Usually I start these types of blogs with a decent disertation of what the problem was and then give the solution. Let’s flip that this time around since I’m in a quick blog mood.

Answer: ActiveCollab

Problem: Keep Reading.

When our clients and projects started to pile up we realized very quickly that we needed to get ourselves something that can give our clients exposure to our progress and help us manage our project. In my history of consulting that was done with multiple spreadsheets and project management software. Not wanting to go down that same path I started looking for SOMETHING that could be the best of all our wants and needs. Here was the raw list of wants and needs.

Needs:

  • Project portal that will allow our clients to see status reports
  • Tool that will allow us to collaborate with our clients without email chains, phone tag and IM convos
  • Location where files can be stored and information shared like a wiki but easy for a non-technical client to use
  • Web-Based and pleasing to the eyes
  • It needed to have strong User Access Control
  • Ticketing System is a must

Here are all the wants:

  • It would be great if it could be hosted on our own server
  • Wouldn’t it be great to customize it to look exactly the way you want?
  • Client portal feel without all that content management work

The solution as was previously stated is ActiveCollab. There were quite a few decent alternatives but AC really met all the requirements and then some. We have been able to customize it exactly the way we wanted and it works great. We are totally a LAMP stack shop and it was great being able to throw the code onto our sever and get it working and customized within a few short hours. Most importantly we have something that meets ALL of our needs and wants.

For more information check out: http://www.activecollab.com/

As promised, this is the follow-up of my 21 day OfficeTime evaluation (see original post “Where did time go?“). Not that all of you were waiting with bated breath for it! Nonetheless, I’m trying to stick to my blog promises.

OfficeTime certainly lived up to everything stated in the website. I was truly impressed with the integration with iCal and the ability to track not just your time but see the reports of others (I have yet to get everyone using it though, hence the blog). The benefit of the iCal integration is that when you’re trying to figure out where that time really went all you have to do is pull up your week or month and there it is. Sometimes you don’t realize how your time really gets used until you start discretely tracking it and see it visually. 

The other major thing for me was the Global Menu Bar Start and Stop. It’s a quick way to start timing without having to go through the run around of launching the program (the application has already found its way to my dock). In all blog honesty I hit a few recurring crashes but I was able to submit the bug and get a quick response from the team. They are also really welcoming with suggestions and enhancements that you throw their way.

There are of course plenty of other talking points for this application that are really eye catching. Not that any of you look to me as the authority of all that is consulting, but this is a consultant must have App!

Where were you last week Tuesday? What did you do? How much time did you spend doing whatever you were doing?
I’ve seen enough Law and Order episodes to know that if I’m ever asked those questions I better have an accurate answer. But have you ever really stopped to think how much time was spent working on “X” or “Y” last week Tuesday? For a small business consultant the answer to those questions directly translates into dollars and cents.
There are so many different things fighting time falling into the buckets of billable and non-billable. Keeping track of everything usually becomes a memory exercise when you actually have time after the fact to sit down and write it up. I would guess that more often than not things are forgotten. Think of the phone calls, the quick emails, the text messages, and multiply that by each simultaneous project (Dare I say per client?). Besides project scope creep, not tracking time and billing accordingly can lead to a serious migraine.
So where I’m going with all of this? I’ve been poking around for something other than my notebook, iCal and/or memory to track time. I’ve tried various methods over the years but haven’t been able to really get a solid solution. Personally, every minute needs to be tracked WHILE I’m doing the work.
OfficeTime seems to solve the problem. Upon mentioning it to my business partner ‘JH’ he responded – “Another tool”? But I think I’ve found a winner here. Here is why in a nutshell:

  • Simple “Play, Pause and Stop” buttons to activate a timer
  • Reporting of time spent based on a number of fields (Time, Project, Etc)
  • Team tracking to see how others are spending their time
  • Calendar Integration (Great for me as an iCal user!)

The only way to know if its truly it is the time tool of all tools is to demo it out for 21 days. I’ll let you know how it went.

My father once told me to K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

Keeping it simple is never an easy task especially when in business. Its been about 15 years since he gave me that wonderful thought and the principle hasn’t left me. Moving away from a big wheel consulting firm has challenged my mind to just keep things simple for my own consulting business. While there are many functions that need to be in place (standardized procedures, contracts, and SLAs) there is a great deal of flexibly without the hierarchy of operation. For starters the company laptop of choice was a macbook pro! Taking it to another level entirely, I’ve made it a rule for myself not get bogged down in all this consulting verbiage locked in glossy powerpoint presentations. To keep it simple I’ve moved to glossy Keynote presentations. (I’ll leave that for the experts to debate – Comment As Needed).
So in an effort to maximize the launch of LightCube Solutions I’ll keep it simple.