Project Management that actually WORKS

Project Management that actually WORKS

Managing a project can get real hairy real quickly. Look at our own process as an example:

  • We begin with a great idea – taken from our storehouse of great ideas, Jira, of course.
  • We talk through of how we think it should work within our context.
  • We write out the details of what we think should be done.
  • We break down the stuff that needs to get done into small segments – 8-to-16-hour work-items.
  • We figure out the skills needed for each of these work-items.
  •  We use a Gantt Chart to set up Tasks.
  • We assign those tasks to various people using a Resources mechanism.
  • We get to work.

Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, not at all. Yes, all the pieces are in place, but how do we know how things are going on a day-to-day basis? For example, someone takes off for a day fo personal reasons – how do we know about that? And how do we figure out how that will affect the project? If you’re anything like a typical team, there are always other things that intrude on your work – customer issues, tech issues, laptop failures, you name it. And they all impact someone’s ability to deliver on the tasks they have to work on. Yes, they may have a nice dashboard that shows what they should be working on today. And they may even have ways ot marking those things as Done when done. But that’s when things are done – what about when things are being done? How do we know if things are slowing down?

The best way we’ve found is to do the following:

  1. Begin with setting the number of hours each assignment takes, right in the assignment
  2. Break the assigned hours across the days that someone’s to work on the task – say, 4 hours a day for 6 days if it takes 6 days to deliver
  3. Get everyone to track the hours that they spend on each of their task, every day, using an effect time-tracker
  4. Get people to report PTO requests regularly
  5. Report the hours spent on each task against the hours that should have been spent by now, based on the daily breakdown and the time-tracked hours
  6. Talk to people when these hours don’t match, help them fix things early.

With this simple mechanism in place, you can tell if things are slowing down, very early in the game. You can tell ahead of time if your project needs more people, more time, more money, a new laptop, whatever. That’s how you can make sure that your project management is actually working.

Now, you can do all of this and more using PK4 TimeTracker and our Project Management add-on.

  • With the Gantt chart, you can plan your whole project out, with work-breakdown at a Task level.
  • You can then assign those tasks to various people having multiple people doing things on each task, if needed.
  • People can use the Tasks tab to track when they need to do, as can you for your project.
  • Everyone can request and track PTO requests as they come up.
  • People can report the time they’ve spent on each task – they can use Salesforce, a web app, a mobile app, Jira, Slack or a Chrome Extension to report time worked.
  • If you have stages in your project, you can track those stages for each task on the Kanban Board.
  • You can see who’s working on what, what days they’re overloaded on, what days they’re on PTO – all via the Resources tab.
  • You can set up any number of Salesforce reports to track work-breakdown and time at every level of detail.

The key thing in all this is that you can track tasks as they get done, based on the time that people report for each task assignment. This gives you a much clearer idea of how things are going than jotting down notes during meetings.

Hopefully, this will get you sleeping better.🙂

P.S: Check out the details of Project Management here.

How MercuryGate Plugged Revenue Leakage from Support Cases

How MercuryGate Plugged Revenue Leakage from Support Cases

As one of the leading transportation management software providers, MercuryGate International simplifies and centralizes freight transportation for logistics companies across the world. Their platform supports all modes of transport including ocean, air, rail, truckload, last-mile, parcel, and intermodal.

Based out of Cary, NC, Mercury Gate has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Logistics IT Providers by Inbound Logistics Magazine. MercuryGate also provides integrations, technology, and managed services partnerships.

Challenges

MercuryGate Support is billed separately to some of their customers. For those customers, it is not a part of their subscription fees. With a Services Implementation team, a Customer Support team, and a developer group all working on customer-facing issues, MercuryGate had a hard time keeping track of the actual time spent on specific customer cases.

Since Services Implementation was usually a timed project service, that team used a Professional Services Automation tool called OpenAir to track their time. And that worked very well for the Services implementation team. However, as the Tier 1 and Tier2 Customer Support teams grew, it became imperative for the Support team to track their time. In addition, the developer group needed to spend time on Customer Support cases too, which also needed to be tracked.

Disparate Platforms: The Services Implementation team used OpenAir to track their time and material-based projects. The Customer Support team worked on Cases within Salesforce but needed to additionally log into OpenAir just to track the time that they spent on customer cases. The developer group used Atlassian’s Jira to keep track of their work. But they too needed to log in to OpenAir to record their time.

Siloed Systems: None of the systems talked to each other. Each group worked in a separate silo. It was hard to convince the Customer Support and Developer teams to record their times in a separate system. Following that, the accounting team needed to run reports in OpenAir to get an extract of the time worked on Cases and then download those reports as Excel sheets to send over to their billing system.

Poor integration: Since the Support Team spent the maximum amount of time on Customer Cases and worked completely in Salesforce, MercuryGate needed a system that would work easily and accurately within Salesforce.

