In Part 3 of our blog series we reported on our experiments with integrated telephony. Find out more in Part 4 about our search for smarter time tracking.
Let’s be honest: Time tracking is a “pain in the ass”. You need it, you use it and you hate it. If we’d ever develop our own project management software, we’d have to provide significant improvement here. In the best case, we would get to the point where time recording is actually fun.
Time tracking is a control instrument
If you’re “forced” to use time tracking, it’s for two main reasons. First of all, you need to record how much time was spent on a project. This is to ensure that a project stays within the calculated budget and in order to create a basis for calculation. The other reason has to do with team efficiency. Especially in agencies, you need the employees to generate a certain profit margin. Time tracking provide transparency here.
You can twist it and turn it as much as you like. Time tracking is and remains a control instrument. This is not to say that the time tracking principle is something bad – on the contrary. Time tracking ensures that an agency will be transparent and that way can operate successfully. This in turn is in the interests of each team member.
With TeamGrid we solve the issue of “time tracking” playfully
In TeamGrid, one starts time tracking by dragging and dropping an task card into the first row. At the same time you’re also showing your colleagues “Hey, look at how hard I’m working. I already started another new task”. This may sound a bit childish, but practice has shown that this indeed plays an unconscious role. We give a new association to the topic of “time tracking” and this way take away the association that time tracking is purely a control instrument.
Time tracking has many weaknesses
Getting a cup of coffee, having a brief chat with your colleagues, getting the mail … And the time tracking for a customer project continues. The results are false statistics which either need to be corrected by hand or they don’t get corrected at all – and then the customer pays for the chat with your colleagues or their own efficiency statistics deteriorate. It gets really stupid if during your night off, you forget to stop the time tracking and the computer keeps running all night.
If we were to develop a project management software, then we would have to solve this problem. By that I mean that it wouldn’t be enough to check whether the user is still moving his mouse. We pondered about solutions, about how we could solve this issue in a smarter way. Our ideas went from sensors in desk chairs to webcam-based face recognition.
We built an RFID network
We particularly liked the idea of ”Realtime Indoor localization”. What would it be like if we could calculate the distance between a person and his or her computer, certain rooms or other people in real time? This way we’d know when a person leaves his or her desk and we could automatically remove the job from time tracking. In addition, we could show where the person is located on the grid. Just think about larger companies with big office spaces.
So we experimented with an RFID network. We bought RFID tags that could communicate with each other. We wrote some software for the RFID router which calculated the distances between people, computers and rooms in real time, and pushed that data to the Meteor instance.
It took a while, but then we had our first working prototype. And let’s be honest, it’s pretty cool to walk through your office and magically see your location in your TeamGrid change. This was the absolute joy for our little geek hearts.
But there was a catch which caused us not to continue working on the RFID topic …
The realization that flashing RFID chips are not sexy!
You saw the RFID chips in the video. When I stood in front of my wife with this blue flashing chip, I asked myself whether this really was the right way. I think she wasn’t too excited about it. Okay, RFID chips are dead. Back to the drawing board.
iBeacons are the answer
Each of us has a smartphone. Many have their smartphones with them all the time. What we did with the RFID chips would work just the same with iBeacons and smartphones. Thanks to Bluetooth 4.0. The idea with the RFID network was dead and we started a whole series of tests in our office, which we wanted to change into a “Smart Office” soon.
During our tests, I personally noticed that I don’t always carry my iPhone with me. On the contrary. It usually lies on my desk when I’m walking through the office. That was a problem – because how could my position be determined this way? So we had another conceptual problem.
Smart Watches are the interface between users and TeamGrid
What feels natural and you always carry it with you? Of course, the SmartWatch! Sure, at the moment SmartWatches aren’t as common as smartphones yet. However, we think that’s only a matter of time. And the upcoming wearable technologies are playing into our hands here. Bluetooth 5.0 will be even more power efficient and have a bigger reach. Perfect for our use case.
Conclusion: If we would develop project management software, we should have a SmartWatch app to make time tracking really smarter.
And then it was April 2014
So now we had a quite functional prototype with great task management, integrated telephony and indoor localization. The design also had developed some more by April 2014. The decision whether we would actually develop our own project management software however hadn’t been taken yet – because we understood that we had to completely “re-engineer” our prototypes and that there also was some more work on the actual project management awaiting us.
Looking ahead to Part 5
In Part 5 we’ll tell about our experiments with voice control and about how the actual TeamGrid vision is coming along.