When you have a civicrm, everything looks like a nail (or a finger)
So as every consultant, there is a bit of new projects, maintenance, stuff you do for free for the community, new ideas, meetings, pre-sales, funky developments & the dreaded admin part (invoicing/timesheet).
As any consultants, we are trying to get an overview on what are the issues, where we spend the time, who's involved and what has to be invoiced. For what I've seen for the past 20 years, the choice seems to be between separate tools that work well but don't talk to each other and one big ERP that tries to do everything but does it badly and that no one uses without cursing.
As all our contacts are in civi and that it also can track activities, was wondering if some of you are already using it as part of that combination and hopefully not turned it into a clunky 'ERP'?
We have started with Andreas, Tamsin, Julian & Cristel with some civi/drupal tools and Civi, but are in the middle of the road and wanted to brainstorm with you, see how/if we can get something that make sense. I was discussing it with michal and some other consultants, thought might be useful to put it in one place.
Logging issues & discussions
For each project, they are tasks/issues and discussion about them. This is usually done by email (with an empty subject line and a body "The page on the site doesn't work.").
For each project, we have a organic group and with og_mailinglist we have an email "projectA@my.org". Each new email starts a new issue, each reply is a comment. It mostly work, beside the odd new task "So, what's going on about the things of last week".
The views are usually good enough to see what's going on for any project or our workload across them.
Activities & Cases
The Civi way would be to have a case per project and one activity by task. As it matches the project/issues, we have written a module that creates a case for each new project and a new activity (type task) for each issue. We don't create comments in civi, as they are mosly discussions are not useful to get the bigger pictures (knowing how many times you have been asked to increase the size of the logo is better kept in the comments ;)
It works, but doesn't bring a lot of new features to the chain by itself, beside linking it to the contacts (that might be useful when you have lots of people involved on a project), but that's the needed part to make civi more integrated and....
Logging time on a website has always been a weak point. The interface is not user friendly enough, needs to re-enter info about the clients & projects & tasks that are already elsewhere... and you might be working offline or with a flacky internet connection.
Lately, we have been using hamster, a timetracker that integrates well and is easy enough to use. It is able to understand some commands so "writing the blog about civiproject @civi" would create a new task (or update an existing one) in the project civi.
Andreas has coded a tool that takes the timelog (the complete db) that you can upload to the server and match to the tasks/issues.
It mostly works, but right now that's done by uploading the sqlite db hamster uses. To make it really practical, it would be needed to automatically create the projects & issues on hamster when they are added on the web.
(shouldn't be complicated, a local script using the api), and upload the timesheet using the API too.
Right now, we are storing it on separate tables, but if we were to use civi, each worked timeslot could stored as a sub activity of civi.
Reporting & Invoicing
In our cases, the reporting is either internal (to see where we are on a project) or for the customer (on maintenance/per hour). the reporting functions of hamster are good but the export isn't, and anyway you'd want to be able to easily mix hours spent by various people. This part is still too manual and involves excel, csv, sql commands and in general is not a pleasant experience.
We have all/most of the data on our server, but we aren't sure if we should develop reportings outside of civi (using views) or try to integrate them into civi & use it for reporting.
That's very likely that we won't all use the same tool to track time and that it should be eas(ish) to import from a lot of various formats (eg meetings from a calendar, logs from the PBX, timesheets generated from various providers...). Right now, matching the different ways people name the same task/project is painful, not quite sure how to create a common taxonomy or tools to easily convert my project "Civi" with the project "civicrm" or the project "civicrm 4.0".
The next step would be to be able to add categories to the tasks, and see how much of the project is spend on pre-sale, brainstorm, coding, debuging, specification, testing... and let my inner data nerd have fun with that and do nice data visualisation.
Personally, I'm very keen on pushing our civibot (miss moneypenny) -that allows me already to interract to civi via my chat client- a bit further so I can chat "punchin writing the blog about civiproject @civi" that would create the tasks directly, with the added benefit of having the bot keeping a timelog already of when I'm online/away. This is another discussion probably ;)
How are you using it?
Are you already using civi for your project? How do you track time and what are your tools of choice? Do you think it makes sense to use civi to manage a consultancy shop?