This prompted MercuryGate to look for an alternative solution that could meet its evolving needs for time tracking. 

Solution

In 2021, MercuryGate implemented PK4’s Time Tracker for Salesforce. PK4 added in a webhook module to automatically bring in developer work logs from Jira identified by Salesforce Case Number back into Salesforce.

Results

Intuitive, efficient time tracking for Support Team

MercuryGate implemented PK4 Time Tracker’s Salesforce Lightning component within their Case object. The support team now saves time and has a much more intuitive system, because they can now stay on the Case in Salesforce. They no longer need to access a separate system to track their time. And ALL hours spent on a Case are now accurately tracked.

Improved Time Tracking Convenience 

PK4 TimeTracker automatically brought the Jira work logs that were already being used by the Developer Group directly into Salesforce, tied to the specific customer case. Developers previously had to double-log their time in Jira and OpenAir. Now, they did not even need to click on a button to get their hours into Salesforce. The hours that the developers recorded in Jira are automatically brought into Salesforce through a webhook, provided by the PK4 TimeTracker.

Sometimes, the Professional Services Team that did the original implementation for the Customer needs to work on a customer case. Most of the PSA team does not have access to Salesforce. Those team members now use the PK4 Time Tracker web app to log the time that they spent on a specific Case. And that data too is automatically synced to Salesforce.

Decreased time and inaccuracies.

Before the PK4 TimeTracker was implemented, the Tier 1 and Tier 2 support teams needed to log into OpenAir to log their times. Because Accounting billed customers based on their Case numbers, the support team needed to create a task in OpenAir with the Salesforce Case number. Since the support team spent most of their time working on cases in Salesforce, they needed to spend additional time at the end of the day recording all the Cases worked during the day in OpenAir. This led to a lot of dropped hours and inaccuracies in the Case numbers. MercuryGate was reconciling time between Jira, Salesforce, and OpenAir making the whole process inefficient and inaccurate. With the PK4 TimeTracker in place, the whole operation now is streamlined and smooth.

Increased billing

Within the first month of implementation, MercuryGate noticed that the billed time for the development group and the PSA group had gone up. Because of the double logging issue, developers were reluctant to log into a second system and record their time. Now with the Jira work logs being brought automatically into Salesforce, all work hours spent on billable cases are being accurately recorded. This has turned into real dollars for MercuryGate since the developers were doing billable work for customers that were not actually being billed.

Tech Components 

  • Salesforce Sales Cloud
  • PK4 TimeTracker in Salesforce
  • PK4 TimeTracker Web
  • PK4 TimeTracker Jira Integration.

Download Case Study as PDF File

5 Tips to Manage 1099 Contractors

5 Tips to Manage 1099 Contractors

 

More than 20 million people in the US are independent contractors. This means there’s plenty to choose from, and there’s some very good reason to use them instead of salaried employees. For example, you only need to pay independent contractors for a specific volume of work, and independent contractors will usually have all the tools they need to do a job. 

Project management involving 1099 contractors will usually take a degree of team management to get the desired results. Follow some simple steps, and you are already closer to getting the completed job you’re hoping for.

1. Set Clear Expectations

It’s a good idea to set expectations when working with anybody, especially 1099 contractors. You need to make it clear exactly what you need to be done and how it needs to be done. This should also include details on which materials are to be used and make them aware of limitations on working hours or other restrictions.

With expectations set, the contractor can then set about their task in full confidence that they’re doing what’s expected of them. If you don’t set expectations, the contractor could become confused and not fully understand the scope of the task. Such poor project management can result in a poorly done job.

Good team management also involves communicating clearly during the job as well as well as before. If there are any updates or changes to what you need, let the contractor know as soon as you know. And remember that if there are changes to the plan, you should pay the contractor according to what you agreed upon initially.

2. Use a Time Tracker

Time Tracker on the Web, Mobile

Time Tracker on the Web, Mobile

It’s usually a good idea to track how much time remote employees are working on tasks, especially if they are being paid by the hour. Let contractors know that they are being monitored, and it can help to prevent any temptations to take liberties with your time.

Using a time tracker like the  PK4 TimeTracker can also help with project management for other reasons. For example, a time tracker will help make it easier for you to keep accurate records of how long remote employees have worked for, which helps when it comes to invoicing and accounting. A time tracker can also help you see if time is being spent well, potentially helping you make changes that will help you make contractors more productive. And you can make it easy by giving your contractors access to a mobile or web app, so that the learning curve is smoother.

3. Create a Contract 

You should always create a contract before any work gets started. The contract should include details such as the scope of the work involved, the materials used, and the overall cost of doing the job. A contract should also help you provide guidelines that will help you measure the contractor’s performance and set limitations on what the contractor can or cannot do.

