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The Top 3 Concepts Every AEC Project Manager Should Know

John Mathew
JohnMathew
Product Director
BST Global
The range of concepts a Project Manager of professional services should know spans both technical and commercial aspects of project delivery. The commercial side tends to be the least understood, but is a key area to master in order to drive successful project outcomes. As a Project Manager, your focus is to manage and deliver projects that must not only meet client expectations, but must also meet internal expectations set by your firm’s financial, operational, and technical guidelines – no pressure, right? With this incredible amount of responsibility, comes a ton of project management concepts you constantly have to keep up with – which can get pretty time consuming, especially if you have a technical background and not much formal business training. Tapping into two decades of experience in the business of design, I’ve rounded up the top three concepts every Project Manager in the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting (AEC) industry needs to know in order to drive their projects to commercial success. Create a Winnable Game Let’s start with the basics, which Project Managers across all industries must stay rooted in to be effective at their jobs. By definition, a project is a temporary endeavor that is meant to end. Or in other words, when a project never seems to have a finish line – it’s one that’s been poorly managed! Another fundamental aspect about projects is that they are inherently constrained. And that’s not only from a scheduling perspective: in fact, the concept of the Project Management Triangle shows how the scope, schedule, and budget of a project forms the boundaries around the quality that can be expected once it’s finished. In delivering projects, one of the essential responsibilities you have as a Project Manager is to set up a project for success by embracing these constraints. That means, to drive a project forward, you must constantly measure and balance the project’s scope, schedule, and budget performance. For example, you may find that you need to go back to the client with a change order to get some additional room in the budget. Or, you may need to look for ways to reallocate resources to remove bottlenecks and get the schedule back on track. Either way, you always need to stay on top of each constraint to make sure your project is in line to meet the expectations of all three – thus, creating a winnable game. work breakdown structureA deliverable-oriented, hierarchical composition of the work to be executed by the project team. Successful outcomes are not just determined during project delivery, though – they are also ensured in large part before the project even begins. Creating a winnable game starts with organizing your project scope in a thoughtful manner, which reflects the way the project will be executed and controlled. You must do this by creating a cohesive, well-developed work breakdown structure (WBS). To have a good WBS, you need to create tasks, as these are the building blocks for your WBS. Each task represents discrete items of work in an often-hierarchical manner, where parent tasks group together sets of related tasks, ultimately creating specific work packages. As a Project Manager, you want to develop a project WBS into these component work packages, so they can be tracked and managed in the context of the three essential boundaries. Breaking it down like this, and controlling each task with these boundaries in mind, is a critical step in setting your project up for success. Time is Money We’ve just focused on the scope element of the Project Management Triangle – now let’s explore the other two elements: schedule and budget. In a professional services environment, projects take on an added commercial dimension as time is not just figuratively, but literally, money. AEC firms make (or lose) money based on the time they spend delivering projects, so, the more effective you are with your project scheduling, the more efficient you will be in completing your projects. One of the most important ways to monitor the intersection of time and money on your projects is with Earned Value Management (EVM). As a Project Manager, you need to create performance metrics that determine the profitability of a project. And part of this is being able to proactively identify project trends and issues before they happen, so you can take corrective action. The core EVM metrics you need to track include the following: Planned Value: The amount of income a firm expects to earn for the work performed. In the context of projects, Planned Revenue is another way to express this metric, as it represents the revenue a project is expected to earn through completion. Earned Value: The amount of work executed against the budget that is reported as revenue. For AEC firms, this is more suitably termed Earned Revenue, as it represents the revenue a project earns as work is performed. Actual Cost: The market (or retail) value of cost a project incurs as work is