We often say at Link Solutions that time and costs are the bread and butter of WorkflowMax. To over-extend a somewhat shaky analogy, how you define Tasks is the way you choose to slice your bread. Getting these right at the beginning can make a big difference to the success of an implementation and save you a lot of heartache when the hard questions come later. This brief article will allow you to make the right decisions for your business and avoid some of the common mistakes.
Tasks relate to time. A 'Task' in WorkflowMax is any human activity that your staff perform on a given Job, and is what your staff choose to allocate their time towards while doing their timesheets. It is what you report on when you ask 'How good are we at something?', and is also how we break up the different processes, decision points, and checklists in a business as we are designing how to implement WorkflowMax. Choosing good Tasks creates good quotes, processes, invoices, and reports. Choosing inappropriate tasks leads to unreliability, confusion, and cost.
Keep It Simple
It's not a popular belief among business owners, but like filling a taco, less is more with Tasks. (Apologies for the food analogies, it's lunchtime.) Research has shown that humans make better decisions with less information, flying in the face of popular belief amongst business owners and managers. It is highly tempting to detail out the tasks in your business down to the lowest level in the name of Better Reporting.
What we see time and again amongst existing WorkflowMax users is a list of 20 - 40, possibly even more, Tasks and sub-Tasks. What these businesses are trading for the promise of better business information is lower reliability of that information, increased confusion by staff, and a higher (often hidden) cost of administration. In our experience, ultimately the reporting that this was all set up to provide often doesn't get used.
Most of the below incorporate the use of Labels - so we thought it important to quickly cover off what these are. A Label is a way of applying a unique description to Tasks. This allows you to differentiate between Tasks which are for most purposes the same, but need some further level of categorisation. An example from our own business - one of the key Tasks we have in our Jobs is Support. Sometimes within a Job, we need to provide support across several months, and so we have Support Tasks, with a Month Label: 'Support - June '16' for example.
This is because the actual underlying Task is the same across any month, but we need to make a distinction as to how we invoice and report it.
Labels have a very important role to play. Whenever you feel the temptation to add a new Task, you ought to first consider whether it is best to create a Label instead.
As WorkflowMax Certified Experts we often need to get up-to-speed on what a business does very quickly so we can recommend the right combination of technologies, people, and processes. One secret sauce we use for this is pretty simple - the 'Services' tab located on most professional services websites. This will typically spell out at a sufficiently detailed level the services an organisation offers and what it's good at. These are an excellent starting point when it comes to defining your Tasks. Greater detail and 'sub-Tasks' can be added at the job template level using Labels.
If your organisation is new to timesheeting you might want to consider entering job-related time only. That is, not applying time to Tasks, but rather to the parent Job. This can sometimes increase the speed of adoption for staff members new to timesheeting or new to technology in the workplace. We're not a fan of this approach however as it typically means the people who avoid the timesheets are leadership, management, and administration - who actually are the people who need to adopt the new technology the most.
Three Must Have Tasks for a full picture of your true job and project profitability are Admin, Leave, and Project Management. These will be present in some form in most job or project-based businesses and the time spent ought to be captured.
Must-Not Have Tasks
There are several common faults we come across when working with new clients who are already using WorkflowMax. When we see these in a business we hear alarm bells.
1) Staff-based Tasks
Tasks should never feature a staff members name, for example, 'Concept Design - Simon'. Remember your staff are temporary and your business must exist beyond them. Start as you mean to continue and set up systems that will grow with you. If you need to charge staff out at different rates, WorkflowMax helpfully offers custom staff rates .
2) Customer-based Tasks
Tasks should never feature a customer's name, for example, 'Geotechnical Surveying - Top Notch Contracting'. Again, your business must exist beyond its clients and WorkflowMax helpfully offers custom client rates that you can use to associate unique or agreed rates for particular clients.
3) Temporary Tasks
You should not create a Task for that one-off activity you did for that one client several years ago. Use Labels to categorise this time and save yourself a reporting nightmare later on.
Sub-Tasks such as 'Labour - Demolition' should not be their own Task, and instead should use Labels inside the job template. As a general rule of thumb, there's shouldn't be hyphens, colons, or forward slashes in Task names.
5) Unused Tasks
The best way to protect against unused tasks is to report on them. Tasks that routinely contain no information in your task-based reporting should be removed or amended. These Tasks are not being used because either they are not being done, not explicit enough, not understood by your staff, or not relevant. Depending on the scenario, you may need to remove these Tasks entirely or re-define them using Labels.
Task Based Reporting
The reward for all of the hard work defining Tasks is task-based reporting. By reviewing how long activities typically take, you can plan more efficiently and price your services most appropriately. It lets you measure and monitor which activities make you the most money (that is, what you are good at) and where your attention should be. Do not be surprised to find unprofitable Tasks in your business, but don't worry - these present an opportunity. Think about whether you can repackage or reimagine these to be a profit-making activity for you, or simply look to reduce the cost. You may also find that some Tasks are routinely under-quoted and over-run, and so you can make the appropriate adjustments there.
Whatever the specifics of your business, you now have business information that leads to real decision-making. There's an old rule, which is: rubbish in, rubbish out. Clear Task definition leads to more accurate and complete timesheet records, which leads to more valuable reporting, a better understood business, and more profit.