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4 Ways to Advance Your Billing Process

Gary Dwyer
GaryDwyer
Product Director
BST Global
One of the most critical processes for any successful business is billing. To advance your own AEC firm’s billing processes, it’s important to understand four key ways that can help. The Billing Process Getting your billing to run efficiently, is an important step in optimizing your firm’s cash collection. But if you have a poor billing process that takes too long to get invoices out the door, that makes it difficult to collect the cash you need, when you need it. While it’s very possible for you to fix your firm’s billing issues, you can’t think of it as a one-and-done process. It takes time, and some trial and error, before you can get it right. By setting the expectation that billing cannot be fixed overnight and that it requires constant effort from all persons involved, you’ll make the chances of fundamentally improving this process much higher. How to Improve Your Billing Process There are four key elements you must pay attention to when working on your firm’s billing process. Let’s investigate each. Know the terms of the project: The more clearly defined your invoicing terms are in the contract with your client, the less likely you’ll be to have misunderstandings. And by “invoicing terms,” I not only mean how long your client has to pay the invoice, but also the layout and the content of the invoice. What goes into an invoice and what it looks like may be different for each project. But, by introducing standards to limit the number of varying invoice formats, it makes it easier to ensure your team is using the correct format from project to project. Schedule frequent billing reviews: Project billing reviews should be scheduled throughout every month. Because too many AEC firms still consider it a monthly event, this causes bottlenecks when trying to do a billing review of all projects in a compressed timeframe. Instead of doing it all at once, try spreading it across the month and doing a few projects each week.For example, say you have 100 projects going on at once, you can review 25 a week instead of 100 at the end of the month. And even if you’re not billing your client each month, it’s still a good idea to review the charges you’ve billed on a regular basis to make sure they’re allocated to the right project and the right task. Monitor the billing process: Project Managers, Project Directors, and Project Accountants are usually involved in the review process of the draft invoice or prebill. Because several individuals need to be involved, this can make it easy to lose sight of when each person is working on the bill.Ask yourself this: your Project Manager is done with their review – do you know if the bill moved to the Project Director, or is it back with the Billing department? If you don’t have the answer, then you should consider finding an ERP solution that allows your team to have a clear view of this process. Being able to see what stage the billing process is at helps alleviate confusion and eliminate the extra time it takes to track down prebills. Store documents electronically: Project billing typically requires copies of reports and receipts as backup for charges on an invoice. The problem is, many AEC firms still use paper-based backup systems. This involves a manual effort to find backup documents in filing cabinets, making photocopies of those documents, and then combining the copies.Instead, all documents should be stored electronically in a document management system. That way you can find them faster and you can combine them into a single PDF to send to a client with the final bill. The Impact Now you know the four ways you can improve your billing process – but what does all of this really mean for your firm? Well, it means you can expect a positive impact in two key areas: Work in Progress (WIP): As WIP represents what has not yet been billed for a project, billing on a regular basis helps reduce the amount of WIP your firm shows on its books. This makes the reverse true as well – inconsistent billing causes your WIP value to increase.Not billing regularly can also lead to your profit or loss taking a hit when needing to write off outstanding WIP that can no longer be billed. Essentially, if you’re billing a client too long after the work for that bill was completed, it’s possible the client may deny that charge. But if you bill on a regular basis, you can avoid this potentially uncomfortable back and forth with clients altogether. Days Sales Outstanding (DSO): One of the most important KPIs used to benchmark cash collection is DSO, and the part of billing that impacts DSO is your invoices. If your invoices are accurate and complete, then it makes the process of a client’s approval for payment much quicker and easier. Faster approvals lead to getting paid sooner, which decreases your outstanding receivables, and positively impacts DSO by reducing it. Conclusion While improvements in your billing process can help lower your firm’s WIP account balance and reduce DSO, it can also lead to a better relationship with your clients. When your client’s Accounting department can rely on the accuracy and timeliness of your billing practices – that’s going to make one happy client. Don’t underestimate how much of a factor that will play in their decision for awarding future project work. The impact on client satisfaction alone should be a good enough reason to improve your firm’s billing processes. Interested in learning more about the billing process? Check out The Ultimate ERP Glossary for AEC Firms, which includes 150 terms that will help you learn not just about billing, but about the entire project lifecycle. Download your free copy by clicking below! DOWNLOAD GLOSSARY NOW