performed. This metric allows consultancies to compare how much effort has been expended on a project in relation to the Planned Revenue and Earned Revenue on the project. S-Curve graphA model that displays cumulative EVM factors (planned value, earned value, and actual cost) plotted against time. This model describes the growth of one variable in terms of another variable over time. Once you’ve evaluated these, a great tool to use is the S-Curve graph. This model brings these metrics together and charts the path that your project has traveled, where it’s currently at, and where it’s heading. By using this model to display cumulative EVM factors against time, it provides a simple, yet insightful, visual that can help you optimize the trajectory of your projects. Harness EVM By understanding these EVM concepts, you have not only positioned yourself to gain more insight into the status of your projects, but you are also now better equipped to take quick action. percent completeThe progress of an activity or other element of the project structure plan. Expressed a as a percentage, the calculation is Earned Value divided by Budget. In addition to tracking this information, as a Project Manager, you should always be communicating with your project team to understand the progress of specific tasks, as this will give you a better idea of how far along a project is. When talking to your team, it’s important to collect the status of specific metrics to help you determine the health of a project and drive its performance. varianceA calculation of Earned Revenue minus Actual Effort. This calculates if the amount earned is greater or less than the effort expended to complete a task. To get started, you’ll want to take a look at percent complete. You will use this as a means of calculating an updated earned value (also known as revenue) position of your project. Once you have this value, you can then analyze current project performance from a financial perspective. There are two calculations you need to analyze this: project variance and being over, or under, budget. To assess variance, you’ll need to determine the difference between the project’s revenue position and the project’s effort position. Depending on what your result is for variance, you will be either over, on, or under budget. To be over budget means you have a negative variance, to be on budget means you have no variance, and to be under budget means you have a positive variance – these last two scenarios are what you want for your projects! You can also analyze the current project performance from a scheduling perspective by looking at the difference between a project’s revenue position and its planned revenue position at the same point in time. In this case, you can either be ahead, on, or behind schedule. To be ahead of schedule means your project’s revenue position is greater than its corresponding planned revenue position, and vice versa if your project is behind schedule. Beyond these ways to assess the current position of your project, you can leverage budget, effort, and revenue to forecast where your project is headed. Effort at CompletionThe estimated value of work expended to complete a task or project. To do this, you’ll need to calculate Effort at Completion (EAC) and Variance at Completion (VAC). The former is the amount of money you think you will spend by the end of a project, while the latter is how this compares to the project budget. Variance at CompletionThe difference between Planned Revenue and Effort at Completion forecasts where a project will end up in comparison to its overall budget. It’s important to consider both in tandem – having your EAC is only one piece of the picture, but by comparing it to your budget via VAC, you now have a complete look ahead into where your project is headed. As a Project Manager, you should be measuring and analyzing every one of these measurements. Each allows you to assess and improve on the three parts of the Project Management Triangle – which is the whole point. Meeting these expectations and keeping these values in check means you can deliver more high-quality projects with more successful outcomes. Conclusion Well, there you have it. These are the fundamental business concepts you need in today’s world of project management in the AEC industry. Keyword: fundamental. Meaning there are many – and I mean many – terms and concepts that Project Managers ought to know, so consider this just your starting point. And ideally you have a Project Accountant at your side, staying on top of related aspects of project success. And although you’ve reached the end of The Business of Design blog series, that doesn’t mean your journey should end. There’s still so much to learn! Get ready to expand your knowledge when you download The Ultimate ERP Glossary for AEC Firms. In this glossary, you’ll find a comprehensive list that goes well beyond project management terms. And by comprehensive, I'm talking about 150 AEC industry terms that cover the entire project lifecycle. So, to continue learning, click the link below and get your free copy today! DOWNLOAD GLOSSARY NOW

