In-house creative services teams with an hourly chargeback model must track their time--often to the quarter-hour increment. The discipline of time tracking can be off-putting for many teams at first, but the advantages of time tracking can't be ignored, and teams generally support the practice once they understand the potential outcomes. The advantages are so great, that it even makes sense for creative services teams who aren't chargeback departments to track project time. Time tracking can support staff justification, resource planning, client process changes, project forecasting models, and more. In addition, time tracking provides Creative Executives with quantitative data to speak to their manager and CFO in concrete terms they understand and require for business decisions.

CFOs understand supply and demand. If you have 15 print designers and 10 web designers, you have about 37,500 hours of supply (22,500 print; 15,000 web). Supply is determined by the number of work hours in a year (52 weeks * 40 hours per week = 2,080) minus the average number of hours of PTO, sick and company holidays per employee (I've estimated 25 days at 8 hours = 200 hours], which equals 1,880 hours in the office. But employees aren't working on projects 100% of the time. There are coffee breaks, water cooler conversations, staff meetings, one-on-one development meetings, and, what seems like, a million emails to read. A good productivity goal to start at is 80%, and then when you have enough data, you can set a more realistic target for your team. Therefore, of the 2,080 hours in a work year, your team can be productive for 1,504 (1,880 * 80%).

Understanding how demand (project hours) matches up against supply is critical, and the only way to properly measure demand is with time tracking. You could look at overtime reports (if applicable) or do a qualitative review of your staff's hours, but these methods aren't accurate because a team member may have worked 10 hours and only been productive for 6, or they may have been productive for 9--you just don't know. You could also speak to the project backlog (if you track it), but if clients aren't actively complaining about cycle time or taking work to outside vendors, the CFO won't find this information compelling enough to justify increased staffing. Whereas, if a Creative Executive can go to their CFO with numbers that speak to a demand higher than supply, the Creative Executive will be able to present a logical business case for increased staffing, whether permanent or temporary. Creative Executives should only seek additional permanent staff if they can prove a trend of higher demand; otherwise temporary staff is the appropriate augmentation strategy, as it allows for greater flexibility when demand drops or shifts to another work stream.

Tracking time by activity is helpful as it allows you to understand the shifts in demand within work streams. Activities tracked should include your department's core functions: production design, graphic design, multimedia design, web design, proofreading, copywriting, project management, etc. If you learn that demand is higher or lower than supply, you need to understand what segment of your demand varies from supply. Are your web designers working 60 hours a week and your production designers taking 5 coffee breaks and leaving 10 minutes early every day? You will only know this if you segment your time tracking by activity. Data collection through activity-based time tracking empowers Creative Executives to make educated business decisions. For example, when your department experiences a shift in demand from production design to web design, you can plan to hire a web designer when you experience attrition on the production design team. Or if you were lucky enough to secure new funding for a FTE or temporary staff, you will be confident in your decision to hire a web designer. In addition, you will be able to objectively justify your hiring decisions to inquisitive staff members who feel their group should have received the additional staffing.

The simplicity or complexity of time tracking can vary based on the group and data collection requirements and desires. Time tracking can be done via a project management tool--either an off-the-shelf or custom-built solution--or excel spreadsheets, which allow you to start immediately but require more management and are more limiting. If you aren't currently tracking project time, consider starting July 1. This will allow you to collect a full quarter's worth of data prior to when most 2011 budgets lock down and will support your budgeting conversations, whether you are requesting additional staff, temp staff budget, or funds to research, purchase, and implement a project management solution.

If this topic keeps you up at night or you'd like to learn more about implementing time tracking, our team can help. For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email [email protected].

Jackie Schaffer has more than a decade of experience optimizing creative teams. Most recently she directed an international team of 80 creatives. During her tenure, she spearheaded the launch and development of the group's India-based team, built an interactive media division, and executed against a new visual identity. Jackie's management competencies lie in workflow, technology, and talent management, and she has a deep passion for balancing the creative and business needs of in-house shops while providing fulfilling opportunities for the team.