Invoicing 101: How to Improve Your Invoice Process

Gary Dwyer
GaryDwyer
Product Director
BST Global
The foundation of a successful billing process? Your invoices. Learning how to improve your invoices? Simple. The Invoice Problem Invoicing has the potential to make or break your AEC firm’s billing process. Why? Because if your invoices aren’t right, it means more work. More work going back and forth with your client to resolve a late payment, and more work for your Accounting team to correct inaccuracies and issue credits to clients. Not to mention, the client can lose confidence in your billing practices. Essentially, you can’t improve your billing process without making sure your invoicing is under control first. In this post, I will go through the fundamentals of invoicing and how you can focus on these areas to get your invoicing in check. The Fundamentals of Successful Invoicing Successful invoicing has two fundamental elements: accuracy and timeliness. Getting these two elements right, will set the foundation for your firm’s billing process. Now, let’s examine each of them. Accuracy Whether it’s the layout, or how you need to arrive at charges based on the contract type used for a project – the accuracy of your invoices needs to be exact.   Layout Each contract type used in the AEC industry, along with a client’s requirements, dictates the way information must be presented in an invoice. For instance, a contract may require you to show values for the project fee, billed to date, amount being billed, and fee remaining. How that information is summarized can also vary. The contract may require invoice values to be grouped based on phases or based on specific tasks of your project. To avoid complications down the line when billing, make sure your contract is clear when it comes to the specifics of how invoices need to be formatted.   Values In addition to the layout of an invoice, contract types also influence how to arrive at the invoice value and when you’re allowed to send that invoice to your client. Here’s an example: A Fixed Fee contract only allows billing when a certain amount of progress is made on a project, whereas with a Time and Material contract, you may be expected to bill your client on a monthly basis. For calculating the detailed charges on an invoice, a Time and Material contract’s charges are based on a pricing schedule or a markup, while a Fixed Fee contract’s charges are based on the percent complete of a project. The bottom line is that an invoice must be fundamentally accurate and complete. Whether it’s the amount charged for an employee, properly summing up detailed charges so they equal the invoice value, or including the appropriate tax on an invoice – you need to get all these values right, every time. Timeliness The faster you get invoices out the door, the sooner you can collect money from clients and use that cash for your business. So, the biggest thing you can do to improve the timeliness of your invoices is to make sure charges are posted to projects on a regular basis. For instance, how often have your employees not submitted their expense reports on time? If this happens, and you wait too long after a project is complete to bill the client for those expenses, they may question or even reject those charges on the invoice. Think of it this way: the closer you bill to the project’s timeframe, the smoother your client’s approval will go, and the sooner you’ll get paid for completed work. Conclusion Getting your invoicing practices right is synonymous with improving your billing process. Otherwise, when your invoices are inaccurate, or the layout doesn’t meet the contract specifications, it leads to conversations with clients to fix those issues. And if these conversations happen on an ongoing basis, you can expect clients to lose faith in the quality of your invoices. This can cause further delays in payment as clients may now further validate, or question charges every time you send an invoice. So first, get the layout and the values right on your invoices (make sure the project is setup according to the terms of the contract with your client). Then, once you have those right, make sure to review charges and bill your client on a regular basis. Now, with these changes, your firm will have the foundation it needs to start focusing on how it can take its billing process to the next level. Interested in learning more about invoicing and billing? Check out The Ultimate ERP Glossary for AEC Firms that’s packed with 150 common industry terms spanning the entire project lifecycle. Download your free copy by clicking below! DOWNLOAD GLOSSARY NOW

DSO and DPO – What’s the Difference?

