In HOW’s June 2009 issue, technology columnist Stephen Beale put three full-service project-management tools to the test: Infowit Creative Manager, Workamajig and TimeFox. He also interviewed users of each program to look at their real-world benefits and challenges. Here are their comments.
INFOWIT CREATIVE MANAGER www.infowit.com
User: Sally Pfeiffer, Pfeiffer Design, Altadena, CA
Infowit user for 3 years
Pros: Pfeiffer gives the product high marks for ease of use; it generally just takes a few minutes to show new hires the basics, such as how to fill in time sheets. “It’s like boom-boom-boom and you’re in,” she says. She advocates designating one “super-user” on staff who knows the program inside and out and rates Infowit’s customer service as “second to none.” The big advantage, she says, is that “it really streamlined our financial side” by helping her get a better handle on job estimates and billing. “It’s keeping us more organized, to the point where our cash flow really took an upswing. We had poor billing practices before this.” In addition, “everything I need to know about that project is sitting right in front of me. I don’t need to hunt anything down. I can give a client an up-to-date status on something with just a click of the mouse. It really saves time, especially on big projects.”
Cons: “I’m not a big fan of the invoices and the estimates” in terms of their design, she says. “But I’ve learned to live with them.”
Advice: If you decide to implement a package like this, “really take the time to streamline your billing categories, your job types and all of that administrative stuff,” Pfeiffer advises. “Get a nice clean system before you set it up. You’ll be much better off to do that from the very beginning.” She didn’t and thinks the transition would have been smoother if she had.
User: Jim Parker, system administrator for Advance Auto Parts in-house creative department, Roanoke, VA
Infowit user since April 2008
Previously, the department was using Microsoft Excel to maintain its work schedule. “We had been using paper for at least 10 years before we made the switch,” Parker says. He’s been rolling out the software in phases. Each designer received a day of training “and then one-on-one training with me as they had questions,” he says.
Pros: “Its simplicity and step-by-step approach to putting a job in the system,” Parker says. Also, “its powerful ability for scheduling, setting assignments and keeping up with everything concerning the production of a job.”
Cons: Parker thinks all production-management products could improve their electronic proofing capabilities. “Most work in association with Adobe Acrobat. I would like most of these companies to develop their own and build it into their software.”
Advice: “Don’t be in a hurry to buy. Ask for multiple demonstrations and compare apples to apples. Determine the cost over a five-year period, and not just one year. You’ll be surprised how much some systems cost to maintain. Consider consulting fees, because some might come in cheaper up front and make up most of the cost in consulting.” He also advises using a web-based product rather than one that runs onsite, as the latter limits your ability to work freely with vendors, freelancers and clients. And be sure to ask for multiple references. When implementing the software, “I would start with a core group and train them to be experts. Let those experts train the next group, until they are experts and just keep duplicating that process. Also, in each department you can always find one person who will excel in the software. Invite them to a quarterly meeting and train them on the changes and always sharpen their skills in the program. These people will help reduce your workload because they can help train veterans and new hires on the software.” Parker further advises, “make sure your IT department can handle the setup. If they can’t, let your vendor suggest an outside vendor for maintaining your software.”
User: Kirsti Scott, Scott Design, Soquel, CA
Began using Workamajig in 2005, in its earlier guise as Creative Manager Pro
Pros: Scott has just eight users on the system, though it’s geared toward large agencies and in-house departments. “If somebody looks at it as this software that’s really expensive, they should realize the value of having all the information you want at your fingertips,” she says. “It’s a strong tool for keeping track of everything you want to know about your company.”
Advice: Scott says it took about a month (at 20 hours per week) to configure the software and transfer the necessary data, and another month to iron out the kinks. The firm has rolled the software out in stages. “We didn’t do traffic management until 18 months ago,” she says. “When first setting it up, the best thing to do is to go step by step,” she advises. “The more time you spend setting it up properly, the better off you’ll be.” Although administrators require extensive training, she says it takes the designers about 10 minutes to learn how to fill in their time sheets.
