We are excited to introduce a brand new webinar series focused specifically on best practices for managing your projects!

In this five-part series, we’re teaming up with Larry Potts, PMP of Technik Solutions Group to talk through specific areas of Project Management geared for helping you optimize the setup and ongoing management of your projects. Larry comes with over 20 years of practicing project management across a wide variety of customers and projects and has a wealth of knowledge to share.

Join us as we combine project management theory and practical skills for better project results. Click on each of the parts below for a description and registration information. We will be updating these on a regular basis.

Part 1: What It Takes to Create a Great Project
Part 2: 5 Key Project Metrics to Monitor
Part 3: To Be Announced
Part 4: To Be Announced
Part 5: To Be Announced

Stay tuned for more information!

 

Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters of all time. We know this because since the early days of baseball we’ve been tracking stats on every player for every game and Ted Williams rises to the top of the list in almost every category.

Whether through pen and paper, spreadsheet or enterprise software we have a history of using technology to measure greatness.

It’s the same for AE. Each hour on every project is an opportunity to capture and measure the great work your firm produces. Your ERP solution will either enhance or weaken that ability. But, how do you know when your ERP is falling short? Better yet, are there ways to anticipate the need for a new solution?

For ERP software, there are a few sure-fire indicators that it’s time to start looking for something new.

  • End-of-life -Discontinued product development or support
  • Outgrowth – When your firm outgrows the current feature set
  • Stagnant Development – No new features/improvements

1. End of Life

End-of-life is actually a normal stage in a product’s lifecycle- but that process can have serious ramifications. Often an end-of-life means a shift of resources away from supporting your software resulting in closed development and end of product support. Neither are good scenarios.

Typically, End-of-life is preceded by a vendor buyout, final version, end of sales or the release of a new (read, “replacement”) product.

2. Outgrowth

On a more positive note, sometimes your firm simply outgrows the feature set of your current software. There are lots of great solutions written for small businesses to begin managing their accounting, projects or CRM. However, larger contracts call for more employees, tighter communication and fully-baked integrations.

Balancing multiple vendors to capture your firm’s project/financial position can become cumbersome in periods of growth. If you’re growing too quickly for your software (congratulations!) it’s time to start looking.

3. Stagnant Development

Running a mature ERP solution has it’s benefits. However, terms like “product maturity” can easily mask a true lack of development or product improvement. This can leave you at a disadvantage. Signs of a slow down in development include fewer and far-between improvements to the product, long standing bugs or inattentiveness to customer feedback.

Since the early days of baseball, we’ve used technology to measure greatness and ERP software helps you capture this for your firm.

Great ERP does that in a way that innovates, continually improves and grows with you.

We’re excited to announce InFocus 2015. With over 200 new features, fixes and refinements, it’s a big release. Almost everything we’ve done is in response to a client survey given a few months ago. In particular, clients told us they needed easier reporting, faster loading in key areas and a more cohesive user experience. InFocus 2015 delivers that and a lot more.

ReportBuilder: A Faster and Easier Way to Meaningful Reports

Building reports can be painful. It often requires using antiquated design tools and complex SQL queries. ReportBuilder fixes that. It’s a slick tool that allows anyone to design in minutes what normally takes a report professional hours. It’s better shown than talked about, so watch this video to see how it works.

Dashboard Layouts
With InFocus 2015 we’ve made the InFocus Dashboard the most powerful in the industry. In addition to six new chart types and cleaner presentation, we’ve developed a new Data-Grid Widget (Gridget) that allows you to interact with your data in an Excel-like, editable grid. Gridgets can be used to drive charts, workflows and other processes—all from your Dashboard.

What’s more, InFocus 2015 offers unlimited dashboard layouts. Create one dashboard with graphs for high-level firm metrics, another for viewing everyone’s timesheets, and another for recent AP and AR transactions.