With the scope of the task and other details officially noted, the contractor can go ahead and start work with confidence. If, for whichever reason, the terms of the contract are not met, then you both have an option to take a legal approach if necessary.

4. Don’t Micromanage

Good team management often involves standing back and letting the professionals do what they’re good at. If you’ve recruited a professional with a solid track record, then you should have confidence that they can do what they’re skilled at without your supervision.

Micromanaging is only likely to lead to frustration, and the contractor’s productivity could take a hit. Micromanaging is also likely to be time-consuming and potentially frustrating for you, and it’s unlikely to provide any benefit.

And remember that in most cases, they’re the expert, and you are not. While you might have an idea of how a particular job should be done or how long it would take, the person with the skills and experience is far more likely to be correct.
If you want to know how your contractor is progressing, then it’s fine to request the occasional update. Depending on the nature of the job, daily or weekly updates may be ideal.

5. Pay Them Well

It can be tempting to choose a cheap contractor to save money, but it’s usually a bad idea. A skilled contractor will want to be paid what they’re worth, meaning somebody willing to do the job on the cheap is unlikely to have the required skills and experience.

While a cheaper contractor might cost you less, you’re running the risk of having to pay a lot more in the long term. In some cases, the job might need to be redone entirely, which, of course, means paying another subcontractor. Depending on the task, the wrong contractor might even cause damage that will cost even more to rectify.

While you should pay well, it’s also fine to make sure you don’t overpay. Ask around to see what the going rates are to get an idea of what it will cost.

Summary

Independent contractors are the ideal option for various tasks, and they’re best used when there’s a single job to be done. However, it makes a lot of sense to choose the right contractor and manage them effectively.

One of the key factors that will help you manage contractors is communicating clearly with them. Set expectations, clarify what you need to be done, and create a contract to confirm what you need in writing. It’s also best to avoid micromanaging contractors and instead ask for the occasional update on their progress. You can also use a time tracking app to monitor how long they’re working, including remote employees, which will help prevent disputes and make things easier when it comes to invoicing.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects is to pay a good rate. Paying well will help ensure you hire a contractor that knows what they’re doing and can get the job done properly at the first time of asking. Otherwise, you’re opening yourself up to the risk of more inconvenience and more financial cost.

Photo by Claire Nakkachi on Unsplash

Plugging Gaps in Customer Support Revenues

Plugging Gaps in Customer Support Revenues

Interview with Mr. Jason Liner, VP FP&A MercuryGate International, Cary NC

MercuryGate is the only full power, feature-rich transportation management system (TMS) that is singularly focused on strategic freight transportation management automation and has been for over two decades. The result is the best-of-breed transportation management platform that enables logistics experts to execute efficiencies previously unattainable and empowers relative newcomers to perform at expert levels they could not otherwise achieve.

The MercuryGate TMS simplifies and centralizes the management of freight transportation within a single software platform to save time and money for shippers, 3PLs, brokers and carriers around the world. The platform supports all modes of transport including ocean, air, rail, truckload, LTL, last mile, parcel and intermodal to give you visibility to every shipment, automate manual processes, and make smarter decisions based on delivery performance.

Mr. Jason Liner is the Vice President of Financial Planning and Analysis at MercuryGate International.

1. What is your primary role in the company?

My primary role is in Financial Planning and Analysis. As a part of my role, I work across Finance, Operations, Product Development, and Product Strategy. I help drive strategic decisions throughout the business, isolating issues and articulating appropriate business solutions.

2. What was the main challenge that you wanted to solve?

Some of our customers pay separately for Customer Support. For those customers, support is not a part of their subscription fees. We also do a fair amount of implementation services for our customers. We have three different teams working on customer-facing issues. There are Tier-1 and Tier-2 Support teams, the implementation team, and sometimes the development team. All these teams primarily work in different siloed software systems – the Customer support team in Salesforce, the implementation team in OpenAir, and the dev team in Jira. Our billing to customers is done based on the Case Number in Salesforce on yet another system. Reconciling hours spent on customer Cases across these systems was a nightmare. Some of the time details would have missing Case numbers. In addition, since some of our teams needed to log their hours in duplicate, they would often forget to do that. We recognized that we were losing out on our support revenues with all these issues. We desperately needed a single system-of-record for the hours that the different teams worked on Customer Cases. One that we could easily integrate with our billing system.

3. What is your number 1 challenge to tracking employee performance? 

Disparate and siloed systems for different teams

4. What is your team size?

About 120 people in Customer Service and Implementation teams. Plus, another 50 people in the development team who also work on customer-facing issues.

