Tick – Web 2.0 time & budget tracking

tick login screen

Time & money. Both valuable commodities concerning personal & client project management. Over the past few weeks I have spent a great deal of time experimenting with services and applications designed to improve overall management and productivity. From the open source Basecamp alternative known as activeCollab, web based services such as Blinksale, and desktop solutions including Stunt Software’s On The Job [read the review], I have seen a wide range of options available to professional and casual users alike including my recent experience with the Tick preview release [Tickspot].

Prioritize and budget your time

tick time tracking and management

The general consensus would assume that budget equals the monetary limitation of a project. A misconception that must be forgotten in order to successfully manage projects using Tick. From a design standpoint, budget does not equal a monetary budget (let the clients worry about that). From a designers standpoint, time is the most valuable asset. Time is what must be budgeted, tracked, and managed.

The idea is that Tick would serve as a collaborative tool for managing the amount of time alloted to certain projects. By understanding the amount of time that a project would require, project admins could then create individual projects with a specified amount of time alloted to them.

Tick tock, the clock is running

tick project completion screenie

Money is not a prioritized commodity for Tick users, time is. For that reason, the interface is completely void of any client billing, tracking, or invoicing service features. Do not mistake this service as an alternative to web based project management options. For illustrative purposes, I’ll create a single project which will have one administrative user and two project team members.

Client creation and project outline

tick thumbFrom the project creation screen, administrators can specify or create client profiles, a project title, the total budget or maximum amount of time available, individual tasks with alloted time from the max. budget alloted to each, and email notifications for included group members.

Virtual time cards

tick thumbSimilar to manually clocking in for a mundane sales floor job at the local retail mall, Tick allows users to manually submit hours of work completed with any respective notes attached. In doing so, Tick automatically deducts the completed time from the max. reserved time.

Active reports for project monitoring

tick thumbThe Reports tab presents a global view of all active projects monitored by Tick. View total time entered (completed hours), number of client projects, and current project status. Overviews with an accompanying bar graph can also be viewed on a per day basis for total time entered.

Room for improvement?

Despite being a Preview Release, the interface seems to be quite polished and ready for public use. With subscription costs ranging from free (for a limited number of active projects) to $79, the pay for model looks as though it will continue to be a significant requirement for web based project management solutions.

In regards to the stripped down nature of being a virtual project timecard, I have yet to decide whether a limited project management solution such as Tick holds any real advantageous features over alternative solutions. Collaborative efforts will continue to be a much welcome feature for services. Being limited to budgeting time with no additional options for calculating project fees or billing may deter potential users. Time is definitely a designers best asset, but without any sort of monetary influence, the virtual gears on this time keeper may very well cease to turn.

If you’re interested in checking out the service, head on over to the Tickspot and submit your inquiries.

Discuss - 12 Comments

  1. Umbrae says:

    You know, I’ve been a long time reader, but I’ve got to say. Could this be any more of a commercial?

  2. Derek says:

    Commercials? How about documenting my experiences with applications and services while I experiment to find the best option for managing my own time? How about sharing with others so that the next time “Joe” gets on Google to search for time management services, they find examples of experiences with services rather than having to try something out for themselves?

    Do you normally call blogs which review services, applications, electronics, and various other documented posts “commercials”?

    I’ve been a long time blogger, and reading comments such as yours is almost an insult.

  3. Umbrae says:

    Let me back up.

    First – seriously, I do have great respect for you and what you do. I have been reading your blog for quite a while now.

    But when I read something like this, to the point where it makes me -suspicious- as for where your motivations lie, I would really like to have an official ‘I have no relation or interest in the companies mentioned’, because it really does seem like an advertisement when so much positive info is spewed.

    If it’s really just that good of a product, great. But in order to be viewed as completely nonbiased, a disclaimer would probably be pretty effective.

    Sorry if I got you riled up – I realize my original post bordered on a flame. Not my intention.

  4. Derek says:

    I felt that my critique of the service would speak worlds concerning my unbiased opinion of a service. The fact that I openly stated that the service could not compete with current offerings should have been enough of a hint.

    […] a limited project management solution such as Tick [lacks] any real advantageous features over alternative solutions. […] Being limited to budgeting time with no additional options for calculating project fees or billing may deter potential users.

    Case in point, I would no recommend this service if unless a users main goal was to track timely resources with no other interests of actual project management.

    If I had “sold out” to any services or applications which have been or could be mentioned on these pages, there would most likely be little to no stick beating. Every topic that has been covered thus far on 5ThirtyOne was due to my own strong personal interest, support, or an attempt to inform others of potentially valuable information.

    If – with huge emphasis on if – the day comes that I do publish a post due to sponsorship or alternative motives, I will make sure to emblazon the top of the post with “affiliated with, sponsored by, or held at gun point”.. :p

  5. Tom Rossi says:

    I just wanted to post and say that I appreciated your time reviewing our product Tick. We talked a lot about providing ‘billability’ type tools to help service business become more profitable. We actually went as far as to design the interface and reports to support this end. By the time you start providing preferences for all of the particulars as to how businesses track and report dollars as they relate to hours the application began to feel bloated. The idea at the molehill is to focus in on a specific real problem that can be solved. In this case, the problem we wanted to tackle was more specific than billability or profitability: helping businesses hit their budgets. In our experience with custom development, a tool like Tick would give us the information we need to be profitable. I had no problem setting my budgets to make sure we were making money, but I did have problems because people were not hitting those budgets.

    We will definitely be closely listening to our subscribers and see if there is a molehill approach to expand the capabilities of Tick. At this point though, I can understand your reservations and look forward to more feedback from others!

