Point of Beginning

The Business Side

January 29, 2001
In the last installment I talked about a three-step process to manage small jobs, let me now explain how I see this being put into practice.

Milton Denny, PLS
In the last installment I talked about a three-step process to manage small jobs. In this issue, let me now explain how I see this being put into practice. I know many of you have heard me say this in my seminars, but it needs to be repeated: You can never manage jobs and know your cost of doing business if you wrap marketing cost into existing project costs. Give marketing jobs numbers to separate this cost on a monthly and yearly basis. This is the only way you can get a true picture of the cost of running your company.

To get started, you need to develop a system of paperwork or computer-generated forms. The first form is to be the assignment of a job number. This form is to be filled out after the client agrees to a fee and time schedule for the work. This form should contain the basic information about the client, such as name, address, phone and fax numbers, E-mail address, contract amount and project location. It should also be the long-term basis for tracking both client and location. Somewhere on this form the project manager should be provided space to convert the cost estimate into hours or working days. It is best to present time as a management tool instead of money. This provides the basis for cost tracking of the job.

The next phase of the work should be completed on the field management form, which should be filled out by the project manager. The form should show the amount of time scheduled to do the fieldwork with approximate dates. This form should be provided to the field crew chief. At the very least, this form should be provided the night before the fieldwork is to begin. If a crew does more than one job in a day, all sheets should be provided. To be profitable, most jobs must have field time carefully controlled. I can’t tell you the amount of crew time wasted I have observed because a survey crew comes back to the office for another job. That’s money out the window!

You may also include a place on each form for the crew leader to make remarks important to the completed job. It is also helpful to provide directions to the jobsite. I also like each crew to take a digital camera to the jobsite. (You know the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”) This form could be available to the party chief in a computer file folder. I can see the day that this information can be accessed from a remote location or the party chief’s home over the Internet.

The next form to have is a CAD or drafting form. Again, this form is to be filled out when the project manager is setting up the job. The form should contain budgeted hours or days and the information needed on the final drawing, including the software to be utilized in the final delivered product, if digital. The field sheet should accompany this form and be given to the CAD person along with the field data. To be most effective, this should all be digital. But if you need to have paper to implement the system for now, that is fine. It is more important to get started then wait for the perfect time. Some companies submit digital field data and the field management sheet back to the company over the Internet or similar service. Tomorrow’s company will have an internal and external digital network to properly manage its work. In many cases, you will also be online with the client. I know of two companies that provide their clients’ access to their jobs over the Internet to check the progress of the work.

The third form to manage small jobs is the final checklist and the surveyor’s signature. (The digital signature is just around the corner. I think it will be common place in another 20 years.) Remember that most clients who don’t promptly pay bills do so because they perceive the services rendered as different from the services contracted. The most effective time the project manager will spend is to check the scope of service against the final product. The project manager should be allowed to charge time spent managing the work. Too many managers just spread their time out across many jobs with very little effort to charge the time where it belongs. This practice skews the management of all the jobs.

Some Project Management Software

Many small companies use basic cost accounting software such as QuickBooks Pro or Peachtree. These are both good software packages, which are improving with each new release. The cost of these products makes them attractive to many small companies. They both have extra services such as payroll, tax return services and online billing. These programs are, however, basic and light on project management. A person with good computer skills can incorporate cost accounting and project management into a custom application. These products can be found at www.quickbook.com or www.peachtree.com.

Another company worth taking a look at is Business-Works.com. This company has a software product with many different modules to design a system for your own use. This software performs job cost and order entry, and links to Excel modules. It also has a general ledger, accounts payable and accounts receivable, plus many other features. Find out more at www.business-works.com.

Another software product worth considering is Deltek Advantage. Its software is designed for the medium-sized engineering firm. The strong parts of this program are centered around project cost accounting. This is not an entry-level product reflected in the cost, but a fine product for the larger firm. Its applications include project control, billing, accounts payable, payroll, profit center reporting, timekeeper and expense keeper. It also has integrated products dealing with project planning, budgeting and management. Deltek can be found at www.deltek.com.

And, there’s one last company I want to talk about: a software company by the name of KIDASA Software. This company makes two project management products: Milestones Professional and Milestones Simplicity 2.0. Milestones Professional is a serious project management tool. It provides many interfaces such as pasting schedules into Microsoft PowerPoint or importing information from Microsoft Excel or Access. Milestones Professional also offers hyperlinks, making it possible to publish an entire hierarchy of schedules. Once published, the HTML pages will have hot spots that allow the viewer to “drill-down” from the top level schedule to more detailed schedules. This is more than most survey companies need but sure has a role in major engineering projects.

I have not purchased this product, but Milestones Simplicity 2.0 looks like a great tool for quickly producing a color chart in minutes. At the current price of $49, I do not see how you could go wrong. This looks like one of those great little tools we in the survey profession have been waiting for. You can download a trial copy at www.kidasa.com/simplicity.

I hope all of you decide to make project management a part of your company. In many areas of the country, surveyors are demanding higher wages. We can afford to meet these demands if we manage and contract our services for the right amount of money. The key is project management for profit. You will still need to have some project management meetings, maybe weekly for 30 minutes or so to review jobs in progress. At the end of each month, review profitability with project managers. Just remember one thing: each job needs to show a profit.