Gary Dwyer
GaryDwyer
Product Director
BST Global
Analyzing Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) and Days Payable Outstanding (DPO) can improve one very important financial metric for your AEC firm: cashflow. What It Is Before I get into how to calculate DSO and DPO, and how the resulting value of each impacts your firm’s cashflow, let’s do a quick refresher on their definitions: Days Sales Outstanding shows how well your firm is managing its accounts receivable by measuring how long it takes to collect payments owed to your firm. Days Payable Outstanding shows how well your firm is managing its accounts payable by measuring the average number of days it takes you to pay vendors. In short, DSO helps your firm see how long it’s taking to collect outstanding payments, and DPO helps your firm see how long it’s taking to pay outstanding bills. And while they address different areas, the information derived from each are equally as important. Now that you’re caught up on what DSO and DPO means, let’s look at the formula for each. How to Calculate DSO Credit SalesA purchase made that does not require the payment to be made in full at the time of purchase. The full amount can be paid at some point in the future or smaller regular payments can be made over a period of time. DSO is calculated by dividing your accounts receivable during a particular time period by the value of your credit sales during that same time period, and then multiplying the result by the number of days in the period. Here’s a quick example: Receivables: $2,000,000 Credit Sales: $2,800,000 Days in Period: 91 days DSO Calculation: ($2,000,000 / $2,800,000) x 91 days = 65 days Your firm should be aiming to have as low of a DSO value as possible because it indicates that you’re doing an excellent job of collecting outstanding debts. A range between the lower 50’s to upper 80’s is a typical value for most AEC firms. But once values start creeping over the upper 80’s, this should be a clear red flag to your firm. How to Calculate DPO DPO is calculated by dividing your average accounts payable by your daily cost of sales (also sometimes referred to as cost of goods sold or COGS). For example: Payables: $250,000 Cost of Sales: $1,250,000 DPO Calculation: $250,000 / ($1,250,000 / 365 days) = 73 days Unlike DSO, you want your DPO value to be higher because it means you can keep cash within your firm for longer. In this case, a range from the mid 60’s to more than 100 would be typical for most AEC firms. DSO and DPO Target Values But having a low DSO value, or a high DPO value, doesn’t give you the whole story. The target values for any firm are influenced by several factors, such as: what industry your firm is in, the type of projects your firm works on, whether that work is public or private, whether your firm is working as a general contractor or a sub-contractor, etc. So, what may be a target value for one architecture, engineering, or environmental consulting (AEC) firm, may be different for another. For example, if your firm does more private than public work, then the DSO target may be higher as you have room to negotiate more favorable progress payments (e.g. get advance payments), which helps reduce your firm’s DSO. But as you calculate your firm’s DSO and DPO values, keep in mind that while a single value is an important indicator to start paying closer attention, the benefit really comes from tracking these values over time. These values cannot be changed overnight – there are processes that need to be put in place and tested in order to see those values start to come down or go up. Depending on which direction the trend moves, it will have a positive or a negative impact on your firm’s available working capital – which is why these calculations are so important to understand. More on this in the next section. Why It’s Important Monitoring the trend of DSO and DPO values provides an insight into how your AEC firm manages its cash. Let’s see just how a positive or negative trend can have an impact. First off, an increase in your firm’s DSO means you’re financing clients by carrying their debt on your books – this results in a negative impact on your firm’s cash flow since it’s taking longer to collect those payments. Pay When PaidA contractual clause that stipulates that a contractor is obligated to pay its subcontractors upon receipt of payment from the owner. The same impact on your firm’s cash flow happens if your DPO is declining – meaning, cash may be going out sooner than it needs to be. This can be improved by making sure your firm negotiates more favorable payment terms with vendors and pays vendors according to those terms (not paying them earlier than what’s in the agreement), or it can even adopt a Pay When Paid strategy with vendors. Conversely, a reduction in your firm’s DSO, and an increase in DPO, will lead to improved cash flow for your business. As your firm starts collecting payments more quickly and takes longer to make payments (within reason, of course – you don’t want to ruin the relationship with your vendors!), the amount of cash coming in will exceed the amount going out. Even the smallest improvements in these factors can have an impact on the amount of working capital your firm has at a given time – so don’t take these lightly, make them a priority. Conclusion DSO and DPO are useful formulas for analyzing your firm’s processes (i.e. billing, collections, and payment processes) and can play a direct role in the effectiveness of your cash cycle. Given the significant role cash plays in successfully running a business, monitoring your DSO and DPO values can help your firm find ways to collect on outstanding bills as quickly as possible, while also watching outflows of cash for vendor payments. Want to learn other helpful calculations to keep your firm’s finances in check? Check out The Ultimate ERP Glossary for AEC Firms, where you’ll learn 150 terms (along with a whole range of AEC related formulas) that cover the entire project lifecycle. Download your free copy by clicking below! DOWNLOAD GLOSSARY NOW

Cash vs. Accrual vs. Work in Progress Accounting: Which is Best for AEC Firms?