Going Glocal: Making Money

John Mathew
JohnMathew
Product Director
BST Global
Ultimately, going glocal for a design consultancy isn’t just about expanding reach and impact – it’s about delivering positive results to the bottom line. Achieving profitability in a foreign market can be quite a challenge for firms who don’t have prior experience doing business abroad. Entering a new market often requires a different operating paradigm, but inexperienced firms can overlook this and end up impeding their return on investment. Let’s examine one last common afterthought as part of our Going Glocal blog series: making money. Common Afterthought: Making Money When consultancies are expanding internationally for the first time, it can be tempting to count on an effective collections process as the key to making money. But in reality, financial success in a new market requires a more holistic approach that considers the entire project lifecycle, beginning with how projects are initiated. Below are some tips to help you get started: Review Contractual Terms: Review how contracts are written for projects in a new market, and consider terms that can help mitigate risk. For example, look at leveraging fee types that share risk with clients and seek to bill the project in a stable currency. In scenarios where volatile currencies can’t be avoided, you may want to look into a foreign exchange hedge to protect against exchange risk. Also, payment terms should be realistic and reflect the payment culture of the market you’re entering. Assess Project Setup: Look at how you internally resource and setup your projects for execution. When delivering a project in a new market, you may bring together multiple operating units to deliver the work, including organizations that you’ve just added in your new market and more experienced organizations that live elsewhere in the firm. Some firms hit a limitation with their internal business system, in that they can’t setup up a single project that spans multiple internal organizations. They then have to setup multiple internal projects to represent the single project they’ve contracted to deliver for their client. This adds administrative burden to project management, impedes visibility into overall project status, and can lead to otherwise avoidable schedule delays and budget overruns. If this is something you’re dealing with, consider switching to an industry-focused business system that accommodates multi-organization, and even multi-company projects. Distribute Budget Accountability: As you setup projects for a new market involving multiple internal organizations, give consideration to how these working organizations have responsibility for the overall budget on a project. Some firms will hold the lead organization on the project responsible for budget performance, while other firms look to distribute budget accountability to each organization performing work. By doing the latter, you are in a position to get better insight into where project variances might arise during delivery. This often occurs in specific working organizations that spend more than budgeted and need more attention to keep the project on track and profitable. Digitize Vendor Invoices: Projects in new markets can also bring about new cash cycle challenges. For example, as you engage subconsultants and other vendors to assist with a project, it can be difficult to keep track of their invoices – particularly when the project is happening in a location that may have a new office or no office at all. Look for ways to digitize your vendor invoice routing process, whereby invoices are scanned and electronically routed around for review, approval, and ultimately vendor payments. This way you can rest assured that vendor invoices don’t go unaccounted for and lead to surprise downstream costs on the project. Anticipate a Different Payment Culture: As I mentioned earlier, entering a new market can entail getting acclimated to a new payment culture – a culture that unfortunately may be longer and have more steps than your existing markets. For example, you may now have to send out a pro forma invoice to a client and get approval before sending out a final invoice. And, you may be expected to personally visit a client in order to receive payment. Understanding the payment culture of your new market is essential to managing expectations internally and externally, as well as sharpening the business case for cash cycle improvements. Automate, Automate, Automate: If you are facing lengthier payment cycles in a new market, one way to offset them is to further automate your internal billing and collections processes. Look at streamlining the process for generating internal pre-bills that go to project managers for their review before sending an invoice to a client. This can be supported by a business system that supports electronic pre-bills that can be edited and annotated online by project managers. Also look to implement a collections system that drives and captures collections activities in support of getting paid, so that there’s better transparency and accountability, and ultimately lower accounts receivable. Making money in new markets can be challenging, not only because of longer payment cycles in some geographies, but also because of internal inefficiencies and bottlenecks that are only exacerbated by more far-reaching projects and more distributed project teams. To successfully go glocal, you must take the time to look at how you structure your contracts and projects, and manage your cash cycle, and then make the necessary improvements. Do you have any financial lessons learned from an international expansion? Let us know in a comment below! Author’s Note: This is the sixth article in a series on glocalization as it relates to the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting industry.  

