Sunday, May 29, 2011

SOP Friday: Working in Real Time

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedures. Those are the handy little processes that you can put in place to make everything in your company work better . . . if they're followed.

First, I need to apologize for not posting this on Friday. It's a new series and I just plain forgot! So here's the SOP Friday installment for May 27th.

- - - - -

One of the hardest things for people to do is to keep good track of their time. At the same time, this is one of the key elements of success, both in tech support delivery and business generally.

Time tracking is absolutely critical to profitability. Unfortunately, it's one of those things that everyone knows they should do, but don't always get around to.

There are several pieces to working in real time.

First, the definition: Working in real time means that you enter your labor into your PSA system as soon as you complete a job. In fact, it is preferred that you log on and enter time as the last step in each job. That way, even if it only takes a few minutes, the time to enter time is part of the job!

This is completely legitimate. If the job is billable, then the time to enter time is billable. If the job is covered under managed service, then the time appears in the system for that specific client/ticket. In either case, it is critical that the time is properly associated with the ticket so that you can run reports and determine the profitability of each job and client.

We use a hosted PSA system (Autotask) so we can log on from any computer at any client's office and enter time. Before we had a PSA system, I used a simple web-based form that emailed job notes to me. This included start/stop times, a description of the work accomplished, and notes about any hardware or software that was delivered.

I made a habit of filling out this simple form after each job, and required my techs to do the same thing. Before that, I required that they sit down and fill out a printed form before leaving the client. Same information, just a different delivery method.

The alternative to working in real time is that you have to have perfect recall or perfect notes. Perfect recall is perfectly impossible. Whether it's you or your employees, mistakes will be made. Recall will be wrong. Whole hours will disappear. Job notes will be lost.

Perfect notes are much better. BUT if you take perfect notes, why not take an extra 3-5 minutes and enter them into the system? The alternative is to wait until after work and then sit down and enter all your time at once. This will then take an hour that can't be billed or properly allocated to jobs!

- Implementation Notes -

The easiest way to implement the policy of working in real time is to base employee pay on the reports you get from your PSA system. This means you need a ticket for "admin" time so that you can track employee time between 8 AM and 5 PM with no gaps or overlaps. This is also a GREAT way to find out if you have techs putting 4-6 hours a day on internal admin tasks versus client-facing tickets.

As with everything else, you'll need to make the decision, announce it, implement it, and then build an atmosphere in which everyone supports everyone else to be successful.

- Benefits -

Here are the key benefits of working in real time:

1) You have a better sense of where you are with each client/ticket

2) Important notes are not forgotten

3) Time is entered accurately

4) Employee hours are accurate

5) Everyone on the team can see the accurate status of a job

6) With accurate time entry, you can get accurate calculations of billability, profit per hour billed, cost to support a client, backlog, etc. None of these key metrics is possible if you are just guessing at the hours worked and how they're allocated.

- Forms -

If you are using a manual process, you need a simple form. In the modern world, this really should be a mobile app or a web page. In either case, the form elements are:

- Client
- Ticket / Job Title
- Desktop / User
- Technician
- Date
- Start Time
- Stop Time
- Adjustment for time if necessary
- Work was on site / remote
- Notes on work performed. This should include key information about what happened, notes from third party support, and all information needed to discuss this matter with the client or others as needed. It should also include notes on the delivery of products and any client requests for quotes or other information for the sales department.
- Internal notes regarding billing (not for clients)

Of course a PSA system will automate all of this.

One of the coolest things about working in real time is that you get a steady stream of emails all day showing how your business is progressing and your people are taking care of your clients. Ping-ping-ping. :-)

Your Comments Welcome.


Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services: 

by Karl W. Palachuk 

Now only $39.95 at SMB Books!

Ebook or Paperback

Learn More!


  1. Get a PSA system if you are still doing this manually. Cloud versions are inexpensive so there is no excuse not to. You'll be amazed at how helpful they can be in every aspect of your business, even if you are not big into reports or tracking financials (or a 1 person shop!).


  2. Karl,

    Can you eloborate on what is an acceptable admin ticket? How much detail so you require?



  3. Thanks for the question, Brian.

    Administrative time includes staff meetings, training, taking tests, and all the little stuff between the bigger tasks.

    Admin time should never be excessive.

    It does not include working on internal tickets as there is a separate work type for that.

  4. Karl,

    I have found a very useful tool for my use, as I don't have a PSA, yet. I use Evernote. On my smartphone, laptop, netbook and tablet. Any of these devices can be used to enter data into a ticket in a customer folder. When I am back at the office, or off the remote session, I then use that entry to make the appropriate invoice in Quickbooks and I am on to the next project.


Feedback Welcome

Please note, however, that spam will be deleted, as will abusive posts.

Disagreements welcome!