Evelyn March
EvelynMarch
Group Director
BST Global
Cash basis and accrual basis are two different methods of accounting. Each method tells a different story about revenue, but neither method gives the whole story – that's where the work in progress (WIP) method comes in. It’s an important question: which accounting method is most effective at providing insight into your firm’s revenue? Some say accrual basis accounting is more effective than cash basis accounting. But many times, if architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting (AEC) firms only leverage accrual basis accounting, they miss out on an even deeper level of insight of revenue that can only be achieved with the accrual based WIP method. While each method provides a snapshot of your AEC firm’s income, the WIP method provides the most accurate representation. The impact of this? Your team is able to get a clearer picture of your firm’s revenue journey. Before we dive into how WIP gives the level of revenue insight your AEC firms needs to be successful, let’s review the more commonly used cash and accrual basis accounting methods first. Cash Basis Accounting The end goal of any profitable business is to monitor cash flow. That’s why for the cash basis method of accounting, income is booked when money is received, and expenses are booked when money is paid. In other words, items are booked when money changes hands. While this makes the value of your firm’s revenue extremely accurate, it can also paint a misleading picture. If a large sum of revenue is received and recorded before bills are paid, your firm may falsely appear more profitable, as assets will be greater than liabilities. Of course, the reverse is also true. If a firm pays for expenses prior to receiving the money and recording this revenue, it can make a company look like it’s headed in the wrong direction. In this case, your balance sheet would show the value of your firm’s liabilities as greater than the value of its assets. Accrual Basis Accounting While cash basis accounting records the actual movement of cash, accrual basis allows for the prediction of revenue. With this method, if an invoice is received for completed services (expenses), or a bill is submitted to a customer (revenue), both are booked at that point to predict future revenue and expenses. So, while items are booked when money changes hands with cash basis, items are booked when an invoice passes hands with accrual basis. This prediction allows you to see the cash flow that’s already in motion once an invoice is sent – but what if you could predict revenue even before invoices are sent to the client? That would be the holy grail of data analysis. And yes, it’s possible… if your enterprise resource planning (ERP) software can calculate WIP. Work in Progress What is WIP? Accrual-based WIP is the value of work completed, but not yet billed. Since there are parameters that determine the contractual amount that you can bill, what if you used those parameters to figure out the value of work before you billed it? This additional layer of accrual allows you to book the revenue that comes from work completed in the month it occurred. By booking revenue at this point in time, it provides the truest picture of your firm’s forecasted income. Let’s explore this concept a little further. Since the accrual method means you book expenses when your firm receives an invoice or timesheet, you have a clear picture of your cost for a given month. No matter which accrual method you choose (accrual basis or accrual-based WIP), your expenses will always be booked in the month it occurred – this will not change. But with WIP, you have an additional option for booking revenue: your AEC firm can now book revenue in the month work was completed. We know it takes money to make money, so booking your revenue in the same month that you booked your expenses gives the truest picture of your firm’s financial standing. But by taking it a step further with the WIP method, the WIP value on your financial reports will show the value of work before you bill it in the future. So, how is this added benefit helpful to your AEC firm? We’ll take a look at that next. The Revenue Story with WIP In a scenario where WIP is not used, and expenses are booked in a given month yet billed months later, your picture of expenses versus revenue is skewed. The month of the expenses would appear with no offset of revenue, and when the invoice is sent, the revenue would appear with no offset of expenses. Because these values were booked in two separate time periods, it would be challenging to make the connection of how much expense it took to earn the amount invoiced. On the other hand, if the WIP method were used, you would accurately depict the revenue earned in the same month the expenses were booked. Seeing that this value was booked as WIP, it alerts you that this is your future billing amount. Are you starting to see the extra layer of analysis your firm would receive? Because WIP is a statement of what you expect to bill in the future, when an invoice is sent, that value is offset from the WIP account. By booking that value in WIP, you are now able to evaluate how long it took from completing the work to billing it. That same principle applies when cash is received. Noting the date of the invoice, and the date that cash was received, it shows how long it took for a client to make a payment. Thus, WIP gives you a complete timeline from work completed to billing, and