Thinking about Time

Conventional time accounting is designed to ensure that time is not “double counted”. Yet mass production industries are entirely about the efficient deployment of resource across multiple customers.

So why should knowledge work be somehow more restricted? I think it’s rooted in the kind of people-intensive businesses that have grown on the back of the big consultancy industries of the past few decades. Consultancy industries – organisations like IBM, Accenture and WPP – are geared to find the most acceptably time-consuming way they can get away with, to solve a problem for a client. Their sales process relies on developing underlying assumptions about how much something costs to do (and how long it takes), and deploying the right balance of staff they have on their books. Depending on how busy everyone is, this means the customer will get a mix of expensive and cheap people (although even the cheap people aren’t cheap. They’re just cheaper). The expensive people will tend to only appear when the project is starting and ending (or up for “repitch” as it’s usually packaged). Most of the shared value is hidden – in sales and accounting and knowledge systems. The majority of the direct work done for customers is packaged as something very bespoke and specific to them.

With creative consulting especially, the various activities – designing something, for example – is meant to be for one client only – not several.

But if I do something that is relevant to solving multiple problems (or serving multiple paying customers all tackling their own distinct problems), why should we not double-count it from a customer value perspective?

This is absolutely a central opportunity for efficiencies in a modern organisation where the value is creating online services.

Hence the dilemma we have at Akvo. If one consortium we have is paying us to help it with communications, and we develop some materials and adapt a WordPress theme, really my work shouldn’t need to be just for them. In fact I should be incentivised and motivated to develop answers to their problem that have wider application. And I should be able to log that work in a way that can account for its potential wider applications, even if these have not yet emerged.

I believe that this is ultimately what our customers want. They need our tools and networks, and our innovation process, to work for them at a low cost. So we need to help them understand that if we do something just for them, its going to get expensive. We want them to be amazed by the way we manage to solve their problem while also solving problems for others at the same time. This doesn’t mean that sometimes you don’t need to switch into doing something just for them – it’s pretty crucial. But it should be unusual rather than the norm.

So I’m going to do an experiment for a while, and see where it gets me. I’ll publish my timesheets via Twitter, often with a Twitpic or link. I’ll do it from a geek account – not my main one.

So here’s the format I’ll try, and what I did yesterday:

mc.2.admin.pr
mc.1.sub edit blog.akvopedia.comms http://www.akvo.org/blog/?p=3098
mc.1.general management.comms.pr
mc.3.5.met robert brook.testrange.coaching.pr
and this just now:
mc.1.devise time recording approach.partners.all.finance.comms

If I like I can add a short url link at the end to the output, or a Twitpic. This is really just to add a bit of colour and context, but it may be very useful for the person at the other end, trying to account for the eventual impact of my work, perhaps months or even years down the line.

How this information can be used later isn’t really up to me – and I don’t really care. Clearly it’s more public than a conventional timesheet. This fits well with my aim to make Akvo’s work more discoverable to others – to reward the deep-dive, but look simple at the top. It’s important, as an open source foundation, to be progressive here. None of our work is actually confidential – though some is more sensitive than others, because often some customers or potential customers are sensitive. However, listing and publishing what we do and how it connects with what our customers pay for, is something I think we should be open about.

A few other points:

While dumping things into “admin” is a cop-out, there really is a piece of your work that is hard to break out. It’s that sludge of interacting with a computer to keep up. I think it’s reasonable to call it admin. But you should tag it for the functional area it relates to.

I’ve added spaces in the descriptions, mainly because typing words on an iphone without spaces is unworkable because it confuses the predictive correction.

Comms is different to PR.

Comms = “Communications”. This is work focused on communicating with existing customers better, or communicating with those who we would like to have as customers. Helping them use our tools, helping them understand what we do, etc.

PR = “Public Relations”. This is interaction with influencers who are not customers. They’re people or organisations that currently sit outside our partner “model”. PR can be a form of ‘pre-sales’, however. Although it’s more speculative and less formal than comms – which is more deliberate and focused on bringing in a new customer. When there is overlap, we tag things as both. PR is about developing an ongoing mutual love affair.

When you work with others on something you tag their initials too. Hence you start accounting their time too. Which is cool. Who knows, maybe one day most of our timesheets will be done by other people? That would be great!

Here’s what Jo Pratt did last month, in this format too:

She wrote it as days and half days. I’ve changed it to assume a day is 7 hours, so a half day is 3.5

jp.14.one foundation tender.csr.foundations.products.uk.partners.comms
jp.3.5.Guardian award.awards.pr
jp.10.5.awards research.pr
jp.3.5.wired magazine profile.pr
jp.3.5.partner comms strategy.mc.kvdb.partners.all.comms.
jp.3.5.developing new icons.rsr.comms
jp.10.5.review and revise marketing materials.website.onepagers.sales.comms
jo.3.5.internal meetings.admin.pr.comms
jp.1.5.Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance.Freshwater Action Network.partners.pr
jp.2.Liaise with Bright One Communications.comms
jp.2.Meet Pump Aid.partners.mc.kvdb.pvl.comms

Let’s see how this goes. Thanks to Vinay Gupta aka @leashless for helping me think this through over recent weeks (without realising it).

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