Our Harvest Customer Story: JESS3, Telling Stories Through Beautiful Visuals

[Originally posted on Harvest’s Customer Stories.]

JESS3 is a creative agency that specializes in data visualization. They’ve made a name for themselves by taking complex topics and large data sets and making them easily understandable by telling a story with high impact visuals. Most notably, they are responsible for highly distributed infographics and award-winning motion and interactive work for many high profile companies, including Google, Intel, the Economist, NASA and ESPN.

Hyper Growth Creates a Need for Discipline

Throughout 2011, the team at JESS3 experienced explosive growth, and began to face challenges in managing a growing list of projects and clients. As Becca Colbaugh, VP of Production and Operations describes it, “we were a start-up moving into a small business, and we needed to get a handle on our finances.” For this, they turned to Harvest.

Prior to using Harvest, employees and contractors at JESS3 kept track of their time “using scratch pads, memory, or their calendars. Needless to say, accuracy was not 100 percent, and tracking billables was a laborious process.” Clients were tracked by name, not project code. When people submitted their timesheets to the accounting department, it was difficult to associate tracked time with its respective client and project. This ultimately made it difficult to analyze individual projects and service offerings.

By the summer of 2011, Becca had a real timesheet workflow problem on her hands. Upon hiring a new summer intern, her first assignment was to research and recommend a time tracking and organizational system. The intern narrowed the search down to 3 finalists, did a free trial for each of them, and quickly settled on Harvest.

In addition to its ease of use, they chose Harvest because, “it integrated with Basecamp, had a desktop app, mobile time tracking, web interface and supported billing project codes.”

Taking a Pulse of Projects, and the Bottom Line

One of Becca’s favorite features is that she can immediately see who has (and who has not) turned in their timesheet, and where the team’s time is going. This isn’t because Becca enjoys a sick game of micromanagement, but instead it’s a way for her to be able to see when projects are over and understaffed, whose workload isn’t properly balanced, and ultimately gives her insights into total project profitability.

Five months after adopting Harvest, running the business seems much less daunting. “Without the use of Harvest we wouldn’t have started using billing codes. The more high-profile clients we secure, billing codes become that much more important. Harvest really allows us to get a pulse on our pricing.”

Through the reports, they were able to learn really interesting things about their business. Perhaps most importantly, “we learned that our profit margins are really healthy. Before using Harvest, we thought we were losing money on certain projects, and now that we track time, we can see that we’re not.” Harvest showed them that they were structuring their project costs correctly.

Immediate Feedback for Informed Business Decisions

JESS3 is no longer using “scratch pads and memory” to report hours. Their records are more accurate, which makes JESS3 more confident in their relationships with their clients. As Becca explains, “We want to make sure that we’re servicing our clients to our best, and to make sure our clients feel that way… one new way we do this is providing solid production and deliverable audits for our clients.”

As a distributed team, staying in touch is always a priority. To do that, JESS3 used to schedule a “Weekly Team Sync Meeting,” an all-hands conference call meeting including everyone from all offices across the US and Europe. With Harvest, they realized that they were literally spending hundreds of hours a year on these meetings and the value didn’t justify the cost. The meeting was cancelled.

Making Time Tracking Less Annoying

When asked why Harvest works for JESS3, Becca answered simply, “It’s kind of an annoying task, time tracking. But with Harvest, the work of time tracking is done for you. It’s like getting a prompt, all you have to do is fill in a few pieces of information and you’re done.”

Since adopting Harvest, JESS3 is more confident in the time and resources they are allocating to projects, and the accuracy of the time that they’re billing clients. The adoption was relatively painless and the process improvements allow the management team to focus more time on doing what they love.

Becca Colbaugh is JESS3’s Vice President of Production & Operations. Follow her @Becca_Colbaugh.

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