Just over a year ago, Invoke joined SoDA. Over the past 12 months, we’ve spent a lot of time talking to our fellow members around the world. Our conversations don’t just span digital trends and great work, but also our processes and how we can improve them. We talk about everything from logging hours, to measuring project profitability, to managing resources and utilization.

No matter what level an agency is at, we should all be striving to improve our processes. That goes for us too. We’ve struggled to offer our clients and partners the visibility and reporting they deserve. Inspired by conversations with our SoDA counterparts, we spent two months developing a near-automated process that has helped infuse our working relationships with transparency. In the spirit of sharing, like so many SoDA agencies have with us, here’s a summary of our process journey.

Why did we do it?

Reporting is time consuming. Whenever possible, we look to automate repetitive tasks – especially our developers. This led us to wonder if automation could also help project owners plan for the future of the business.

If everything was dynamic, all Invoke employees would have to do is consistently input their hours, and everything would fall into place.

Invoke Managing Director Chris Miller was as big into numbers as I was, so we were able to tackle this challenge as a team.

What tools did we use?

Invoke uses a lot of tools, and we’re always looking for new things. We chat about cool Slack integrations and things that pop up on Product Hunt, so now we were on the hunt for the base of our automated system.

And we found it, with Toggl. They are a great startup from Estonia that we’ve been able to meet with twice in the last year during their visits to Vancouver. Their product is time-tracking software that lets you start a timer or enter hours manually via a web, desktop, or mobile app. All hours are assigned to different projects and allow users to describe what they were doing. It’s simple and intuitive for employees, but more importantly, we could set it up to export all of its data.

Traditionally, these type of data exports involve someone pulling a report and copy-pasting the relevant information into a separate document. Instead, our system pulls data from the Toggl API and collates it in Google Sheets. We created custom Google scripts to ensure this happens correctly every time. Seems like a pretty basic solution, but it’s surprisingly uncommon.

Outside of our automated project overview process, we use a few other tools to stay organized. Resource Guru isn’t hooked up to anything, but it gives PMs easy visibility on resource hours available and lets employees see what they are scheduled to do. For managing individual project tasks, Trello works wonderfully. It’s usually the default, but we make sure to choose the right tool for the right project, and depending on the client, this could mean using tools like Pivotal Tracker or Jira.

We also use Slack; you’ve certainly heard a lot about them by now. Slack has become the cornerstone of Invoke’s communication. All employees are on it, we use it extensively with partners, and one former Invoker is even working for Slack now. On top of the increase in productivity and decrease in emails it causes, we’ve also delved into the customization it supports. We created a custom Invoke bot to retrieve useful info, and send automatic project health updates and weekly reports to our leads team. Another boon to the automation of our process.

At Invoke, we are planning on hosting a meetup early next year to talk about the pros and cons of Slack, how it transformed our organization, and how we were able to enhance it to fit our needs. Stay tuned for updates as the excitement develops.

How the Process Benefits Invoke, Our Projects, and Our Partners

Not only does an automated process save time and money: it gives us information in real-time. As long as people are entering their hours, there’s no need to wait for a report. An hour is logged in Toggl, and it immediately ripples out and affects the view of the entire business. Automatically.

By comparing it to our estimated hours, we can take a quick glance at our colour-coded master spreadsheet to confirm we’re on-budget and on-schedule. If any red flags arise, we know immediately and can plan for a solution before it even becomes a problem. Project managers, business development, and finance can all plan accordingly for increasing or decreasing workloads, reallocating resources, and changing timelines.

With real-time, automated information, we can view the business on a yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily level with ease. This streamlines our monthly planning sessions and weekly resource meetings, where leads determine who is best for upcoming tasks and how they can be done more efficiently. By not wasting time with manual reports, we can add a personal touch to our process that enables Invokers to do their best work.

Always Improving

The process has been working great for us, but we’re always trying out improvements. That can be testing Slack integrations or our regular chats with Toggl reps to stay up-to-date on our tools, and it’s not perfect. It still takes half an hour to set up a new project in the spreadsheet, but after that the magic takes over.

We are also interested in what others are doing. What are some of the processes and tools that leave you and your team feeling the most productive? Let us know on Twitter, or feel free to shoot me an email.

Background image courtesy of Cory M. Grenier.

Feature image courtesy of Bradley P. Johnson.