InFocus Dashboard

Faster and More Streamlined User Experience
There are a lot of details in InFocus 2015 that add up to a more productive experience. In some key areas like PA and PM Bill Review, record loading speed has been dramatically improved.

We’ve also streamlined the overall interface to help you get where you need to go quicker. For example, clients and projects are now links within grids and lookups. If you’re in the Sales Journal, one click gets you to the detail screen of the client or project. And with split tabs you can easily do side by side comparison and reporting.

InFocus 2.1 Split Tabs

Lots more…
There are dozens of other improvements. Here are just a few more of our favorites:

  • Export from any grid to more formats: Excel, CSV, Word, HTML, PDF
  • Reports windows can remain open in the background while working with InFocus
  • Lookups have been expanded to include key search fields like Invoice Number and  Check Number. For example, in Sales Journal start typing an Invoice Number or SJID and results appear immediately.

If you are a client at Clearview with support site access, check out the Release Notes for more details. We hope InFocus 2015 makes you even more productive in 2015.

QuickBooks is a well-known accounting software package for small business.  It is often recommended to startups and small businesses by their CPAs, especially if that CPA does not have a lot of experience with professional service firms, primarily because (a) it is fairly cheap, and (b) the accountant knows it (more convenient for the accountant).

So when is QuickBooks a good choice?  Read More…

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a chart is worth 1,000 numbers.

Years ago I was a consultant in the transit industry doing a maintenance study for NJ Transit.  They had about 11 maintenance garages, and we were comparing several metrics amongst the garages.  One metric is Miles Between In-service Failures.  Believe it or not, this number is surprisingly low in the transit industry, as I recall something like 11,000 miles.  That was about what most of the garages were reporting, but one garage was reporting 42,000 miles.

Either the manager of that garage was fudging his numbers or he didn’t know the definition of “In-service Failures” or he should have been in charge of the maintenance for all of NJ.  What struck me at the time was that we were getting the numbers from all of their standard reports, but no one noticed this garage until we put the numbers in a bar chart.  Read More…

Rulers

It might seem strange to talk to architects and engineers about the importance of measurements. They live and breathe physical measurements. But we’re going to talk about a different kind of measurements. Measurements that tell us how our businesses performed in the past, how they are performing now, and how they will perform in the future.

These measurements of performance are often called metrics. Read More…

Recently an associate and I were discussing the need for accounting controls in smaller professional service firms. He agreed there was a need, but thought it unrealistic, asking “How can you implement segregation of duties in a ten person firm where one person manages the accounting function?” He made a good point, but I have seen my share of clients living through a myriad of accounting messes that could have been prevented with adequate controls.

What is the answer?

Read More…

The best way to get good decisions out of people is to give them timely, accurate information that answers their questions. This gives them both the motivation to act and the resources on which to act.

Historically, however, this was not done. Throughout the accounting cycle—usually a calendar month, but sometimes a calendar quarter—operating data was collected that was primarily of interest to the accounting department, mostly numbers preceded by dollar signs.

At the end of this period, after another period called the closing process, reports were printed out, usually defined by what an accounting system could generate.

Much of this information was considered confidential, so it was distributed to the principles of the firm, to the CPA, and maybe to the bank or lending institution that may have provided a line of credit.

Professional service firms like architects and engineers came to realize that there was also important project-oriented data that could be collected, but it tended at first to be collected and compiled on the same cycle, by the same people, printed and distributed to operations personnel, including project managers.

The problem with this cycle is that it provided data that was between one week and six weeks old, in a defined format that may or may not have met PMs needs, and all too often of questionable accuracy. Depending on the PMs workload and the level of detail, these paper reports could have been overwhelmingly voluminous, making it difficult for the PM to find the critical information he needed, and usually long after it would have been helpful.

In many engineering firms several projects could have completely come and gone in this reporting cycle.

Most of today’s professional service reporting systems are capable of much more than what the old system provided, but the old patterns are still followed: print a lot of reports, usually around the billing cycle and distribute them with more emphasis on billing than on control.