  6. Derek says:

    Tom, would you consider Tick to be a niche service? A service in its own category outside of the web based project management solutions?

  7. Tom Rossi says:

    Tick is definitely a niche service specifically designed for businesses that have teams that need to hit time budgets. ‘Project management’ covers a wide spectrum of different solutions. When one product tries to address them all, you end up with something like MS Project/MS Project Central. Our goal was really based off our own frustration with using bloated products and not being able to have our team hit our budgets. I would work hard to sell a project at a certain price only to see all of our profits eaten up at the end. Tick can’t guarantee you’ve defined good requirements, estimated your project accurately, communicated well with your customer, or hired a talented team, but we can give you the information you need to manage your ability to hit your budgets.

    I wouldn’t say we are in a category outside of project management solutions, but rather we are just one small dimension of project management. We recognize this and will continue to find integration points like we did with 37signals/Basecamp.

  8. Chris says:

    Looks as if Umbrae missed the boat on this one
    *(You know, I’ve been a long time reader, but I’ve got to say. Could this be any more of a commercial???). Buying a clue here may be in order~

    Tick definitely needs something else other than Time Tracking ability as it’s definetly as you said a “limited” project management solution because I would need to go over here or there to utilize a billable solution and so on. Not to echo what you said Derek. But Tom should also see that billability and profitability are specific and important as well to garner folks to use the product.

  9. Kevin Finn says:

    I see what you’re saying Chris and I agree there is a bit of overlap between entering time into a system and then needing to get that time out so you can bill. At the same time though you have to remember that it’s only a real issue if you actually bill by the hour. Now most agencies do create estimates based on anticipated man hours, but that doesn’t always translate into an actual invoice that is broken out by Price Per Hour x Quantity of Hours. Even with smaller shops I have seen that this level of detail in billing just gets too time consuming. Especially as you begin to get larger and have different employees that bill at different rates. What typically ends up happening is a shift towards a blended rate with flat priced projects and/or retainers. So that begs the question, if you flat price a project or work on a retainer, why do you need to export the time to create an invoice? Once the project is finished, or hits a designated milestones (50% or whatever) you just open your invoicing/accounting application and send an invoice for whatever was designated in the contract. Simple.

    This is not to say that Tick won’t ever have exporting, invoicing or integrate with an invoicing application. I’m just making the point that it may not be as critical to the application as you think…

    About billability… Personally, I don’t like the idea of software telling you how valuable an employee is. In every office I have ever worked in, everyone including the cleaning crew knew who was putting in 100% and who wasn’t. You don’t need software to deal with personnel issues, you need leaders.

    Of course this does tie in with your second point concerning profitability. But to that point I offer this. If you sell a project for X dollars, and want to make Y dollars per hour; with some simple division you have a time budget. Once you have that number you track it out in man-weeks to come up with a deadline and then you give your team the information they need to hit the time budget (this is what Tick does). Is this a very simplified view of project management […] absolutely. But I tell you, I have been managing projects for many years and I’ve tried it all. Simple works.

    The main point here is that regardless of how you do your billing, you still have to hit your (time) budgets. Even if you do bill for every actual hour you spend on a project, your client is still going to want an estimate. And if you end up going to far over that estimate they are not going to be happy. And if you don’t worry about the hours spent and just focus on deadlines, your going to burn out your teams. I have been guilty of both.

    Tick is not project management software, and as far as it’s time tracking capabilities…well it does the job just as good as anything else (pencil and paper included). Why Tick matters is that it gives people the information they need, when they need it. It empowers them to make the necessary adjustments/decisions before it’s too late and the profits are diminished.

    Now let’s be honest for a second. I love reading tech reviews just as much as any other geek. But really we could debate a products potential worth all day. Does it do enough, does it do too much, is it usable, is it pretty? All fun things to talk about and discuss…but at the end of the day you’ll never really know unless you give it a fair shot and try it for yourself. Granted there’s just not enough time to try every application that comes across your news reader. But I can tell you without any hesitation, based on the feedback we have received from our users so far, we were not alone in our struggle to hit budgets. I wish more than you know, that someone built Tick years before we did. I would have a lot more hair left on my head if they did.

  10. Derek says:

    [quote comment=”5353″]Granted there’s just not enough time to try every application that comes across your news reader. But I can tell you without any hesitation, based on the feedback we have received from our users so far, we were not alone in our struggle to hit budgets. I wish more than you know, that someone built Tick years before we did. I would have a lot more hair left on my head if they did.[/quote]

    I couldn’t agree more. With the number of applications and services which lay claim to offering the convenience of creating a more productive work flow, there just isn’t enough time to experiment with everything that is available.

    Reviews, such as the one posted above, are published for the simple fact of informing potentially interested parties of noticeable services. Tick does something right and that’s managing available hours for projects. The best way to see if this service is something that will fit the bill is for a little real world time behind the login screen.

  11. […] Software development teams in search of a web based collaborative solution should check the rest of the offered features over on Devshop.com. This is not a Basecamp, Tick, or activeCollab. Devshop is a fully featured collaborative software development solution. Footing the bill […]

  12. Luke S. says:

    This article was hardly a commercial but rather an objective analysis of an app with absolutely killer design.

    Tick keeps time and tracks it against tasks and budget, and it presents the information with impressive clarity.

    That’s great, but it is the CLIENT that needs to be able to associate tasks with budget invested in order to perceive some sense of ROI.

    Without at least minor client collaboration (ability to view budgets, approve budget extensions, pay down contractor-generated invoices automatically) and some invoicing functionality, it’s just basically like the 37signals products….beautiful, lightweight, well-designed toys.