Peaks and Valleys

On my company site, we get a fair number of people filling out our contact form looking for help with a project. Believe me, I consider ourselves very lucky to be in a profession where there doesn't seem to be any shortage of work. As the forms come in, we do our best to review them, set up calls when needed, and, as often as possible, book the client for some work. In a perfect world, they'd come in all spaced out evenly throughout the week or even the month. But you know that's not how it works. We'll get 5 in a single day, and then none for a week. Or, we'll go through a stretch where it's 5 or more per day.

Dealing with the incoming leads is a good amount of work. But obviously, it's some of the most important work we do, because without them, we don't have clients. OK, that's a bit extreme, but you get the point.

The Perfect Storm

In a post last week I was talking about a project that went off the rails. As is usually the case, when one project starts to get squirrely, others tend to follow. Until all of a sudden you're looking at a handful of projects that are all running late. Throw in to the mix waiting for assets from clients, contractor availability and every thing else that can slow down projects and you have the perfect storm of crap.

It's during these periods of volatility where I find it the hardest to work on new leads. As existing projects are slipping past due dates, the projects we had lined up after the current projects are inevitably going to run long, too. As that is going on, I have a bad habit of letting the incoming leads sit longer than I should. This is typically because I'm not eager to bring new clients in to the mix while we're trying to sort out the clients we already have. If I'm not careful, what can end up happening is that we end up getting caught up without booking new projects to start after the previous ones finish.

Here's a secret, that scares the crap out of me!

Build. Better. Reporting.

A few months back we released a product called WP Time Tracker. Even though we released it recently, internally our company has been using it for over a year to record the work we do for clients. I've been telling people recently, this is my favorite plugin that I have personally written. I use it absolutely every day and it continues to make my job easier.

This week as we were getting caught up on a few of those lingering projects, we've started the process of doing the postmortem to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. More specifically, how do we avoid it in the IMMEDIATE future as we have a number of ongoing projects that we are still working on. Justin, my partner, shared an email exchange he was having with another business owner talking about their sales funnel/pipeline and work capacity. His note to me at the top of the email said:

I had an idea to add two reports to WP Time Tracker:

Worker “capacity” basically showing an average of every workers weekly hours so we know how much they normally take on.

Client “demand” showing the same number over time to give an idea of how much time clients take up.

Worker Capacity is a fairly easy one. We want to figure out roughly how much time each of our workers has available on average in a given week.

Client Demand is a little different. We have a number of ongoing/long term clients that will send us a batch of work, then go dormant for a period of time, then come back with another batch of work. What we want to figure out is, when each client sends us work, on average, how many hours per week do we spend on them. Breaking that down one step further to show which developer are involved is also an interesting stat.

As I said a minute ago, we've been using the plugin for over a year to track each of our developers hours on a weekly basis. We track all that time against clients. Holy crap, we have a wealth of information locked inside a plugin that just needs to be let out. I've selfishly added these two items to the top of the feature list. But don't worry, I'll share them as soon as their ready. Hopefully they'll do their part in helping us navigate the peaks and valleys.