Going Glocal: Becoming One Studio

John Mathew
JohnMathew
Product Director
BST Global
In a design consultancy, you’re constantly focusing on who’s staffed, and who has availability – it’s core to life in professional services. And when you look to expand your operations, effectively managing resources becomes even more important. Are you prepared? All professional services firms manage their resources in some form or fashion. It may be done in a thoughtful, disciplined manner, or completely ad hoc and perhaps even as an afterthought. As you think about expanding your operations, know that this will cause you to lean further on your current resource management practices. And for many firms, going glocal also sparks a recognition that becoming a more integrated global practice – or, becoming “one studio” as some firms coin it – is a key strategy for better sharing work and resources across geographic boundaries and ultimately better serving clients in all markets. Let’s examine this concept as part of our continued series on global expansion. Common Afterthought: Becoming One Studio A building block for an integrated practice is a resource management discipline that goes beyond a loose, ad hoc process. To get there, there’s a three step process that I’ve seen successful firms follow: Target One Operating Unit: Choose an office, department, or studio in your firm that has an appetite for change and is looking to make resource management improvements. Focus on its active projects—those currently underway—plan them through completion, and implement an integrated project staffing and utilization management process and system in that unit. Also consider including the scheduling of leave or vacation time, so that this unit achieves basic visibility into staff assignments and availability. Extend to Additional Units: Once you’ve achieved success within one operating unit, bring in additional operating units that work on projects with your first unit, so that you can begin to extend your resource management practices to better facilitate sharing of staff across units. You may also consider including additional projects, such as potential projects and non-chargeable endeavors. This will provide full visibility into staff availability spanning both active and proposed projects, as well as vacation and other types of non-chargeable time. Integrate Earned Value Management: Now, you will have a collection of operating units that are benefitting from your new resource management framework, forming an impetus to get the rest of the firm onboard.  Consider integrating earned value management into your resource management process. This will build on the project planning discipline established in Steps 1 and 2.  Also consider leveraging your resource management system to provide resource and revenue forecasts across the firm, as you now have quality staffing plans to leverage for much better operational visibility. This three step approach can be significantly aided by an industry-focused business system, and it’s also a process that can be adjusted to align with your firm’s specific needs and appetite for change.  If you’ve struggled in the past with establishing a resource management discipline, know there’s a proven way to get traction and move towards the goal of becoming one studio. Has your firm successfully evolved resource management efforts and made progress towards a more integrated practice? Tell us more in a comment below! Author’s Note: This is the fifth article in a series on glocalization as it relates to the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting industry.  

Implementing Earned Value Management in a Design Consultancy

John Mathew
JohnMathew
Product Director
BST Global
Earned Value Management (EVM) is a technique well-suited for professional services organizations, yet many design consultancies struggle to harness it. However, through thoughtful use of process and technology, your consultancy can make EVM stick – and enjoy improved project delivery. To help you succeed in this, here are five process and technology tips for implementing EVM in your consultancy:   1. Establish a project work breakdown structure.  A key component to EVM is establishing a work breakdown structure (WBS) for every project. Consider establishing WBS standards for the different types of projects you deliver, aligning with project deliverables. To best support EVM, a project WBS should go down to the level that Planned Revenue, Earned Revenue, and Actual Effort will be tracked.   2. Establish a project schedule.  To utilize EVM to track schedule performance, you need to establish project schedules. These schedules should reflect WBS sequencing, and how resources will be utilized to deliver the project. Additionally, these schedules should be divided into time periods (e.g. months, weeks, days) at a granular enough level for tracking schedule performance.   3. Calculate and baseline Planned Revenue.  After establishing the project WBS, determine Planned Revenue across the WBS. An integrated project management and accounting system with the right combination of project-centric capabilities can help you achieve this. To support EVM, a system should capture project labor and expense pricing terms, and leverage these terms along with a project resource plan to calculate Planned Revenue. At a minimum, Planned Revenue needs to be established by WBS element, in order to utilize EVM to track project financial performance. If tracking project schedule performance is also an objective, then Planned Revenue should also be forecasted across the same time periods by which the project schedule is established.   4. Track Earned Revenue and Actual Effort.  Once project execution begins, track Earned Revenue and Actual Effort as labor and expense charges are posted to the project WBS. Here too, a project-based business system can assist, if it tracks these metrics in conjunction with timesheets, expense reports, and other project charges.   5. Track project performance and adjust Earned Revenue.  As Earned Revenue and Actual Effort accrue on a project, use additional EVM metrics to assess financial and schedule performance and determine when corrective action is necessary. In conjunction with this analysis, Project Managers may need to adjust Earned Revenue in alignment with project progress. An EVM-enabled business system supports this by allowing project managers to update the physical percent complete of an entire project or specific elements of the project WBS. This percent complete assessment is then used to adjust the Earned Revenue via the following equation:   Earned Revenue = Planned Revenue x Physical Percent Complete   By following these tips, EVM can play a central role in driving better project delivery in your firm. By understanding how traditional EVM metrics apply to your business model, and incorporating these metrics into your project management processes and systems, your firm can take significant steps towards better financial and schedule performance across its project portfolio. Author’s Note: This is the fourth article in a four-post series on the use of Earned Value Management in professional services organizations.

