Tag Archives: billability

time tracking is broken – and “hours” makes it worse

This recent Medium post irked me.

It’s by one of the creators / operators / owners of Hours, a “new” time-tracking and -reporting company.

The intro had such promise, because it is so true:

There is a reason why almost every time tracking service out there says it takes the pain out of time tracking. Time tracking stinks! For companies, unreliable time tracking is literally a multi-billion dollar a day problem. For employees, time tracking can be one of the worst parts of their job (hint: the two are related). You would think that by now someone would have come out with the ideal time tracking service that solves the fundamental problems.

But then Jeremy Olson explains how Hours is supposed to be better – completely missing the point that time tracking sucks: everything he outlines is already being done in some form by current time-tracking tools.

For billable work, such as what I do, a minimum billing increment is typically 1 hour. Which is stupid. Weekly billing for consulting makes worlds more sense – charging $187.50 per hour ($7,500 for 40 hours) plus travel and expenses is complicated (especially when T&E typically hit $2000-2500 every week (trust me, I’ve been doing this for most of a decade now)): charge $10,000 per week and be done with it. And, of course, that presumes you have the “discount” constant rate – you’re probably paying closer to $0.07/second (aka $250/hr) for a mid-tier technical consultant, and as much as $0.14/second ($500/hr) for a management or principal consultant.

$500/hr for a full week (and we consultants do our darnedest to make sure all of our time is utilized (aka “billable”)) is $20,000 per week. When you’re at the point of buying consulting time measured in hundreds or thousands of hours (as most engagements I am involved with are), “saving” an hour here or there is not a savings – being billed for four consultants for a total of 158 hours in one calendar week is not fundamentally any different from being billed for 160 hours (aka 4 full work weeks) – it’s a 1.25% difference; at most it’s a “savings” of $1000, and probably closer to just $300 or $400.

Even being billed for 38 hours from one consultant (plus T&E) is only a 5% savings over being billed for an entire week (plus T&E, so it’s probably more like a 2-3% savings, tops).

The problem Hours sets out to solve is the wrong problem: while there are some billable practitioners who truly need granular, partial-hour reckoning (lawyers working several “simple” actions at once, etc), the vast majority of salaried folks do NOT need to track their time more granularly than by the half day, and more likely only by the day or week (indeed, I’d say most salaried employees don’t really need to track their time at all – if they’re getting their work done, that should be all that matters) – which tools like Harvest handle very nicely (and, btw, which have an excellent mobile interface (including for expense reports), which blows the theory Olson tries to promulgate out of the water when he says, “[i]t baffles me that most major time tracking companies don’t invest more in mobile” – Harvest may not be a “mobile-first time tracking service”, but it is more than amply served in its mobile incarnation.

Is there a market for time-tracking outside the work place? Sure. Things like the Pomodoro Technique use timers and tracking to help optimize your day. But that market doesn’t need yet-another-time-tracking-app – which is all Hours appears to be.

What about the reporting end? I’ve seen reporting in Harvest, Footsteps, and many other tools – they all work (to a greater or lesser extent) the same, and they all produce relatively useful reports. Are Hours’ reports really “better”? Maybe – but it seems a tenuous claim to make, at best.

It seems like the Hours team could’ve spent their time either truly making time-tracking better, faster, easier, and less-invasive (as described in the article, Hours makes time tracking far more invasive than it should be).

But they didn’t.