of work you’re doing. This separates visual design from front-end implementation from project management.
You can customize the types of work you do for each project. The options under our internal marketing bucket are different than for client development work.
For tracking my time on this blog post, it looks something like this.
Harvest runs in the background while I’m working on this task. Once I've finished this post, I’ll pause this timer in Harvest, change gears, and start a new timer for the next project.
At the end of the day, these times sync with JIRA to show time spent on the ticket.
While this blog post didn’t have an estimated time to begin with, client work will have estimations on each ticket. You’ll be able to see estimated time vs. actual time spent on each item. This helps refine estimations in the future. The more often you’re able to see when things are over or underestimated, the more accurate you can be.
Harvest helps project or team managers keep track of their team’s workload and progress. If you have a set number of hours that your team is required to log each week, Harvest admins are able to quickly check hourly logs at the end of the week to confirm.
The hours tracked and synced into JIRA allow us to send weekly progress reports and burndown charts to our clients. The transparency provided by an accurate tracking tool allows us to guarantee no surprises – none of our clients will be shocked by an overage at the end of the month. They’re able to see weekly how much time we spent on their project, along with what specific tasks were worked on or completed.
If new items are added to the backlog for the month or unexpected issues arise that may result in overages, this weekly report along with our weekly status calls will enable potential overages to be discussed early and approved by the client.
Billing Systems with Harvest
We value transparency – both internally with our teammates and when working with our clients. So how we establish retainer and project amounts and what’s accomplished with that budget doesn’t need to be mysterious voodoo magic. You should never be left wondering, “Where did my money go?” It’s a trackable system that we’re open about with our clients. Harvest helps us maintain this transparency.
At the end of the month, our Project Manager is able to look at Harvest and see the amount of time each team member has spent on each client that month. Harvest is able to create a detailed report for the entire month for a specific team member, client, or project.
Our Harvest use goes beyond billing client work. Harvest helps us keep track of vacation time, see total time spent working for the week, and manage our own time better. When a team member is out of the office for a doctor’s appointment, or takes a week off, they implement this time into Harvest to track sick time or vacation time used.
As the Marketing Manager here at Planet Argon, I don’t work on client work. Unless you work at an agency, you probably don’t either. Harvest is still useful for keeping my day on track. I can see how much time I’m spending on weekly recurring tasks vs. one-off projects, and organize my time better.
This makes Harvest a mega useful tool for companies of all sizes and specialties, not just agencies. You’re able to get insight into how you’re spending your time. And the more you know about where your time went, the smarter you can be about it going forward.