All posts by DougRawson

The Right Time Tracking Software

Tags: Architecture, Engineering | Date Posted: | Author:

Does your architecture or engineering firm have the right time tracking software? If you are using spread sheets the answer is no, not even close. Spread sheets are great for doing math but are the wrong tool for project time tracking.

What you need is a database solution. Not just any solution but one designed for tracking time against projects. One built for your type of practice. One geared specifically for architects and engineers. When looking, make sure you find a solution that is easy to use and understand. You will need buy in from your staff so it has got to be easy to use.

Why is this so important?

Because it is only with the right tools that you will get the right answers. Answers such as how much time have we spent on this project and how does that compare to our budget. What is the cost of the time spent? You need to see in real time how your projects are progressing. With time records lock away in spread sheets waiting for the pay period to close before data is gathers leaves you in the dark.

Your time tracking system should also be capturing data about the time. Not just the employee and the project but also the phase of the job, the primary activity, the billing rate, the employee pay rate, your overhead factor, and your total labor cost. An even better system will also apply profit to the costs to show with direct labor, overhead, and profit accounted for, how much of your fee have you burned through.

TimeSlipsTime Reports

You need to see how time has been spent on your projects. With activities such as drafting, designing, administering, meetings, field work, etc. you can see exactly how time is sent on your projects and what the different activities are costing you.

Reporting would not be complete without measuring your utilization. What percentage of your time is earning money? Is you staff working efficiently? Are you spending enough time marketing? Utilization reports help you answer these questions.

Billings and Invoicing

Of course your time tracking needs to integrate into your billings. If your employees are logging their time into spread sheets how are you getting that info into your invoices? With a click of a button you should see a report of all the time spend in the last period so you know which projects are in need of billing.

Ties to Project Data

Your time slips should link directly to your projects and their phases. And you should be able to report on your time and project to see which projects are more time intensive. Being able to compare projects types and the time they take can help you decide which projects you should be chasing and which ones you should run away from.

Billing Rates

Finally you need to look at your billing rates. Does your solution calculate your blended rates for Labor, Billing and Overhead? If not you need a new system. How does your total cost with labor, overhead and profit compare to the billing rate values?

In a Nut Shell

The biggest cost in an architecture or engineering firms is labor. Having a simple time tracking system that reports in real time will help you keep a handle on project time so you can bring your project in on budget.

Project Data – Your Institutional Memory

As your firm goes through time you work on more and more projects with a wide diversity of requirements, features and challenges. Before you know it you have a history of projects with all kinds of useful information that can be used as a firm resource.

This experience is used to win new work, to illustrate your expertise to potential clients. It can also be used and applied to new projects. Rather than re-inventing things you can pull past items forward.

The question comes is how do you capture this information and which information should you capture. Our experience shows that it is only captured in the memory of the old dogs. That is, most firms use the “Hey Charlie” method of archiving and retrieving information. You know the drill. “Hey Charlie, do you remember when? or do you remember where?”

And to be honest logging this type of data can be overwhelming. Unless you have a custom database that is. This is one of the key features of Praesto – it captures your institutional memory.

What is the institutional memory of an Architecture or Engineering Firm?

Well is it all the project data that tells the story about your projects. Things like materials or features. Typically you would not have a need to know how many project you have completed with gypsum wall board, however you may need to know the last project with a Terrazzo Floor. So when logging information think about the types of things you would be asking Charlie about.

I doubt you would need to research on building with restrooms. However you may want to know about waterless urinals. Or perhaps projects with elevators, swimming pools or data centers.

By adding tags (key words) to your projects in a database you will have the ability to search through your history of work and find what you need – even when Charlie is not around.

Are project data gathering tools available?

Project Data, Tags, Keywords and Institutional Memory

Project Tags and Keywords

There are very few project management software solutions designed specifically for architects and engineers. And even fewer that have the data tracking features we are talking about here. So if you are in the marked for a solution make sure to ask if the one you are reviewing can capture your institutional memory.

A sound solution will not only allow you to track projects with tags but will also let you categorize your project into countless categories. By using categories for projects you can compare and contrast things like labor requirements and profitability. Imagine comparing your design-build work to your plan-spec. Or your office buildings to retail or religious to educational.

What is the profitability of projects with elevators compared to those without elevators? Without capturing the institutional memory on your projects you will have no way to identify your best projects.

Having a searchable database does more that just let you report on projects. It also enables you to leverage past designs which in turn saves time and money. If your architects and engineers can quickly find past projects with a particular feature they are integrating into a new project, they can save a great deal of time by coping details, specifications, and schedules. This time savings will add dollars to your bottom line.

In a nut shell…

Without a doubt it is worth the time to log your projects and capture their information. Now you just need a tool to help you do this.