Where information means insight


Why It’s Time for AEC Firms to Get Serious About Agile Project Management Practices

by Lucas HaydenA/E, AEC, Budgeting & Forecasting, ERP Software Best Practices, Project Management, Resource Planning

Nov 15, 2021

As smoothly as many architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms have adapted to the realities of doing business during a pandemic, and as plentiful as the opportunities for project work are heading into the new year, there’s plenty of reason to believe that 2022 will be even better for AEC firms than 2021 was. The X factor in that outlook, of course, is the intense competition for new business. To capitalize on those opportunities, firms must find a competitive edge. Gaining that edge, and keeping the pipeline full and moving bottleneck-free in 2022 and beyond, could well come down to how a firm manages its project data, and specifically, its forecasting. To aggressively pursue new work in the current business environment, AEC firms need to be really good at resource management, project scheduling and forecasting. For many firms, however, that’s not necessarily a strong suit. In Unanet’s recently released AEC Inspire benchmarking report [available free to download here] 57% of firm decision-makers identified forecasting as their most difficult project management challenge. What this suggests is that AEC firms with strong forecasting, planning and resource-management chops — in short, those that are more agile in their approach to project management — will have an edge in the success of current work and the pursuit of new business. The more real-time insight that firm leaders have into project planning, and scheduling, and the resources required to complete their project backlog, the better equipped they will be to gauge resources, prioritize new business pursuits accordingly, and ultimately land the types of projects that their firm covets. Agile, data-driven project management practices (the Project Management Institute lately has elevated the athleticism of that metaphor to “gymnastic”) are the key to unlocking not only new business growth but also new efficiencies that go right to the bottom line. That agility comes from better forecasting and analysis in areas like budgeting, resource allocation and scheduling. Based on Unanet’s deep experience supporting AEC firms with the data-forward, insight-generating capabilities to implement agile project management practices, here are several guiding principles to point your firm in the right direction: Treat people as your most valuable resource. The common denominator for highly effective project teams is individual engagement with a common goal. To build project teams full of engaged people that function as an agile whole, firms and their PMs need to know their people and the specific hard and soft skills they bring to the mix, then leverage that knowledge to ensure they have the right resources on the right projects. Get started, then iterate. As an undertaking that spans all areas of an AEC business, achieving resource management maturity takes time. A good starting point for project managers is to adopt initial deliverables, then iterate from there, so they begin adding value to a project, teams and customers. For example, if you are not able to schedule your team out in detail, begin with higher-level month-by-month scheduling. Schedule for the quarter ahead, compare your scheduled to actuals worked, draw conclusions, then apply that learning to the next quarter. Wash, rinse, repeat! Collaborate around feedback. As you begin to leverage a more data-driven approach to project planning and resource scheduling, invite feedback early and regularly. Work with your internal customers first, then, as appropriate, engage your customers to ensure you are meeting their expectations from a service and deliverables perspective. Roll with the changes. Change is the one certainty in the AEC business. Change orders, reprioritizations, unanticipated leave or team-member departures, the weather — all these can impact a plan. A firm’s resource management and scheduling processes and systems should be flexible enough to readily accommodate changes on the fly. What does that mean in practice? Just like it’s easier to steer a moving car, once you are underway with your scheduling practice, you can ebb more easily, and flow as needed. And with a broader, more forward-looking view of your book of work, changes become easier to absorb. By embracing a data-centric approach to project planning and resource scheduling, firms and their project managers give themselves a distinct edge in forecasting, making better-informed, more agile decisions, greater ease in load-balancing resources with projected needs, and improved project performance overall. They also put themselves in a strong position to aggressively pursue new business and stay ahead of the hiring curve. While other firms with less forecasting savvy wrestle with unforeseen project overruns and issues with talent retention due to burn out, those with an agile approach to project management stand to capitalize on a surge in new AEC business that could sustain them for years to come. Thanks for reading the first post in Lucas’s blog series for AEC firms about translating agile project management practices into improved project outcomes, better pipeline management and more new business wins. Check back soon for the second post in the series.