then from billing to cash collected. Here’s another way to look at it: Say your team completed work in January. According to the WIP method, you would book that work in January. Then, if you were to review your firm’s WIP balance (reminder: this is work you’ve completed, but are waiting to bill) in March and saw there was a balance for WIP that was booked in January, this would immediately alert you that the work completed in January had not been invoiced yet as of March. Your firm can now proactively review WIP and give attention to projects that have fallen behind in invoicing, thus, having a positive impact on your firm’s cash flow. Conclusion While your AEC firm can choose to use any of the three accounting methods, it’s important to understand the added benefit of WIP in its ability to enable your firm to proactively analyze and maximize its profits. By incorporating WIP into your accounting practices, it opens communication between your Finance and Project Management team to discuss the time lapse between work completed and work billed. Opening this dialogue allows the project team to join in the ownership of a healthy cash flow and also aids in the dialogue with your clients as you manage the time from billing to payment. Want to learn other important AEC industry terms? We’ve created a glossary packed with 150 terms that covers the entire project lifecycle, all in the context of an ERP solution. Get your own free copy of The Ultimate ERP Glossary for AEC Firms by using the link below! DOWNLOAD GLOSSARY NOW

The Top 3 Concepts Every AEC Accounting Manager Should Know

Gary Dwyer
GaryDwyer
Product Director
BST Global
Without an Accounting Manager’s ability to manage and communicate the health of the business, stakeholders cannot make well-informed decisions. In understanding these three concepts, it will help shape the foundation you need for that communication. Having gotten to this point in your accounting career, I believe it’s safe to say you’re already familiar with the basics: Balance Sheets, Income Statements, Journals, etc. But past the basics, there are concepts unique to Accounting Managers in the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting (AEC) industry. Understanding and managing these concepts is an important part of effectively communicating your firm’s financial position to primary stakeholders – after all, that’s a large part of what you do. So, by using my decade worth of experience in the AEC industry, I’ve created a list of the three major concepts Accounting Managers should understand when speaking to executives. Once you’ve read through this post, you can be confident that you’ll have the foundation you need to properly communicate the status of the business to your primary stakeholders. Cash Management Working CapitalThe cash available for day to day operations. First things first: your firm needs working capital to meet short-term obligations. But how do you know what your firm’s current working capital even looks like? By using the acid test ratio. Acid Test RatioCurrent Assets – Current Liabilities The acid test ratio shows your firm’s ability to successfully meet its short-term obligations. The goal of this test is to have current assets exceed current liabilities. This is critical: if your firm is unable to cover these short-term obligations in a timely manner, it can eventually lead to insolvency. That’s why the old "cash is king" mantra isn’t going anywhere, because you need cash to keep your business up and running. And as an Accounting Manager – these are words you should live by. Day in, and day out, you need to ensure your firm is optimizing its cash resources. To help, I’ve identified two elements you can focus on to improve your firm’s cash flow: Proper management of your vendor payments Effective collection on your outstanding accounts receivable The following sections of this post will discuss how to address these items. Procure to Pay Properly managing your vendor payments is an integral part of the procure to pay process in an AEC firm. This process has a direct impact on cash management and working capital needs because you have to record both the price your firm is required to pay for goods and services and how quickly your vendors need to be paid. The initial part of procure to pay is recognizing a need for goods and services – which can come from different areas. For instance, you may need a subcontractor to perform work on a task, or you may have hired a new Controller that needs a laptop. Once you recognize demand, then the next step is to think about how to meet that demand. You may not always need to purchase goods and services to meet demand if you have the resources internally (e.g. you provide the new Controller with a laptop your firm already has). But for the times where you do need to buy, the next step is to place a purchase order with a vendor (assuming you already know the vendor you want to use and the price you must pay them). Here’s why purchase orders are an important next step: It sets out the agreed terms for the purchase It’s a pre-approval for the purchase and helps eliminate surprises when the vendor’s invoice arrives It records the commitment and helps provide a true picture of project profitability The vendor’s invoice can be validated against the purchase order to ensure the correct quantity and price have been charged The bottom line is, purchase orders are a great way to cover your bases when it comes to knowing the commitment to your vendors.   