Stop It!

Let me propose four changes that will greatly empower PMs to make more timely and accurate decisions.

Read More…

Managing a successful business requires effectively managing cash flow. And managing cash flow effectively means knowing how much cash to have on hand. To know that that we need to understand why cash is needed in the first place, then couple it with a thorough analysis of a firm’s revenue and expense cycles, preferably using an interactive model.

But let’s start at the beginning: how much cash on hand should an A&E firm have?

Do we have enough cash?

Based on what I see from my consulting with A&E firms, everyone has a different idea of how much cash is enough. I’ve seen 20 person firms holding several million dollars of available cash. I’ve seen hundred person firms that keep barely enough cash on hand to meet next week’s payroll. At both extremes, these firms are profitable and appear to be near-term stable, emphasis on the words appear and near-term. That being the case, is there a rule of thumb?

On average, firms in the architectural/engineering design sector maintain cash balances equal to approximately 20% of their total assets. This equates to about 8% of their annual sales, some reporting as low as 4%, others as high as 12%. Benchmarking your firm’s cash balance against some industry standard is not very meaningful, at least not without considerable investigation into what is behind the numbers.

Read More…

Predicting Profit Accurately

All design firms have to factor in overhead when calculating project profitability. There are two main approaches for doing this: the Job Cost Rate approach and the Overhead Allocation approach. Most software packages offer one approach or the other. Sema4, for example, uses Job Cost Rate, while Advantage and Vision use Overhead Allocation. InFocus is unique: it offers both approaches. Let’s review how each approach works.

The Job Cost Rate Approach

Job Cost Rate is often referred to as burdened payrate because it’s an hourly payrate plus an hourly overhead rate. Job Cost Rate is usually an employee’s pay rate times a standard multiplier. Typically that multiplier is based on a firm’s direct labor and overhead costs at the financial statement level. For example, a firm has the following on their books:

Annual overhead: $1,000,000
Annual direct labor: $500,000
Total: $1,500,000

You’ll notice that the total ($1.5m) is 3 times the direct labor amount ($500k). That means a good Job Cost Rate multiplier is 3.0. This multiplier can be set up in a Job Cost Rate schedule and applied to each direct hour charged in a timesheet.

Say John’s payrate is $100 per hour and he enters 5 hours on his timesheet. In this case here is how the Job Cost Rate is calculated:

$100 * 5 hours * 3.0 Jobcost multiplier = $1500

InFocus automatically stores the Job Cost Rate on John’s timesheet.

Summing up, having a Job Cost Rate makes estimating a project’s profit much more accurate since it accounts for both direct and indirect expenses. InFocus has a global setting that allows a Job Cost Rate to be used instead of Pay Cost in reports.

The Overhead Allocation Approach

This approach uses Pay Cost within the project reports. Overhead is calculated separately based either on a multiplier or a proportional allocation of actual periodic overhead.

Let’s use the amounts from the previous example. This time we will calculate an overhead multiplier not a Job Cost Rate multiplier. We do that by dividing the annual overhead ($1m) by the annual direct labor amount ($500k), which results in an overhead multiplier of 2.0. This multiplier can then be applied to periodic direct labor amounts to represent the allocated overhead for the job.

The InFocus overhead allocation utility provides the user with the ability to enter an overhead multiplier. InFocus then stores the resulting project overhead amounts.

Alternatively, the user can design overhead allocation scripts that will distribute actual overhead for a period across projects proportionally. For example, a project that is consuming 10% of the firm’s direct labor for a period will receive 10% of the overhead allocation.

Conclusion

Overhead has to be accounted for in order to estimate profit properly. Fortunately, InFocus makes this as easy as possible by providing two distinct approaches, the Job Cost Rate approach and the Overhead Allocation approach. There isn’t a right way and a wrong way. The approach you choose depends on your business and accounting practices.