Tracking Project Hours/Deadlines

Lately I’ve been trying to work out a good process for quoting projects and tracking the billable hours and deadlines. I’ve had a couple large projects go over budget/deadline, and I think two of the main reasons are that I wasn’t realistic enough in the quote, and that I just wasn’t being intentional about monitoring the progress. My natural tendency is is to leave all the “business” stuff to my boss and just focus on doing my core job right, but I need to take those things into account because how I do my job has a direct impact on whether or not the ultimate project goals are met. With my anal-retentiveness I can easily spend 3 hours on something that could be done the “wrong” way in 30 minutes.

The client’s not gonna care if I take the time to properly slice up visual elements from the mockup and put them together in a flexible and semantically correct way — dealing with cross-browser positioning and PNG transparency issues — rather than just creating large chunks the way a WYSIWYG tool would. It’ll make me cringe, but It looks the same to them, and we’re just going to end up eating the cost if it goes over budget.

Of course, there are some things where taking shortcuts will cost you in the long-term, and there are some things that should always be done the right way, so you have to find a balance, taking all the factors into consideration on a case-by-case basis.

So, to try and fix this in the future I’ve made a couple changes. When quoting things, I’m trying to think in more detail about what will be involved in each line-item, and giving them a little more padding on top of that because of my tendency to under-estimate. I also think it’s important to have a line item for miscellaneous and unforeseeable things, equal to about 20% of the original estimation, and then make it clear to the client that additional requests during development that weren’t in the original quote will be billed on top of the spec’d work.

To track deadlines, I’ve just put reminders on my calendar for the major milestones, and set them to remind me a few weeks ahead of time so I see how close I am and make adjustments if needed.

To track hours, I’ve started adding more details in my task manager, ToDoList. I used to just add an entry for each item that needed to be done, but now I’m categorizing them into a folder for spec’d tasks that were in the quote and then another for additional requests. I’ve started listing the category on my timesheet, in addition to the project, so at the end of the week I can add those hours to a running tab in ToDoList and see how they compare to the quote. This also lets me know exactly how many hours were spent on additional requests, so we can properly bill for them.

2 thoughts on “Tracking Project Hours/Deadlines

  1. I’ve been hesitant to move away from the Excel spreadsheet I’ve used for years, but I finally tried Toggl the other day. I like the precise timing and automatic totaling, but the desktop app seems too tied to the online service (e.g., you have to go to the website to create clients and projects).

    I searched around for a free desktop app that might work, but only found a few that looked good. Right now I’m trying out Rachota and it seems pretty good so far. The interface is a little annoying, and it isn’t specifically geared towards client/project work, but it might be good enough.

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