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Time Tracking Software For Architects and Engineers

Feb 10, 2022 | By Steven Burns, FAIA | 0 Comments

Topics: Technology

It’s a timeless story. In fact, it’s a story as old as time itself. I suspect it may have begun when Adam wandered out of the garden and upon his return, was confronted by Eve who inquired as to where he had been and what he was doing all afternoon.  

In my nearly 40 years in the AE industry, I can’t think of any topic as controversial as time tracking. Discussions about design theory, criticism, materials, sustainability, and everything up to and including urban design are far easier to find consensus than the benefits and procedures involved with time tracking.  

But Eve had a true problem. Where was Adam? What was he up to and what benefit did it provide? Depending on how he answered her questions, her next steps could have been very different – and rightly so.  

TIME TRACKING SOFTWARE: WHY DO YOU NEED IT? 

There are generally two basic camps around the notion of time tracking. The first camp believes tracking time is a waste of time (interestingly, no pun intended), and is only needed for firms that have projects which bill hourly. And when those situations occur, just knowing the total hours spent by each employee during the billing period was sufficient since it’s a math problem:  

 

EMPLOYEE 

HOURS 

BILL RATE 

TOTAL 

Steven  

20  

$100  

$2,000  

Stephanie  

15  

$150  

$2,250  

TOTAL BILLABLE 

$4,250 

 

Remember this simple calculation because we’re going to return to it later and discuss why the math is insufficient and why the firm applying this puerile methodology is inefficient, mediocre, and operating as though it was 1922 not 2022.  

The second camp is one which asks employees to provide detailed information about their day. What project were they working on? What phase of the project? What activity were they doing for that project phase? And exactly how much time did they spend doing that particular activity on that particular phase for that particular project! Just writing that sentence seems absurd.   

The point I want to make is that while the way I phrased that seems absurd, it’s the farthest thing from it. Understanding the answer to that question is what enables firms to move from average to excellent. Just like an athlete that has precise information about performance as it relates to their nutrition, training habits, weather, time of day, length of training and exactly what training activity is being performed will make the difference between an athlete who can compete and an athlete that makes it to the top of the podium.   

The endurance athlete that understands, in real-time, all the metrics about their current condition and has the information about what lies ahead, how they have performed in similar situations on similar terrain, under similar conditions in the past, will be able to make the smartest decision as to what they need to do to optimize their perform and increase the likelihood that they will have the best outcome. Information is power and high performing athletes, and their coaches exploit the data to create winners.   

For those of us in the AE industry, we see this power at work if we are truly exploiting the technology inherent in our BIM software. With very little effort and a change in how we go about designing and documenting our projects, we have incredible information that brings value to enhance our designs, make our buildings more efficient, easier to construct and eliminate risk. It is the detailed data imbedded within our technological tools that gives us the edge over our competitors that (to the extreme), are still designing on paper with pens and pencils.  

The odds that anyone reading this doesn’t have CAD/BIM software in their firm is less than me being struck by lightning 4 times while eating avocados on a roller coaster. However, the odds that your firm doesn’t have a modern, fully integrated time tracking and billing system is greater than the chances that I will make a groan-worthy pun before the end of this article.  

Let’s take a moment to discuss the benefits of time tracking. Or, more specifically, the benefits that come from implementing an integrated time tracking and billing system like BQE CORE.   

EASE OF USE 

Too many firms utilize spreadsheets for time tracking. When you do this, it requires so much manual effort from the employee that they become frustrated and see the process as painful and annoying. It means they are less likely to complete time-cards in real-time and rarely even daily. By the time they get around to entering in their time, they are just guessing. What did you have for lunch 3 days ago and how much time did you spend eating it?  

Proper systems, like BQE CORE, delivered with native-cloud technology will know which employee is attempting to track their time, know what projects that employee is supposed to be working on at any moment in time; know which phases of those projects they should be working on; and if the project managers have properly budgeted their projects and allocated the work, even know which activities that employee needs to do to keep the project on schedule and how many hours they have been allocated.  

These systems, when used properly (like BIM software) mean that an employee might only spend 1 or 2 minutes each day on a timecard. Not only is the process painless, but it’s also actually pleasurable because at the same time the employee is providing information to the system, the system is providing information back to the employee. Just like the endurance athlete. They are being told what lies ahead and how much time they have available.   

INTEGRATED INVOICING 

When the firm has integrated their time tracking with billing, or uses BQE CORE which does this automatically, there are no mysteries about how much to invoice your client at any moment in time.   

The system understands the contract. It knows, for example, that Schematic Design might be billing out hourly based on the billing rates for certain employees or employee groups. It knows that Design Development through Bidding and Negotiation might be based on a fixed fee that is determined by a percentage of the cost of construction.   

The system will know that when certain work is being tracked as an additional service that it might bill out hourly but at quite different rates than the basic services being done in Schematic Design. It will know that the Contract Administration work is being billed out hourly and is capped at an established fee and will not continue to bill the client for work that exceeds that fee.   