5. What are you currently doing to make your customer service team more efficient?

We have implemented the PK4 TimeTracker for all our teams in different ways. For the Customer Service team, which works in Salesforce, we have implemented the Time Tracker lightning component that tracks time right inside the Case. The process is highly efficient, and we are now tracking every minute that the team spends on a Case. For the development team, we have integrated their Jira worklogs to be brought into Salesforce directly via the TimeTracker. So their time is recorded automatically into the Time Tracker, without their having even to click a button. Our Implementation team uses the Time Tracker web app to track their hours whenever they need to work on a Case. So all hours worked are now directly tied to Cases, and it all happens seamlessly.

6. What has been the significant impact for you?

Within the first month of implementing the Time Tracker, we’ve seen our Support revenues go up because all the hours are now accurately tracked. The time that we spent reconciling and billing customers has also drastically reduced.

See Your Productivity Soar with the Eisenhower Matrix

See Your Productivity Soar with the Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower matrix is named after the USA’s 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Not only was Eisenhower a president, but he was also a five-star general, Supreme Commander of Allied forces in WWII, and he even created NASA. He was a busy guy who got a lot done in his life, so he knew a thing or two about work productivity.

Eisenhower had the incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades on end. So it’s no surprise that his methods for task management, time management and productivity have been studied and copied by scores of people.

During WWII, the then general was quite busy with many tasks on his plate. After all, work management when commanding the forces of several nations during a fierce war will be a demanding job. So, to help him improve his work management, he devised the system now known as the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Mere-Urgency Effect

The mere-urgency effect is a common phenomenon. The phenomenon is that people tend to prioritize urgent tasks rather than how important they are. So, for example, you might prioritize a Zoom call over more serious matters for no other reason than the appointment is quickly approaching. The result is that the less important tasks become neglected, thus impacting your work productivity.

The Eisenhower Matrix is also based on the Pareto Principle. The Pareto Principle says that 20% of input can achieve 80% of output if you practice efficient task management. However, most people and businesses tend to spend 80% of their input to achieve just 20% of their output. The Eisenhower Matrix helps overcome this by prioritizing the tasks that help you get the most important tasks done first.

How The Eisenhower Matrix Works

The Eisenhower Matrix works by diving tasks into four categories.

⦁ Urgent and important

Tasks that fall into this category are prioritized to be done before anything else.

 ⦁ Not urgent but important

 You should schedule these tasks for before the deadline approaches, but after urgent and important categories.

  ⦁ Urgent but not important

 Tasks that fall into this category should be delegated to somebody else. 

 ⦁ Not urgent and not important

In most cases, these tasks should be deleted. They will only take valuable time and give little to nothing back in return. 

One of the great things about the Eisenhower Matrix is that it can be used for broad productivity plans (“What should I accomplish this month?”) and for smaller, daily plans (“What should I do today?”).

One of the key advantages of the Eisenhower Matrix is that it helps you to stop wasting time on unproductive tasks, leaving you with more time to focus on more productive tasks instead. Such tasks tend to be menial and time-consuming, making for poor time management.

Another advantage of the Eisenhower Matrix is that it helps you visualize which of your tasks is more important and encourages you to work out how important each task is. For example, if you need to know where to place a particular account, you may be encouraged to work out how much you are profiting from that account. If the account is not earning you enough money, it can be delegated to somebody in a junior position or closed altogether.

The monetary value of a particular task is not the only thing to consider – time tends to be a far more valuable commodity. However, tracking time spent on tasks can be time-consuming, which would make it counter-productive considering we’re trying to improve your time management. One solution is to use time tracking software like the PK4 TimeTracker that will help track your time automatically. Not only will the software make it easy for you to track how long you spend working on particular tasks, but it also gives you comprehensive reports that tell you exactly what you are spending your time on. 

Easy to Use

The Eisenhower Matrix is also very easy to use. All you need is paper, a pen, a ruler, and your to-do list. Alternatively, you can find an app that will help you to create a matrix electronically.

Using pen and paper, start by drawing a box and splitting it into four separate sections. Then, label the two columns with ‘Urgent’ for the left column and ‘Not Urgent’ for the right column. Next, label the two rows with ‘Important’ on the top row and ‘Not Important’ below.

The top left-hand box should be titled ‘Do’, with ‘Decide’ in the top right-hand box. Give the bottom left-hand box the title ‘Delegate’ and the bottom right-hand box ‘Delete’.

All you need to do now is place your tasks in the appropriate box, and you have an efficient task management structure in place. 

Try the Eisenhower Matrix for yourself

Dwight Eisenhower once said “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.

The Eisenhower Matrix  helps you view both your long-term goals and your to-do lists through this prism. This will help you prioritize your days, weeks and even your longer timeframes more strategically and effectively. So if you have a growing list of goals and tasks, drawing an Eisenhower Matrix is a great place to start. Try it as you start the New Year and see if you get a better handle on things.