Management Online: Mining the Full Potential of the Intranet

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It’s no secret that project management is one of the key elements to maintaining quality assurance, client service, and a profitable business. Without it, client service and quality will suffer, resulting in write-offs and back charges that can seriously affect profits. Poorly managed projects may adversely affect schedules, causing deviations in the statement of work and resulting in cost overruns or dissatisfied clients whose expectations are not met. Good project management requires:
• Qualified and trained project managers
• A thorough understanding of client expectations
• Strict adherence to the agreed upon Statement of Work and schedule
• A quality assurance plan for the project
• Good communication with the client and within the project team
• A system within the firm or organization that allows the manager to track progress

It is the latter, a system for tracking progress that is the subject of this month’s column.

In many firms and organizations, tracking project performance is left to the accounting group or to one central person, so as not to burden the project manager who may be more concerned with technical oversight and client service. Unfortunately, the accounting staff is probably the least qualified group to monitor project progress, since their involvement generally looks backwards at history rather than monitoring daily or milestone developments. Once a project goes off track the accounting staff can do little but report bad news. Only the project manager can monitor on a daily basis and take corrective action quickly.

With the advent of affordable network solutions there are now tools that can be developed within the firm for an intranet project management system. Unlike the Internet, the intranet is a closed system for exclusive use with a firm. With an intranet project management system a firm can track a project from the placement of a job order to the final invoiced payment. One such system is "Project at a Glance."

Developed from the ground up by Psomas webmaster Chris Pinckney over the past five years, the internal intranet is so widely used by the firm’s 450 employees that it now boasts a company savings of over $500,000 annually and registers more than one million hits per month. Not only have the company’s intranet systems become a staple of daily business for every department, they have even become a factor in project wins for the firm.

The Project at a Glance system also links to other modules that include Invoice at a Glance, and Online Time Tracking.

Project at a Glance provides Web-based reporting of the financial status of all company projects. No longer drowning in reams of paper, project managers can make good management decisions without delay. The application integrates more than 15 accounting reports into an accurate, intuitive and customizable online interface. Information is delivered from multiple sources and integrated into an easy-to-read report that every manager can use, whether it’s overall per-project detail, a portfolio view of specific projects and data elements, a summary view of all the tasks in a project, or a filter to data-mine projects based on a manager’s specifications. By red flagging projects in trouble before they become too costly to the company, Project at a Glance has helped reduce the number of unprofitable projects and saved an estimated 10% in project write-offs company-wide.

Streamlining Collections
The second element of the project management application, Invoice at a Glance, identifies collection problems before they go too far. The application automates the electronic collection and storage of every invoice, with logic added. Outstanding invoices are listed by "days late" for managers, projects and clients. Online note taking for collection efforts has standardized the Accounts Receivable Report for our senior management, and invoice payment entry allows for automatic e-mails to be sent to interested mangers notifying them of payment and remaining balances. More than enhancing workflow and project management, these applications have also helped the company win projects. New clients who were shown the online project management systems during job interviews stated that it was a factor in their decision to let our company do the job.

Electronic Time Sheets
Another key element in the Project at a Glance system is the Online Time Tracking. All employees are required to enter their time on a daily basis to an online intranet electronic time sheet. When a project number is used by an employee, the hours entered for the project are transferred to both the accounting department for payroll and to the identified project. Labor rates are automatically assigned for the project and the number of hours and costs are assigned to the project. The project manager or supervisor can review these hours and costs on a daily basis, making it possible to track the project costs even if the work is being carried out in another office or a remote location. Project expenses are handled the same way and may or may not be marked up based on the agreement with the client. This allows the project manager to track the project on a daily basis. Online Time Tracking reduces the number of hours employees spend on data entry and data management by making it easier than ever to fill out, submit and approve a time sheet. The collected data is imported into both the accounting and payroll back-end systems for project charge posting and payroll. This system has streamlined our accounting department, eliminating two full-time positions and saving the company an estimated $250,000 per year ($100,000 more than expected). It has also boosted accuracy.

The Big Picture
Here is how the system works. When a project manager takes an order from a client, he opens a job number in Project at a Glance and completes an online form that contains database-linked fields for all of the pertinent information on the project. These fields become the foundation for all future tracking data. They include job numb er, client information, project manager, type of work to be performed, service code, date due, agreed-upon budget, and a breakdown of various labor rates to be used. Other fields are available for marketing and client tracking information. The work order is available to the project manager, accounting, and senior management.

As the project progresses, the manager will use the Project at a Glance to bill the client on a progress, milestone, or percent of completion basis. It also facilitates daily or weekly staff meetings to review expenditures and the amount of work completed and remaining. This goes a long way to eliminating the erroneous calculation of "percent complete equals amount of budget expensed." The proper way is for the project manager to review the work completed in terms of its allocated budget, then getting a realistic estimate from staff of the amount of work required to complete the project. This way a more accurate earned value may be calculated and course corrections may be made more quickly.

After the project is completed, or if milestone or progress billing is involved, an invoice is created using the Invoice at a Glance module. At this point the project manager, project assistant or accounting department can follow up with the client on payments or disputes.

Making the best tools in the world isn’t worth anything if the end-user does not use them. A project management system such as Project at a Glance incorporates a mix of systems and human checks to make sure t
he data is correct at all times. New employees are trained and existing employees are retrained to ensure that everyone is aware of the capabilities of the company’s intranet. It is up to the webmaster to watch for and implement enhancements so the systems can grow to their fullest potential.

A Total Quality Management (TQM) program encompasses the technical elements of an organization as well as communications, documentation, and financial management. A good project management and cost tracking system is essential to any quality management prog ram. Such a system builds client confidence and allows the firm to manage the client’s money with greater accountability and success.

Fred Henstridge has more than 50 years of professional experience in geomatics engineering, surveying, mapping, transportation engineering, municipal engineering, and GIS management. After 10 years with Caltrans, he started his own geomatics and civil engineering fir m, which was acquired by Psomas and Associates in 1982. Since that time, he has been a Principal of Psomas, and Corporate Director of Geospatial Services and GIS. He is currently Director of Psomas’ Federal Programs Development.

A 896Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE