THE ZWEIG LETTER | OCTOBER 24, 2011, ISSUE 932
O P E R A T I N G M O D E
Keep your eyes on those work plans Without regular updating, they’re useless. W e’ve talked and written much about the process of preparing good work plans with the appropriate level of detail and how they serve the firm in many ways in- cluding, most importantly, providing the basis for good rev- enue projections. There are many examples of good work plans, and even some good examples of fairly basic ones that serve the proj- ect managers and teams well, informing all of what is need- ed, how long it should take, and who needs to do the work. The financial metrics at the onset of the project generat- ed by common software used by the A/E/P world provide what is necessary, including target and projected profit dol- lars and percentages, resource utilization and target, and planned and estimate at completion multipliers, among other things. There is one key component of the work planning process that is often overlooked, and can render all the hard work at the beginning of the project basically meaningless and without use as the project moves forward. Project work plans must be monitored and updated on a regular basis until the project is 100 percent complete. Nothing short of this is acceptable for our project managers and teams. I like to conduct project financial reviews on a monthly schedule and prefer that the key team members participate. Depending on your firm’s size, makeup, and “how things are done around here,” this could also be done with the ac- counting department staff and individual project managers and/or principals. It can work quite well as a group meeting that would involve market sector or discipline leaders with discussion, feedback, and recommendations for report- ing the progress and other accounting information that is needed on a monthly basis for all projects. I prefer to do it by groups – according to your organiza- tional structure – as it is a great time for team-building, learning from past experiences, mentoring future project managers and principals, and reporting the critical project information to your accounting departments. Most software used by the industry allows for reporting earned revenue within the work plan, so this presents an- other opportunity to take at least a high level view of the work plan to see how the project is going and schedule a more detailed review with team leaders if updates appear necessary. Start a good project plan with what everyone thinks is do- able; then monitor it on a monthly basis for the life of the project. If there is anything certain about architectural, en- gineering, and design projects in general it is that the pro- cess is dynamic, there will be changes at all phases of work,
and your work plans must be responsive and adapt to these changes when they occur. It works well for most firms to conduct the project financial reviews the last week of the month, and here is a good agenda for these meetings: 1) Report amounts to bill/invoice the client. 2) Report amounts approved for consultant
services. 3) Does AR need someone’s action?
4) Report earned revenue amounts for “internal” accruals. While on this item and with the work plan open, look at the following at a minimum: a. What are the job-to-date, year-to-date, and month-to-date profit dollars and percentages? b. What is the current job-to-date effective multiplier for the project compared to the planned and target multipliers? c. What is the estimate-at-completion multiplier and resulting profit dollars and percentages? d. What is the estimate-to-complete raw labor dollars and can it be modified to respond as may be needed to meet profitabil- ity targets for the project? e. Are there additional services that need to be addressed with the client? 5) How is the project team performing and are staffing changes needed at this time? You can be overwhelmed by the financial data in the re- porting output from common software. As one that en- joys this part of the profession, I find it can be useful to dig deeper in the analytics at times, but it simply is not neces- sary to do this to get a good picture of project performance. Multipliers provide a simple and useful means to both un- derstand and communicate what is happening, and if ad- justments are needed. How is it going now? What is the current JTD effective multiplier and profit amounts? What is it going to look like at the end of the project? What is the current EAC multiplier and profit amounts? If you need to adjust to meet your targets, what do you do? Evaluate and modify the ETC raw labor dollars. It is really that simple and allows you to address a project element that you can control. I see some very good A/E/P firms that do great design work, have satisfied clients, and have an excellent work ethic. So what could be missing? A sound business acumen that is part of the firm’s culture – supporting design, client service and performing the project – is one thing. A good work ethic does not guarantee that projects and firms will be profitable. Monthly meetings with project leaders and business man- agers support and enhance a strong business acumen with- in the firm. This is my reason for recommending the group approach to project accounting and work plan reviews. Call it a party if you want, as it is always a lively and productive event for everyone.
Stephen Evans is operations consultant for ZweigWhite. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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