See all Insights

The Benefits of a Coordinated Project, Schedule, and Billing System

Ive posted several articles on resourcing in the past, specifically on introducing the concept, differentiating between the delivering and resourcing roles, how timekeeping is necessary, and how shifting the culture of project management is necessary. I shared a good amount about how we measured our data, but I didnt speak much about the actual tools we use to coordinate our projects, schedule work, and keep track of billing.

We use an open-source program called dotProject to manage our complete client roster and all projects from start, to finish, to ongoing upgrades. Believe it or not, before we started using this program (not so long ago- in 2006), we managed schedules and tasks with emails and whiteboards. You can imagine why we needed help! Because the tool is open-source, weve been able to customize it enough to fit how we work, as well as tie it in to an existing admin system we built long ago to keep track of sites on our live and development servers, maintain prototypes, and catalog design layouts.

In the image above youll see the dotProject screen showing a client of ours and the beginning of a long list of tasks weve set up in our system since the start of our relationship with them- from prototyping to recent upgrades to their site. Its simple to set up a new client, manage all of our contact information, tie the record in with our admin system and begin setting up tasks in minutes (Ive whited-out a good bit of the info here for privacy purposes).

This next screen (see above) shows the task level for a record in our system. You can see that you easily set up a new task, assign it to a client record and employees pretty simply. Once its in the system, we use logs to track progress and questions along the way. Every time a log is posted to a task, all the employees assigned to the task receive an email alert.

Remember how I said that before using this system we used whiteboards to plan our production schedule? Its embarrassing, but pretty common in smaller shops. Now that weve grown, it was just no longer feasible to manage things that way. What we needed was a visual tool showing our production schedule from a birds eye view, that was also sortable and flexible by resource. Our engineering team built just that and tied it in with our dotProject system so that all active tasks would appear in our visual traffic view (see image below).

These tools are incredibly helpful. At this point in our companys history, were doing more work for more clients than weve ever done, and we have more people internally than weve ever had. We also have two offices, one here in Chapel Hill and the other in Providence, Rhode Island. Between the growth in number and complexity of what we do, and the size of our staff, theres obviously too much room for error with whiteboards and emails, but theres also room for error in our current system. After all, its just a tool. However, the foundation on which the tool rests is our process.

In March, Mark wrote about our project anatomy, noting that it is what holds us accountable to our process while still allowing for growth. We started by printing it out on paper- our idea was that if it worked on paper (click image at left to download the entire anatomy in PDF view), it would eventually work as an online checklist that was integrated with our dotProject and Admin system. We eventually finalized the anatomy and built an online tool that allows our Project Managers to track the process and ensure that no step- especially not QA – is overlooked (see image below).

The benefit here is that by keeping our data in a centralized system that everyone at Newfangled can access, we create a sense of transparency across the company in addition to having a flexible and efficient tool. Although I didnt show screenshots (for obvious reasons), our system includes a detailed billing interface that tracks budgets from quoting stage through invoicing as well as provides sales reports.

Were continuing to expand and improve our system. The more we use it, the more ideas we have for how to improve it.

Related Posts