Bring the Parts of the Project Lifecycle Together With a Project-Based ERP

by Kim KosterA/E, GovCon, Project Management

Aug 03, 2020

For too many organizations, the various parts of the project lifecycle are not treated as being part of one single system and data is kept in individual silos. This is a recipe for project failure. Before we discuss these crucial parts of the project lifecycle that your organization must learn to incorporate together, let’s level-set on what exactly a project is. A project is a planned piece of work that provides either a good or service and has a scope, schedule, and cost. Each project has a lifecycle, a series of elements that contribute to a project’s completion. These elements include: CRM Opportunity pipeline Resource management Budgeting, planning, and forecasting Time and expense Project accounting Billing and revenue recognition Financials Payroll Purchasing Real-time reporting, analytics, and dashboards So, how do you get the parts of the project lifecycle to flow together and increase your chance of project success? Utilize the power of a project-based ERP. A project-based ERP is the ultimate project management control center. It places all the necessary information into the project manager’s hands and brings together every part of the project lifecycle. Our new ebook, The Business of Projects, is a guide to how ERP software can enable project success. This eBook spells out in detail the nature of project-based work, the concept of enterprise resource management, and how organizations capture new business. Download your copy of the ebook here and learn how ERP opens the door to better planning, execution, and financial management through more robust project data.


The Characteristics of an Adequate Project Budget

by Kim KosterBudgeting & Forecasting, Project Management

May 01, 2019

What is a Project Budget? A project budget is what a project based organization believes is financially achievable. The budget is a target which the organization sets for itself, and becomes management’s commitment to action. Establishing a comprehensive and realistic project budget is rarely a simple task. After all, how do you accurately predict and outline all the moving parts that are required for project success—such as resources, billable hours, and additional expenses—and allot enough money for each of these? An added challenge is that many of these necessary elements will change before the project reaches completion. The project may take longer than expected, a staff member involved with the project may leave the company, costly errors may need to be remedied, and more. Every project should have a performance management baseline (PMB) that becomes the basis for variance analysis to plan (Budget–Actuals). The budget is a living and breathing document and should be adjusted as scope changes. If the budget is out-of-date, it will not provide the metrics needed to analyze variances.   What Makes a Great Project Budget? How do you accomplish all this in your project budget? How do you anticipate all the potential changes and errors that will need to be fixed? While nobody can see the future, there are a few key qualities you can use to create your budget so that it can best adapt to any scenario. The characteristics of an adequate budget are: All scope is included—Budgeting tools have user-defined-fields (UDFs) so you can track the SOW or IMP references, ensuring you have all the scope budgeted. Scope comprehension is a big challenge. Correlated directly to the WBS which serves as a foundational structure for reporting on the project. Correlated directly to the schedule. The schedule also has a PMB and the schedule and the budget should correlate as far as time periods and resources. Time phased through the life of the project. The best practice would have the budget broken out at a minimum by month but could be done by week. The units (month or week) needed are driven by the nature of the business. The baseline assumptions are current, and changes are included as required. You want this to be a current representation of the work you are to accomplish. Who influences the project budget? const t="undefined"!=typeof HTMLImageElement&&"loading"in HTMLImageElement.prototype;if(t){const t=document.querySelectorAll("img[data-main-image]");for(let e of t){e.dataset.src&&(e.setAttribute("src",e.dataset.src),e.removeAttribute("data-src")),e.dataset.srcset&&(e.setAttribute("srcset",e.dataset.srcset),e.removeAttribute("data-srcset"));const t=e.parentNode.querySelectorAll("source[data-srcset]");for(let e of t)e.setAttribute("srcset",e.dataset.srcset),e.removeAttribute("data-srcset");e.complete&&(}}{"image":{"layout":"constrained","backgroundColor":"#f8f8f8","images":{"fallback":{"src":"/static/56e0b3f76dce6cbfc403c13a968fef37/45b56/affect-budget-chart.jpg","srcSet":"/static/56e0b3f76dce6cbfc403c13a968fef37/90edd/affect-budget-chart.jpg 131w,\n/static/56e0b3f76dce6cbfc403c13a968fef37/272ac/affect-budget-chart.jpg 262w,\n/static/56e0b3f76dce6cbfc403c13a968fef37/45b56/affect-budget-chart.jpg 524w","sizes":"(min-width: 524px) 524px, 100vw"},"sources":[{"srcSet":"/static/56e0b3f76dce6cbfc403c13a968fef37/8f11e/affect-budget-chart.webp 131w,\n/static/56e0b3f76dce6cbfc403c13a968fef37/36deb/affect-budget-chart.webp 262w,\n/static/56e0b3f76dce6cbfc403c13a968fef37/5659c/affect-budget-chart.webp 524w","type":"image/webp","sizes":"(min-width: 524px) 524px, 100vw"}]},"width":524,"height":190},"alt":"","className":"aligncenter wp-image-8383 inline-gatsby-image-wrapper","data-wp-inline-image":"1"}   How Unanet’s Budgeting & Forecasting Software Can Help Is your team struggling to create a realistic, comprehensive budget that can adapt to the unknown? Budgeting and forecasting software can make establishing the project budget much easier. This software has quite a few benefits: Streamline project reporting by offering managers insight into true margin Provide capability for planners and project managers to budget using indirect rates Expedite real-time information and decision-making Forecast direct, indirect charges, and revenues Integrate Budgeting and Forecasting data with workforce assignment and actuals labor and expenses Achieve effective resource utilization and improved service levels, with lower overhead Understand capacity, revenue, cost, and work schedules Identify and load level overbooked resources Unanet offers budgeting and forecasting software for project based organizations to ensure their projects stay on track and they can reach their financial goals. Our software has helped over 2,000 customers stay on budget while achieving project success. Learn how we can make this happen for you in our ebook, Selecting an ERP for Professional Services Organizations.


