Several decades ago, organizations used to manage all their finances using big paper-based ledgers, where they’d spend much of their day “doing the books”. These large ledger books worked for hundreds of years, however it would be a challenge to find any modern company today that runs their business on paper-based accounting methods.
I’m going to start with a basic assertion: to be effective and successful in their job, Project Managers need good information and the right tools. These two things are an absolute must. A bit more specifically: project managers first need current, accurate and complete project data; then secondly, they need the right tools to analyze, and report on that data.
This is especially true when managing large construction projects, where there are so many moving parts, changes, documents, contractors, costs, schedules, etc. to stay on top of. There are other things they need of course, but without these two key things, construction project managers are left feeling around in a dark room, desperately hoping to find a light switch.
One of the most challenging aspects of successful construction project management is the ability to collect a vast amount of project data into one place for easy reporting. If you’re like most organizations however, when you get asked for a status report, you can’t just click a button and a report pops up that’s nicely formatted, with current and accurate information, ready to send to your boss or your client. No way. If you’re like most organizations, when you get asked for a status report, you kick into “Report Gear” and start gathering information so you can build your report. You need to request the latest actual costs, you need the latest vendor invoices, you need to make sure you have all the current change orders up-to-date, you need your progress forecasts entered, and on and on. You need to start sending emails and making phone calls and trolling through spreadsheets – to pull together all the details you need to get that report ready.
EPCM organizations that are using just Timesheet & Billing software are finding themselves swamped in spreadsheets to cover the greater technology needs they face. It used to be that all an EPCM needed for enterprise software was a decent-enough timesheet tool to track their billable hours; and an integrated billing tool to invoice their customers. Things have evolved however, and EPCM’s are now seen as the go-to company for project management, procurement, document management, project controls, etc. These requirements obviously go well beyond what a timesheet tool can support. So, confronted with a lack of available tools, project managers & engineers have resorted to building cobbled-together solutions in spreadsheets to cover the gaps.
The best thing about Excel is that it’s so flexible. The worst thing about Excel is that it’s so flexible. With enough effort and programming, people can bend and twist Excel into doing almost anything. The challenge with that, as many people know, is that lurking inside every spreadsheet are errors that elude the creator. Some errors can be minor, but many errors are much greater in magnitude and can lead to executives making critical decisions based on bad math.
In our first blog in this series, we talked about the necessity of introducing innovation into your business - to improve efficiency, profitability - to stay competitive. Companies that don’t evaluate how they are doing business, and where they need to improve, are being left behind. Introducing innovation doesn’t have to be overwhelming or complex, and doesn’t have to result in spending a whole lot of money – in fact, the best ways to innovate are to look for ways to simplify and streamline your existing business processes.
In this second blog, we’re going to show you how one of our customers, Company A, started to do just that. Company A took a look at a key process – their project cost management - analyzed how they were managing their project costs, how they wanted to manage their project costs and what kind of information they wanted from their project cost management system...and what changes they could make to improve this process. And in future blogs, we’ll see how Company A uncovers inefficiencies in their process, and the result of improvements that they made.
Company A has been in business for a number of years, and has been running labor and materials projects that have been fairly similar in nature. They’ve been successful in that key respect that many small business owners benchmark success by – there was cash in the bank at the end of the month. So, all in all, their projects were running profitably – but the question is....how much more profitable could they be? How much more cash-flow could be generated from their projects? Were there trends developing that would signal areas to improve efficiency, shore up the bottom line?
As we talked about in our first blog, your evaluation has to start with the very first of the W5 – the “What” questions:
Excel is an amazing tool. It is truly the great multi-purpose software of our time. People can bend and twist spreadsheets to do pretty miraculous things - from planning a children’s party to full enterprise budgeting & forecasting. Like anything, of course, it has its limits. Excel works just fine in many cases, but when it comes to more complex jobs - like estimating, tracking, controlling and analyzing large construction projects – it simply breaks down. People certainly try to force Excel to work in this field, and there’s no question that with enough time, resources and effort, a person could achieve some - rather limited - results. But the truth is, it’s just not worth it. Especially when there are good tools available which are designed specifically for that task.