Electronic Fund Transfers (EFT)A payment method where a company pays their vendor by electronically instructing their bank to transfer money to the vendor’s bank account without the need of a check or paper money changing hands. Traditionally, when it came time for payment, vendors were paid via checks. And while this is still an approach for many firms today in the United States, it is now becoming more common to use Electronic Fund Transfers (EFT). EFT has become a more secure form of payment with its improved fraud controls and ability to reduce costs for your firm. Days Payable Outstanding (DPO) Ratio [Accounts Payable / (Cost of Goods and Services / 365 Days)] Now that you have a procure to pay process in place, how do you communicate your firm’s performance in being able to manage vendor payments to your executive team? A good place to start is by calculating the Days Payable Outstanding (DPO) ratio. This simple ratio compares your accounts payable balance to your daily purchases and shows the average number of days it takes to pay your vendors. For example, if current terms with your vendors are to pay them in 30 days, and in doing the DPO calculation you find your average payment time is 25 days, this presents an opportunity for you. You’ll want to analyze this value and find a way to get the payment time closer to 30 days, which allows you to keep that cash within your firm for longer. So, be sure to focus on these two items in the procure to pay process: Strive for a good DPO ratio so it shows your executive team that you’re effectively managing your vendor payments Properly document the purchase process. This not only ensures you’re tracking all actual and committed costs on a project, but it also helps you avoid unexpected expenses that can impact your company’s bottom line – making your executive team very happy Billing Process Finally, you have billing. Billing is an important process for all companies, because performance in this area has a direct correlation with how soon your firm can bring money in for the work performed. This process is generally more comprehensive for the AEC industry than it is for others, as the format of an invoice and its contents may vary based on the type of contract or a client’s requirements. PrebillA draft invoice used to verify validity of transactions prior to submitting an invoice to a client. For most AEC firms, this requires invoices to be reviewed for accuracy by someone directly involved in the project (typically, this will be your Project Manager) before an invoice can be submitted to the client. That’s what the draft invoice, often called a prebill, is used for. As an Accounting Manager, this review process is helpful to you for three distinct reasons: You can ensure charges on a project are valid and charged to the proper task You can ensure the price is at the rate or markup agreed upon with your client You can ensure contract terms, payment terms, and client information is accurate For some projects, having the invoice is not enough – you need to attach documents to validate the charges on the invoice. This validating documentation is commonly referred to as billing, or invoice, backup and can include: expense receipts, vendor invoices, and signed timesheets. In some cases, clients may withhold payment until this backup information is delivered – potentially causing major payment delays. To prevent this, you’ll want to consistently provide timely and accurate backup information when billing. Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) Ratio (Accounts Receivable / Earned Value) X Number of Days To communicate the effectiveness of your collection process to your executive team, it’s best to calculate the Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) ratio. This measures your firm’s effectiveness in managing outstanding receivables. In producing correct and complete invoices, along with providing the required billing backup, this will help you remove barriers in your collection process and will have a positive impact on your DSO. What it comes down to, is understanding all the nuances of the billing process to help you make it as efficient as possible. The faster you can collect money for the work being done, the better your cash flow will be. Sounds pretty intuitive right? It is – but it takes discipline, and some serious effort to get this process to be the lean money collecting machine you, and your executive team, want it to be. Conclusion From cash management to the billing process, you need to understand how all these processes work, so you can relay relevant information to your firm’s decision makers. But don’t forget: your communication goes well beyond that. You also need to communicate critical information to the project accounting and project management roles in your firm. And because accounting, project accounting, and project management roles work together so closely, it’s important for each role to have a fundamental understanding of what the other roles do to contribute to the success of an AEC firm. That’s why we created The Ultimate ERP Glossary for AEC Firms. Loaded with the latest AEC industry jargon – 150 terms to be exact – not only will you see a whole host of terms related to Accounting Managers, but also to your peers. This will help you better understand your firm as a whole, as this tool spans the standard workflow of the entire project lifecycle. Click the link below to get your free copy today! DOWNLOAD GLOSSARY NOW