Project Visibility and Control for Project Managers

by Kim KosterProject Management

Apr 23, 2019

Do you need project visibility and analytics to drive decision-making? Would real-time querying make your job easier? Do you need a tool to communicate with all project stakeholders (executives and project teams) in both a simple and sophisticated manner? If the answer is YES, this blog is for you! Project managers (PMs) and their teams scramble too often for project visibility information in Excel and perform busy work instead of actively managing their projects and fostering relationships with customers. With the right processes and tools, PMs can have the information at their fingertips needed to focus on performance and profitability, reduce risk, and manage their projects. Successful PMs have the tools to look deep within the project data past, present and future. Their goals are met because they can obtain the right information with accurate data, eliminating costly manual manipulation of data. These best-in-class PMs have comprehensive and timely visibility and control over their projects, resources, revenue, profitability, schedule, pipeline, and financials. They can make decisions quickly and effectively, resulting in a positive effect to the bottom line of the organization. What is Project Portfolio Management (PPM)? The purpose of project/program integration management is to… Coordinate project activities and integrate all efforts into a project plan Integrate, analyze, and report the project results in carrying out the project plan Control changes to the baseline plan Collect, integrate, and organize project information in a project information system. (Reference: Project Management Maturity Model by J. Kent Crawford pg. 27) Project Portfolio Management is a great overall philosophy that enables organizations to efficiently manage projects. A major outcome of PPM is having visibility and control over the projects, which will benefit the organization by: Fostering a greater understanding of the key drivers of revenue and profit in your organization Proactive tracking and management of performance relative to an annual operating plan Elimination of profit losses on direct projects due to unanticipated project overruns Increased profitability on T&M and Fixed Price projects Reduction in the amount of funding “left on the table” (revenue backlog) Increased adoption rates for the system you choose as it relates to planning and forecasting Reduction in Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) or other invoicing metrics Less time spent managing the financial aspects of direct projects Key Performance Indicators (KPI) As we discussed in a previous blog, KPIs provide status and information for all levels within the organization. KPIs are typically displayed on dashboards and they should be a real-time visual representation of the role-based information needed to manage the business. You should be able to quickly see with colors and graphs where you are against your plans. KPIs provide actionable insights to help you run your business on one single screen. Commonly Used KPIs Below are a few examples of commonly used metrics that project managers should have access to in order to run their projects successfully. Hopefully your organization is running a software package that provides this information. Annual Billable Utilization: Billable Hours / Total Hours or Billable Days / Total Days Booking: A commitment by a customer to buy your goods or services Backlog: Total Bookings – Delivered Goods or Services Billing: An invoice requesting payments for goods delivered or services rendered Revenue: The amount of earnings that can be recognized T&M Revenue per Employee: Actual Bill Rate x Hours Charged + ODC For a more in-depth look on establishing strong KPIs, read our blog, “Tips for Developing Key Performance Indicators for Your Organization.” Earned Value Management (EVM) Another helpful aspect of project visibility is earned value management. Earned Value Management (EVM) is a project management best practice that flows directly with your established PM policies. The basics of EVM are plan, execute, assess performance, and monitor the project. Project managers can assess completion of the work at the task level and by doing this will get a host of metrics on current and future performance. Gain Project Visibility and Control with Unanet’s Project Management Software How can one just system provide project managers with the project visibility and control they need to ensure business success? Unanet’s project management software allows you to align projects to corporate strategy, lower project management costs, gain key real-time project insights, and much more, all in one single source of truth! We’ve helped over 2,000 customers transform their project management processes. To learn more about Unanet and how it can provide your project managers the visibility and control they need to ensure project success, download our eBook, 9 Simple Steps to Convince Your Leadership to Adopt Project Portfolio Management (PPM).