Advanced Earned Value Management Metrics for Design Consultancies

John Mathew
JohnMathew
Product Director
BST Global
Ben Franklin’s proverbial words “time is money” have special meaning for design consultancies, as successful delivery of professional services involves navigating the intersection of project schedules and project finances. Earned Value Management (EVM) provides direction at this intersection by offering a variety of metrics to assess project health and drive project performance. Let’s build on EVM’s three basic metrics and explore nine financial and scheduling metrics that your consultancy can leverage today.   Financial Metrics 1. Budget Variance As the difference between Earned Revenue and Actual Effort on a project, this metric compares how much money has been spent to how much revenue has been earned and provides insight into whether the project is under-budget (positive value) or over-budget (negative value). 2. Effort Performance Index This ratio of Earned Revenue to Actual Effort measures how efficiently a project is earning revenue compared to expenditure. An index less than one indicates an over-budget condition. 3. Effort at Completion Dividing Planned Revenue by the Effort Performance Index provides a projection of how much money will be spent at project completion. 4. Budget Variance at Completion The difference between Planned Revenue and Effort at Completion projects where a project will end up in comparison to its overall budget.   Scheduling Metrics 5. Schedule Variance The number of time periods (e.g. days, weeks, or months) between the current time period and when Planned Revenue matches the current Earned Value position, this offers an assessment of whether a project is ahead of schedule (i.e. Earned Value ahead of Planned Value) or behind schedule. 6. Schedule Performance Index The ratio of Earned Revenue at a point in time to the Planned Revenue at the same point provides a normalized assessment of whether a project is ahead of schedule (greater than one) or behind (less than one). 7. Planned Duration This metric indicates the number of time periods a project is expected to span. 8. Duration at Completion Dividing the Planned Duration by the Schedule Performance Index will give you a projection of how many time periods will have elapsed at project completion. 9. Schedule Variance at Completion The difference between Duration at Completion and Planned Duration, this is a projection of whether the project will complete ahead or behind schedule.   Closing Thoughts Different consultancies have different needs, including which combination of financial and/or schedule metrics are useful. As you identify the mix of metrics for your firm, consider goals and variance thresholds for each selected metric. For example, if Effort Performance Index is important, define the upper and lower limits that dictate whether a project needs further focus and attention. By defining these thresholds, you can start to establish how EVM will fit into your firm’s project management methodology. In my next post, I’ll share tips on harnessing the metrics outlined above, in conjunction with process and technology, to implement EVM in a design consultancy. Author’s Note: This is the third article in a four-post series on the use of Earned Value Management in professional services organizations.

