I remember a dream about timestamps. When I awoke, I wondered why I had the dream. I prefer to dream about hitting home runs, Olympic-level figure skating, and of course, flying like Superman.
It’s Toggl’s Fault
After thinking about it a bit, I decided to blame the dream on Toggl. The day before the dream they sent me an email to let me know that they were going to roll out some changes to the app’s look. That explanation seemed as good as any.
Do you know Toggl? It’s a timer app I use to track my work activities. I started using it because I wanted to know how my time split out across five major business activities:
- Finding work
- Serving clients
- Creating products and services
- Building skills
- Taking care of business admin stuff
Note the Time
The dream got me thinking about timestamps and time-related performance metrics. I saw flashes of client processes and the timestamps they could or should be using to measure and improve their processes. When I mentioned to Marie that I dreamed about this, she gave me a look that said, “Really?”
A timestamp records when an event occurred. It might be computer-generated like the time that is associated with an email you send. It might also be created manually by writing a note in a log book or pushing a button at the entrance to a parking garage when you want a ticket.
Timestamps are useful because they help you understand how long something took, especially when there are timestamps for the beginning and end of a process. You just witnessed a whole lot of that if you watched the Olympics. Races wouldn’t be the same without timestamps. Sure, we’d know who won, but how would we know if it was a new world record?
A timestamp may also tell a story. For example, send an email to your boss at 3:42 AM. It can be about anything, and yet when she sees the timestamp, the story becomes “Wow, he was working in the middle of the night. What a dedicated employee.” Of course you may also get an invitation to talk to your employee assistance program representative about sleep issues or work-life balance.
The length something takes is information you can use to understand performance. Consider that in most work settings…
- sooner is better than later,
- less time is better than more, and
- knowing when is better than not having a clue.
If you are willing to accept these three statements, then I suggest you ought to start tracking time.
Timestamps in the Computer Maintenance Biz
Before starting my consulting business, I worked for a computer maintenance company called Dataserv. One of our services was fixing store systems for major retailers, scattered all over the country.
When a store controller failed, the store was out of business. When a single terminal or printer went down, it simply meant one checkout lane would be out of action. As you might imagine, our customers wanted to keep all their equipment running, but certainly had a different sense of urgency between controllers and terminals.
When they had a problem, they called into our national dispatch center. That call then triggered a series of actions, all of which were timestamped.
- Dispatcher pages technician. STAMP.
- Technician calls into Dispatch. STAMP.
- Technician arrives at retail location. STAMP.
- Technician completes repair. STAMP.
This simple example presumes everything went well. If the technician needed parts or additional technical assistance, the process got a whole lot messier and more timestamps were created.
We used the timestamps to understand business performance. The most important metrics reflected our customers’ biggest concerns:
- Fix the equipment (stamp#4 – stamp#1)
- Get a technician onsite (stamp#3 – stamp#1)
We also wanted to get better at what we did and had other metrics available to us:
- Technicians respond when paged (stamp#2 – stamp#1)
- Technicians get to the site quickly (stamp#3 – stamp#2)
- Technicians quickly diagnose the problem and make repairs (stamp#4 – stamp#3)
Our timestamps helped us understand how well our support functions were performing:
- How long it took dispatchers to process calls with customers and technicians
- How long it took to repair and ship needed parts
Set Time Goals
All of this performance evaluation could happen because we collected the time data and built key performance metrics using that data.
Knowing the time something took was important, but what gave it meaning was how it compared to how long it was supposed to take. For example, many of our contracts required that a technician be onsite within four hours from the time dispatch was notified of the problem. Some equipment was so critical, the customer paid us to have technicians onsite 24 x 7. In those cases, the response time expectation was basically zero.
It was our time stamps that helped us see how often we met the requirement. Interestingly, our customers didn’t actually expect we would meet the goal every time, so we would write the performance agreements something like, Our technician will arrive within four hours on at least 90% of the calls.
Other metrics were tied to internal productivity goals. We were all about helping our technicians resolve problems more quickly and had goals for doing so.
The amount of time you use to complete a task does matter. It has a direct impact on profitability and customer satisfaction. Track it, turn it into meaningful information, and then use that information to improve your business.
Now I can hit the stop button on Toggl and see if I’m getting any faster at writing articles.