Project Management Maturity

by Kim KosterGovCon, Project Management

Feb 19, 2019

Achieving a strategic level of project management maturity should be on the mind of every project-based business, especially professional services firms. Proposals, budgets, resources, estimate-at-complete (EAC) are activities a project-based business can’t live without.  In a perfect world, the project management activities will connect directly to time and financial systems. The integrated system (people, processes, and tools) will provide a level of visibility and control that will help mature your discipline and will improve execution success. Project Management Maturity = Project Success and Predictability   Evolving the Project Management Discipline Since project management depends on the strategic alignment of people, processes and tools it only makes sense to concentrate on the level of competency of each of these attributes throughout your capability evolution. Professional services organizations are all on different journeys as it pertains to capability evolution. Which one of the below levels accurately depicts your current maturity status? Level 1 – AD-HOC Achieving goals depend on individual effort and heroics. This is typically chaos and you might picture this state as people running around with their hair on fire. Level 2 – BASIC INFORMATION Basic project management processes are in place and the necessary process discipline exists to repeat earlier successes on projects with similar applications. Level 3 – ORGANIZATIONAL STANDARDS Processes are documented and standardized, with approved tailored approaches adopted as needed. Level 4 – QUANTITATIVE Detailed measures on process adherence and cost/schedule performance are quantitatively measured, understood and managed. Level 5 – CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT Continuous process improvement is enabled by quantitative feedback from the process and from piloting innovative ideas and technologies. By committing to mature your project management discipline you will realize the following benefits: Improved visibility and control into project performance Improved predictability and understanding of overall performance Increase in realized profitability Common organizational standards ensuring consistent reporting, reduction of rework, and reduced dependence on heroes. Optimization of the project management staff allowing them to focus on their customer, not on turning the crank. More efficient communication within project teams and to senior leadership. Delivery of real-time insight on project financials and enable resolution of identified risks. More on-time and on-budget projects, which equals a delighted customer.   What is PPM? Today we hear so much about PPM, but what exactly is it and how many organizations are really doing it effectively? What makes implementation of this discipline so difficult? The root cause is disparate systems and lack of process standardization make reporting and managing projects and portfolios very challenging. So, what is PPM? Wikipedia does a great job on the definition: “PPM is the centralized management of the processes, methods, and technologies used by project managers and project management offices (PMOs) to analyze and collectively manage current or proposed projects based on numerous key characteristics. The objectives of PPM are to determine the optimal resource mix for delivery and to schedule activities to best achieve an organization’s operational and financial goals, while honoring constraints imposed by customers, strategic objectives, or external real-world factors.” Portfolios are groupings of projects that have common characteristics (example: customer, product line, etc.). The portfolio will not change, but the underlying projects and proposals will continue to change and evolve. The art of PPM is to plan resources, analyze data and resultant KPIs, and understand each project’s status all in one ecosystem (people, process, and tools). 6 Steps to Implement PPM: Get buy-in from all stakeholders: executives, functional leaders, portfolio managers, project managers all need to agree or at least understand the vision and the reason for PPM. Build a team with champions. Make sure you pick a team with the necessary expertise and if you don’t have the necessary expertise, consider hiring an outside firm. If you have a centralized project management office (PMO), they can be a huge help in providing expertise and direction for the PPM implementation team. Begin collecting project and program data in a central repository. An integrated project portfolio management tool will make a significant difference in the availability and accuracy of the data used for decision making. Common processes for all projects for the organization is a MUST. Processes must be current and realistic, and teams need role-based training. Projects all have nuances, so it is important to have tailorable processes to accommodate project size and type. The implementation team should lead this charge along with the PMO. Establish portfolios (in accordance with strategy) and align the projects to them. Assign portfolio managers and assure portfolio reporting is available. Common KPIs should be established with visual dashboards for the portfolio management team. Roll-out the discipline of PPM. Advertise to the organization and provide role-based training for all stakeholders throughout the organization.   Benefits of PPM: Common communication of business information produced from sound processes, assuring decisions are made based on accurate information that aligns with corporate goals Ability to manage the opportunity pipeline of all projects that can be rolled up to program and portfolio What-iffing and modeling aids decision making by allowing you to establish the best path for the business. Revenue, cash, project, new orders, and growth are a few financial metrics that support strategy Enterprise planning of resources assuring right resources, right time, and right place Analyze KPIs at all levels of the organization and communicate to the enterprise Portfolio reporting and drill down so that the status of all projects can be analyzed as a part of the overall portfolio Visibility into all the projects in a portfolio making sure that all projects are performing to expectations Common governance of projects and programs allowing for a repeatable and tailorable process for all project sizes and types.   Unanet Can Help You Get Started with PPM What better way to achieving project management maturity than with project management software supporting your projects? Unanet’s Project Portfolio and Project Portfolio Financials software offer one single source of truth for every aspect of your projects: expense reporting, budgeting and forecasting, time reporting, pipeline management, and more. We’ve helped over 2,000 customers transform their project management processes. See Unanet in action by contacting our sales team. Download our white paper, “Benefits of Maturing Your Project Management Discipline” to learn more.