Basic Earned Value Management Metrics for Design Consultancies

John Mathew
JohnMathew
Product Director
BST Global
“We’re on schedule, but it looks like we’re going to exceed our budget." "We’re running a bit behind, but we’re going to come in under budget.” For design consultancies, providing updates like these is essential to managing expectations while delivering project-driven professional services. If you want to make this more of a reality in your organization – it’s all about Earned Value Management (EVM). EVM is built on three metrics: Planned Value, Earned Value, and Actual Cost. Think of these metrics in terms of your project budget and schedule. Planned Value represents how you expect to earn your project budget over the duration of the project. Earned Value represents what you actually earn as the project progresses. Actual Cost represents what you spend to do project work throughout the project. At first glance, these terms might seem pretty straightforward, but let’s translate them into even more meaningful terms for a professional services firm. 1. Planned Value = Planned Revenue Planned Value provides the baseline for tracking project performance in EVM, representing the value a project is expected to deliver over its duration. In the context of consulting projects, Planned Value represents the revenue a project is expected to earn through completion, adding up to the overall project fee or budget. In other words, Planned Value is Planned Revenue. Planned Revenue may be expressed as an overall figure for an entire project, or it can be divided across a project’s work breakdown structure (WBS). Additionally, Planned Revenue can be spread across time periods (e.g. weeks or months), to represent the timing of when a project is expected to earn revenue based on anticipated completion of project deliverables. 2. Earned Value = Earned Revenue The second metric of EVM is Earned Value. For design consultancies, this is more aptly termed Earned Revenue, as the metric represents the revenue a project earns as work is performed and milestones are achieved. There are multiple ways to earn revenue on a project. Revenue may be earned when the project team charges hours or expenses to the project. Hours charged on a timesheet may be converted into revenue via contracted labor multipliers or bill rate schedules. Expense charges – like travel, printing, or subcontractor expenses – may be converted into revenue via contracted expense multipliers or unit pricing rate schedules. Revenue may also be earned as project managers assess percent complete across the project WBS. These assessments are often done a monthly basis, and often stem from progress to-date and how much work remains. Regardless of how it’s calculated, Earned Revenue is often governed by Planned Revenue, which in turn is tied to contract terms. For instance, if the contract dictates a lump sum or fixed fee, Earned Revenue cannot exceed this amount. A similar limit applies for projects that have cost plus (i.e. time and materials) contracts up to a predetermined maximum amount. 3. Actual Cost = Actual Effort The final core EVM metric, Actual Cost, is the market (or retail) value of cost a project incurs as work is performed. This metric provides consultancies with a way to compare how much effort has been expended on a project in relation to the Planned Revenue and Earned Revenue on the project. As such, in a professional services context, this metric is better termed Actual Effort. In many ways, Actual Effort accrues on a project similar to the way Earned Revenue accrues. Actual Effort is the result of labor or expense charges being posted to a project, with these charges being converted into Actual Effort via contracted labor and expense pricing terms. However, there are two significant differences between Actual Effort and Earned Revenue. First, Actual Effort cannot be calculated or adjusted by percent complete assessments – Actual Effort is purely a function of the labor or expense charges posted to the project. Second, Actual Effort is not bound by Planned Revenue. As your team continues to work on a project, Actual Effort continues to accrue, even if Earned Revenue is capped by Planned Revenue limits. Another way to understand Actual Effort comes from its relationship to Direct Cost. While Direct Cost represents the cost to a consultancy for services delivered, Actual Effort represents the market value of services delivered. And while some consultancies may incorporate Direct Cost into their project management methodology to measure project multipliers or other margin-based metrics, Direct Cost is not core to EVM. Closing Thoughts In order to leverage EVM effectively, a design consultancy must translate EVM’s three core metrics to fit the unique way professional services projects are contracted and delivered. With this understanding, a firm can take the next step of defining additional metrics and thresholds that leverage these core metrics – enabling better insight into project status and helpful early warning indicators of project issues. I’ll discuss this next step in the third post of this EVM series. In the meantime, please share your EVM questions and/or experiences in a comment below! Author’s Note: This is the second article in a four-post series on the use of Earned Value Management in professional services organizations.

An Introduction to Earned Value Management

John Mathew
JohnMathew
Product Director
BST Global
Is the project on track? The question is simple, asked every day by design consultancies and their clients. The answer, however, can be hard to come by. All too often, project complexity, disparate project management systems, disconnected internal processes, or some unfortunate combination of these factors can cloud a project manager’s ability to clearly view the status of a project. Measuring performance has been a long-standing challenge for many project-driven organizations. So, for an institutional issue, I offer an institutional solution: Earned Value Management (EVM). First developed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in the 1960s, EVM is a technique for objectively measuring project performance from both financial and scheduling perspectives. Built on top of the “project management triangle” (also known as the triple constraint), EVM leverages measurements of scope, time, and cost to assess progress and forecast where a project is headed. The EVM technique helps ensure that the job is completed on time, within budget, and according to specifications. More specifically, the DoD notes that project managers use EVM to: Quantify and measure project performance, Provide a warning system for departure from a baseline, Minimize risks associated with cost and schedule deviations, and Forecast final costs and schedule outcomes. Since the development of this technique, EVM has been tested and proven on thousands of defense contracts, and is now employed across a multitude of industries around the world – from construction to information technology to manufacturing – to better track and steer projects. A number of design consultancies have also begun incorporating EVM into their project management methodology to get clearer, timelier insight into project status. However, the technique still represents unexplored territory for many architecture and engineering firms – especially those without an enterprise project management software solution. Over the next few weeks, we will take a practical look at the business value of incorporating EVM into your organization’s project delivery approach. We’ll be discussing the core EVM metrics professional services organizations should monitor, how to implement the technique within your firm, and ways to leverage technology throughout the process. In the mean time, what questions do you have about Earned Value Management? Ask us in a comment below! Author’s Note: This is the first article in a four-post series on the use of Earned Value Management in professional services organizations.