However you slice it, it comes down to the number of hours available in a day — yours, staff’s, managers’ and consultants’. They’re either billable or they’re not. You want more billable hours because each one represents revenue and profit for your firm.
Micro-managing projects means you spend hours on the finest details to control costs. Of course, this process reduces your billable hours. Your overhead shoots up. Let the details slide and you run over-budget. Either way, there is a constant suction sound surrounding your profit margin.
This is not the natural order of things. When BQE says Work Smarter, Not Harder, we’re not just whistling a marketing tune!
There are lots of ways to optimize BillQuick to maximize billable hours and keep your overhead hours to a minimum. Two that every project manager and principal should know are Project Control and Staff Task Allocation. (If you’re not a PM or Principal, email the link to this blog post to all of them in your firm.)
Project Control gives you control over Who can charge What activities and expenses to your project. Why would you want to do this? Well . . . there can be many reasons and benefits. The top 3 are:
- To speed up time and expense entry
- To ensure the right items are charged to your project
- To limit access to confidential information
Typically, professional services firms want to assign people — employees and consultants — to a project. It’s easy: Highlight the ones to assign in the Available Items list, then click the arrow to move them to the Assigned Items list. Now only these people will see your project when they record hours and expenses.
When a project contract or your company procedures require tight control over activities and expenses charged to a project too, use the same process. Now when assigned staff and managers enter time and expenses to your project, only the activities and expenses you selected will be available. No spontaneous items will be added to your job costs.
Project Control restrictions apply to all time and expense entry, whether you record data through BillQuick, Web Suite or Outlook Add-In.
Staff Task Allocation
In this 1-2 Punch to eliminate micro-management of projects, Staff Task Allocation makes project management a pro-active collaboration between managers and staff/consultants. Let’s take a common situation:
A project manager, partner or principal prepares a project estimate. Often it is a ‘guestimate’ of what he thinks it will take to complete various activities. He may create a working budget in BillQuick, convert it to an estimate, and then submit it with other proposal documents to the prospect. You win the project. The challenges begin.
In most companies, staff do not know the details, like how many hours were budgeted. They focus on tasks and enter hours daily. Project managers review after-the-fact reports like Project Budget Comparison. If something is off — a fire rages behind a door, it is usually too late to do much about it. Management could review the budget comparison daily, but in the real world, there are too many projects and other things to do.
Bottom Line: You react rather than act. Your employees are in the dark. Budget overruns are too common. Profits are at risk.
With Staff Task Allocation, everyone knows the number of hours they have to complete tasks. And they are reminded every time they charge hours for a task to your project. Setting expectations does not eliminate over-budget projects, but Staff Task Allocation does encourages self-policing and fosters pro-active attitudes. Rather than react to over-budget and similar situations, staff and consultants let you know when they need more time to complete a task. You have better control of your projects.
The employee or consultant knows management measures their performance based on this information. Knowing what is expected, employees try to stay within allocated hours and focus on the tasks at hand. It also encourages them to communicate situations before the allocated hours for a task are exhausted. For example, if staff know they are 30% done with a task but have burned 50% of the allocated hours, they will pro-actively inform management and explain what has happened. Rather than fight a fire, you deal with a little smoke.
This type of collaboration should start at the beginning of the new-job process. Asking how much time it will take them to complete a task is an eye-opening process for employees. It makes them think differently: It is their estimate, not one imposed on them. In the real world, this usually results in under-estimation. A smart manager adds a buffer to the employee’s estimate. Collaborating like this produces budgets that are more realistic. BillQuick customers report that consulting with staff on estimates results in a higher level of task ownership. If they say it will take 40 hours to complete a task, they organize and manage their activities to do it within 40 hours. They have a clear goal.
Finally, with constructive feedback, estimates as well as skills improve over time. Also, setting expectations improves profitability.
More about Project Control
More about Staff Task Allocation