If your company provides professional services, you have to accurately bill for those services. Furthermore, you have to track time against budget to ensure you’re meeting your clients’ needs and at the same time protecting your own profitability. To guarantee that all this is done correctly, you need an employee time tracking app.

The best time tracking app is one that not only keeps hours but also integrates with project management. For one thing, a comprehensive project management and time tracking app saves you from redundant entry. Once you’ve set up your projects, it’s simply a matter of assigning people to the tasks that roll out of the project plan. But an integrated project management time tracking system is more than a data entry convenience. It’s a powerful tool to help you better manage your projects.

With this kind of comprehensive system, you can see not only how hours are spent on individual tasks but also on the project in total. You get ongoing feedback on how accurate your project estimates were. You can see where your project is ahead of or behind schedule and adjust accordingly. The app can help you ensure that you aren’t about to spend too many hours on a fixed-bid project.

You can build up expertise in estimating, better determining how long tasks take. You can see if you’re more or less efficient than industry standards. You might be able to spot bottlenecks within your process.

A good project management time tracking system keeps your finger on the pulse of a project without micromanaging. You see how you spend your time. You can analyze it and make more productive decisions about the direction of project. You can provide your clients with accurate billing data that increases their trust and helps them understand how your work benefits them.

The good integrated app needs all the features of a top time tracker app. It needs to support setup of project and tasks and the assignment of fees and expenses. It must support estimating, invoicing and payroll. It should have a rich reporting system with outputs such as Gantt charts so you can identify dependencies and ensure that nothing impedes your critical path.

The ideal app includes workflow management. It will make tracking and approving hours a natural and straightforward process. It will be flexible enough to support and restrict access rights. It will be obvious what the project status is with relation to due dates. You’ll know whether project priorities need to be adjusted to keep the effort on track.

Project Management Time Tracking Excel

It’s possible to set up a time tracking system using Excel. A casual search will show you a choice of more than one project timeline template Excel that might be adaptable to your business needs. You can even find a multiple project tracking template Excel that is built to support as many projects as you care to throw at it.

However, when you think of all the things you expect a project management time tracking system to do, it becomes apparent that Excel templating is a patchwork solution that will be at best “good enough.” With a robust system that’s both cloud-based and accessible via a mobile app, it’s easier to ensure you have all the functionality your project management system requires.

For starters, you need security so that only the correct employee can enter their own time. You need separate privileges for managers, restricted to a subset of employees. In most cases, the system must be accessible not only in your office but also anywhere through a browser or a mobile app. Integration with your accounting system is critical. You need automatic invoicing. There must be the right visibility to project data and time data not only at a detailed level but also in summary. Critical records have to be backed up, archived and retained.

Now, it’s not impossible to do these things with Excel. An adept team of developers can do impressive work with spreadsheets. However, you’re not likely to find an out-of-the-box Excel solution that meets all of your project management and time-tracking needs. You’ve got better things to spend your time and effort on than managing a complex set of Excel spreadsheet. For the business owner who wants to put their talent where it’s best used, a supported full-function project management and accounting system such as BigTime makes the most sense.

Best Time Tracking Software

The best employee time tracking software has all the features that make that tracking easy, efficient and intuitive. When you’re evaluating such software, whether it’s BigTime or another product, make sure that it’s more than just a time tracking spreadsheet. Ask about the features that will make your life easier.

For starters, the system should support flexible time entry. You should be able to quickly enter time no matter where you are. It should be easy to set up tasks and assign them. You need to be able to add fields and add, delete or rename columns. You should be able to enter time by the day, the week or the month as your business requires. The entry screen should be customizable so that everyone sees what they need and only what they need.

Workflow support is important. It should be obvious to supervisors when they need to approve time, how they need to do it and how they should make corrections if necessary. The system should offer you the capability to enforce documentation of corrections. It should prompt employees about which tasks are new, which are ongoing and which are coming due.

Reporting needs to be complete and flexible. It’s best to have dashboards as well as generated reports. There should be individual timesheet reports as well as summary time reports. You need to see project status at a glance. You must be able to slice and dice time data any way you want to understand the status of your projects.

Your time tracking system needs to be integrated, not only with project management but also with accounting, invoicing and payroll. There should not be any situations where you have to do redundant data entry to keep time tracking and other systems in sync.

Best Time Tracking App for Small Business

There are a couple issues unique to small businesses that are trying to decide on a time tracking app, and they can work against each other. Many small businesses don’t have the budget to purchase an expensive project management time tracking app. On the other hand, their personnel don’t have the time to do redundant data entry or to maintain a time tracking system that requires a lot of hand-holding.

Still, most small business owners will find that a prudent investment in a project management time tracking app will pay for itself not only in terms of hours saved but also in increased capacity to manage projects. They’ll take advantage of the features to better allocate resources and to identify and resolve issues that could get in the way of completing contracted work on time and within budget.

This is especially true for a small business that specializes in any form of consulting that bills hours to clients. The best time tracking software for consultants will support time tracking whether employees are paid by the hour or salaried. In a small business, it’s often the case that every employee is called on to wear a number of hats and to step up to the plate and accomplish multiple tasks. To leverages their productivity, a project management time tracking app must support them in their job rather than require them to do extra work and redundant entry.

A good system supports the flexibility a small business requires to rapidly reallocate their people and keep them on top of the critical path tasks. The small business owner can’t afford to waste anyone’s hours, and the right system ensures that they don’t.

Best Free Time Tracker

Maybe your company isn’t ready to spend money on a time tracking system. If you want to bring in a simple time tracker and not pay for it, there are options out there. If your goal is simply to obtain a free time tracking app for employees, you won’t have to look very far. You can find a daily time tracking spreadsheet free from quite a few different sources.

The best time tracking software free might be adequate for several of your business needs. Bear in mind, however, that the “free” part refers only to the initial cost of buying the product. You’ll have to install it and maintain it. You’ll have to develop processes for using it. You may have to develop a reporting system if you don’t like what’s out of the box. The security it offers may or may not be up to your standards. It’s likely not to be particularly customizable, or not customizable in the way you want.

You’ll have to find a way to tie it to your accounting system. If it doesn’t export data the way you want it, you’ll have some redundant data entry to do.

BigTime is a richly functional project management and time tracking system that integrates with multiple accounting and other systems. It’s not free, but it does offer a free trial. Rather than trying to adapt your processes to a free system, why not take a long look at robust solution and see whether it can do enough for you to make the cost worthwhile.