User: Michael Bennett, CFO of Factory Design Labs, Denver
Switched from Creative Manager Pro to Workamajig in December 2008
Pros: This advertising agency has 100 staffers using Workamajig. Bennett has extensive experience with accounting packages and gives the software high marks for flexibility and the company’s technical support. “It has a look and feel like [Intuit’s] QuickBooks, but more functionality,” he says. And unlike big enterprise applications like Oracle, you don’t necessarily have to hire a programmer if you want to tweak something in the system, he adds.
Cons: Bennett encountered what he describes as “minor bugs” in the new Flash-based version. However, he said the company was quick to address them and overall he’s happy with the product.
User: Kevin Kelsick, Cre8tiv Juice, Miami
Pros: Kelsick currently has 10 users on the system, but adds users as needed. “If we bring in a freelancer who has limited access to it, they can learn how to use it in five minutes,” he says.
He says TimeFox gives him a better handle on billing. “It is tremendous what it has done for us in terms of billable time, and being aware of it,” he says. “You don’t know how much time you’re wasting until you’re tracking it.” He adds that “in contrast to other software we tried, TimeFox is really seamless in its transition. We were up and running with it in less than a day. Obviously, as we added new projects, we started to learn it more in-depth.” For the most part, he found that the software accommodated his own billing practices, and in the few cases where he’s had to adjust, “it has actually worked in our favor” by encouraging a more logical approach. “It can be a headache when you’re doing it, but it’s worth it,” he says.
Cons: Kelsick thinks TimeFox could do a better job of alerting him when a project is running late. “The information is available, but there isn’t really any system of red-flagging it,” he says.
Advice: You’ll need well-defined processes to take full advantage of the software. “It definitely takes a level of discipline and determination to keep it going,” Kelsick says.
User: Christine Hollinden, Hollinden Marketing Solutions, Houston
“Project management and time management for creative firms is one of the most difficult issues and an almost unending issue,” Hollinden says. “We all struggle with it. You make money by working on your clients’ objectives, not by doing administrative things. But if you don’t do the administrative things, you can’t have a successful business. It’s a real balance.”
Pros: Hollinden, who has two business degrees and a background in marketing, says that project-management tools help agencies whether they charge by the hour or by the project. A value-based billing approach gets design firms in a bind because projects can take longer than anticipated and costs can get out of hand. “TimeFox tells me if we’re placing enough value on our time and ideas and concepts,” she says. “It allows me to do a lot more analysis than simply saying ‘I spent so-and-so on this.’ Time is our finite resource. You can’t create more than 24 hours in a day.” She has five users on the software and likes its easy learning curve and low cost. “With new people, it takes me 15 minutes to teach them the basics,” she says. “For me, TimeFox is the best value for the money. I feel like we’re using the majority of the software’s capabilities. And it’s not going to get me into a bind if we get a little stiffening of the economy.” Being web-based is another advantage, she says. “Our art director moved to California, and it allowed me to keep a very strong employee halfway across the country,” she says. “We didn’t skip a beat.” Another plus: friendly and effective customer service.
Cons: Hollinden would like to see a better interface between the product and QuickBooks. “We track our time and projects in TimeFox and I do all billing in QuickBooks Pro.” She adds: “I’d personally like to see more user group meetings, more webinars or podcasts or whatever, that talk about it from a workflow perspective.”
Advice: When implementing the software, she advises that you do it in stages. “Unless you’re starting anew and you have no clients, the work doesn’t stop,” she notes. “You have to learn things on the fly. For us, it works to chunk it up—start on this section, then get to the next level and the next level. As we get used to the features, it’s less of a burden.” One challenge with any time-tracking tool is making sure employees fill out their time sheets. “I pay off the time sheet,” she notes, and employees know if they don’t fill in the time, they don’t get a paycheck. “I’ve only had to threaten,” she says. “I’ve never had to follow through.” She also advises shopping all the options to find the tool that’s best for your business. “What I hear constantly, and what I see, are people who have heavily invested in very high-end project-management software,” she says. “Either it’s been hell on earth to implement, or they end up using a small fraction of the software but they’re still paying for it.”