All of this is automatic. No human must stop and calculate anything.   

This is similar to using your BIM software to tell you exactly how many 10’ 2x6 studs are in the design, how many sheets of 4’x8’x5/8” GWB are required to sheath the walls. If your firm is still calculating this by hand, I can guarantee that you are either not tracking your time or using spreadsheets for this purpose. It’s archaic. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and is bound to provide you with wrong answers.  

IMPROVED BUDGETING AND PLANNING 

Firms that use tools like BQE CORE for time tracking have instant information about the performance of their projects; how many hours are spent in Schematic Design; how many hours were spent on the Zoning and Code Analysis; how many hours does it take Steve to produce a Door Schedule as opposed to when Stephanie creates one? Maybe we need Stephanie to teach Steve her tricks for how to produce a Door Schedule more efficiently in the future.   

We have so much information that we can now properly calculate the appropriate fees. We have the information that leads us to improve our future performance. We have the information to help plan out the work that needs to be done on the project. Who will do the work, when it needs to be done and what the revenue will be as this work gets completed.  

Let’s return to that earlier example about firms that bill hourly and ask their staff to tell them the hours they spent on the project. This is what we had:  

 

EMPLOYEE 

HOURS 

BILL RATE 

TOTAL 

Steven  

20  

$100  

$2,000  

Stephanie  

15  

$150  

$2,250  

TOTAL BILLABLE 

$4,250 

 

Here are changes that firm could implement with the knowledge they have from a powerful time tracking solution like BQE CORE.   

 

EMPLOYEE 

ACTIVITY 

HOURS 

BILL RATE 

TOTAL 

Steven  

Drafting  

10  

$100  

$1,000  

Steven  

Design  

10  

$150  

$1,500  

Stephanie  

Project Management  

5  

$150  

$750  

Stephanie  

Design  

10  

$175  

$1,750  

TOTAL BILLABLE 

$5,000 

In the example above, the firm has moved from standard hourly billing which simply applies a multiplier to the employee’s hours and has a built-in profit margin to a more valuable method where they put a premium hourly rate on easily understood high-valued activities like “design.”  

While this method is improved, when a firm bills for their hours, they have a set profit margin. There is very little chance that the firm can really make a better profit by improving their own internal processes. But for firms that are incentivized to produce the work more efficiently, they will make more money. They will be more profitable. And what they do with that profit can improve the lives of every member of the team. Both through an improved workflow, but also when the firm shares their profits.  

This is not the end of the benefits. The firm using these amazing tools will now have the power at their fingertips to move from hourly billing to billing based on the actual earned value! Firms can now properly project how to spread their fee out across the various phases and as the work is completed and invoice the client based on the value of the deliverables.   

Many firms project their fees at the phase level, and it might look like this:  

 

PHASE 

FEE 

Schematic Design  

$15,000  

Design Development  

$25,000  

Construction Documents  

$40,000  

Bidding & Negotiation  

$5,000  

Contract Administration  

$15,000  

TOTAL CONTRACT 

$100,000 

 

Now, when they have BQE CORE and can learn more about what it really costs to produce the work across all phases. This decades old breakdown might better look like this:  

 

PHASE 

FEE 

Schematic Design  

$25,000  

Design Development  

$30,000  

Construction Documents  

$25,000  

Bidding & Negotiation  

$5,000  

Contract Administration  

$15,000  

TOTAL CONTRACT 

$100,000 

 

While this example shows no change to the contract value, it more realistically aligns with the actual work effort expended by the firm and reflects the gains associated with advanced CAD/BIM technologies. Rather than deferring $15,000 revenue to the end of the Construction Document phase, we are invoicing it in earlier phases when the work value was performed. Too many firms delay the revenue only to find out that the client has put the project on hold or cancelled it and that revenue will never materialize. Losses abound.  

Information is Power. Accurate information is the ultimate power. If your firm implements modern technology that empowers and stimulates your staff to accurately provide information about their time you have started the process of moving an average firm to a profitable powerhouse. I don’t know of a single world-class firm that is in their position because they continue to work the way firms did 30 years ago. They have implemented processes that exploit the power in their technology resulting in real value for their clients while improving the lives and livelihood of their employees.   

Oh, and since the odds were really 100% that I was going to have an agonizingly bad pun before the blog was completed, that also meant that odds were 100% that you still tracking your time with old-fashioned timecards, spreadsheets, or sub-standard time tracking software.   

TIME TRACKING FOR ARCHITECTS AND ENGINEERS WITH BQE CORE 

Don’t waste any more time, check out a demo of BQE CORE and, if you really want to be convinced, check out the competition!  

It’s about time your firm implemented the software you deserve. Spend more time doing what you love while getting paid for the amazing value you bring your clients.  

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The Author

Steven Burns, FAIA

Steven Burns, FAIA, spent 14 years managing his firm Burns + Beyerl Architects. After creating ArchiOffice®, the smart office and project management solution for architectural firms, Steve brought his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is perfecting the business strategy and product development.

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