Category Archives

Managing Your Firm

  • Dec 18,2018

Remote work is on the rise. According to Gallup, 43% of Americans worked remotely in 2016, up from 39% in 2012. As remote work becomes more popular, consider how to do it better—particularly if you’re a project manager who’s virtually managing multiple staffers and projects.

Try out the tips below to cultivate a healthy culture and get the most from your staff when working remotely.

1. Communicate

Communication is essential when working remotely and across time zones. Don’t let a misconstrued email lead to a missed deadline.

That said, have a defined communication system in place that specifies how staffers should communicate with you, other staffers, and clients, and how often. Should staffers hang out on chat all day? Should they check their email a certain number of times? Proactively answer these type of questions to eliminate ambiguity.

Then, be clear with the information you communicate—especially if you rely on text-based communication applications, which can easily be misinterpreted.

2. Make Yourself Available

Find a time each day or week when you’re free to speak with staffers, and make your availability known. Maybe you’ll field questions Mondays and Wednesdays from 3pm to 5pm on Skype, or you’ll respond to emails each day around 4pm.

You want staffers to feel that can pop into your virtual office to ask a question or get clarification about an issue. When a staffer has a question in the office, they find the person they need to talk to and ask their question. Provide a similar level of access in the virtual world in order to prevent mishaps down the road.

3. Keep Staffers Informed

Project managers sort through mounds of data to learn about staff and project performance, budgets, and billable hours, among many other metrics. Share this information with your staff!

Oftentimes people aren’t aware seemingly obvious details. Let Fred know if his utilization rate is 50% and devise a plan to increase that number. Inform your designer that the project deadline has changed. Tell your team that the website project is almost over-budget and share a report that shows where time and money are being spent.

4. Ask for Feedback

What staffers don’t say is as important as what they do. When you’re in the office, it’s easy to pick up on nonverbal communication cues, like body language. This is largely missing in the digital world, even with video calls.

That said, do your part and get some feedback to find out what’s working and what’s not. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate process. Pose a question through email on Monday and ask for feedback by Friday, or create an anonymous survey. The options are many. The point is to keep on the pulse of the remote system that you’re building, and give staffers an opportunity to share what’s on their mind.

There’s a lot to like about remote work. Of the many benefits, research touts increased productivity, a reduction in employee turnover, and decreased overhead costs. But working remotely is different than working in an office. It’s worth recognizing this fact and modifying your workflow to cultivate a healthy remote culture. Implementing the tips above can help.

  • Nov 28,2018

What does it take to be an effective project manager? The answer may surprise you.

If you’re like most, you’ll probably say skills such as leadership and negotiation. Sure, these matter. But there are three additional skills that are critical in today’s fast-paced, data-driven world.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Take the time to strategically think through and plan for both the long and short term—even if that plan changes. A tentative project plan can help prevent missed deadlines, overblown budgets, and a lot of stress.

Tools like resource allocation, utilization dashboards, and reports give you the data you need to devise a plan. For example, BigTime’s “shift allocations” feature allows users to move allocated staffer hours without re-entering any data. It makes planning for the future easy.

Communicate

Most of us work in a data-driven, chat-based workplace, and yet communication among teammates and clients can still suffer. Take the responsibility of communicating the right information to staffers and clients to keep everyone on the same page, and working toward the same goal. It’s a simple step that can help you hit deadlines on budget, while maintaining team morale and client satisfaction.

Not everyone needs to know everything. Filter what’s important for staffers to know and make it easily accessible. Run reports and make them public, so staffers can learn about project statuses and billable hours. Or meet with staffers to talk about their billable utilization rate.

At the same time, keep your clients informed. A tool like resource allocation gives you tons of project details at your fingertips, so share relevant information with clients to prevent unpleasant surprises, like an invoice for twice the amount to which you agreed to.

Manage Your Time

Project managers often complain about being stressed and overworked. Although it’s not easy to manage multiple projects, staffers, and clients, you can reduce your stress and workload by managing your time effectively.

A good question to think about is: how do you spend the hours in your day? Perhaps you can reduce the number of times you check email or the number of meetings you attend. The idea is reduce the less important tasks so you can focus on the important ones.

At the end of the workday, create a plan for what you want to accomplish the next day. Then, prioritize: get the most important stuff done first. Or as Peter Drucker put it: “Put first things first.” For example, from 9am to 11am use resource allocation to plan for the first quarter in 2019. Use this mentality in your project planning as well and you’ll find that deadlines become more manageable when you focus on what matters most.

The project management skills explained above may seem obvious. But sometimes the obvious gets overlooked and simple fixes are what you need to get the most from your staff to hit project deadlines on budget and to have happy clients.

  • Nov 21,2018

Any project manager will agree that utilization matters. But tracking utilization hasn’t always been easy—until now.

Enter BigTime’s Utilization Dashboard, which is available to Premier users.* This customizable dashboard helps you keep on the pulse of staffers and inform project planning. How? Read on to find out.

1. Gauge Staff Productivity

What projects are your staffers working on? Are they logging billable hours to them?

It’s easy to overlook answers to these questions because you’re busy managing multiple projects. But a quick glance at your Utilization Dashboard gives you the details you need to get the most from your staff and help boost your bottom line. Here you can see staffers’ utilization based on allocated hours, inputted hours, and billable hours for specific projects.

Usually the higher the utilization rate, the better. That said, the numbers in the image above suggest that we could be getting more from our staffer, Jason. His billable utilization, or the time spent doing billable work, is only 37%. And since allocated utilization is only 50%, we should allocate more hours to him. We’ll use this information to drive business decisions.

2. Improve Your Project Planning

Use the Utilization Dashboard to make informed decisions during the life of a project.

In the image above, Ben’s overall utilization rates are in the darker gray row next to his name. Better yet, we can drill into all of the projects Ben’s working on and his utilization for each.

Now we can make project changes based on this information, such as allocating more hours to Ben to improve his allocated utilization rate. We’ll also keep an eye on his billable utilization rate over the next few months to see if it increases.

3. Spot Trends Over Time

Visualize your data with the graphs at the top of your Utilization Dashboard. These graphs help project managers spot trends based on allocated, inputted, and billable utilization rates.

We’ll toggle among the graphical views (allocated, input and billable utilization), and select several months to compare allocated utilization, for example, over time. Our selections also update the staff data below the graphs.

4. Customize Your Data

Data is useful if it’s meaningful. Make the data on your Utilization Dashboard meaningful by customizing it with filters. That way you can see what matters most.

Plus, you can change your dashboard views, such as “by department” or “by staff role.”

Managing multiple staffers and projects is tough. But the process is much easier when you have the right tools in place to give you the details you need when and how you need it. BigTime’s Utilization Dashboard does just that.

*The Utilization Dashboard is available to Premier users. Are you interested in an upgrade?
Learn more about Premier or email us at: [email protected].

  • Nov 15,2018

Most professional service companies want to improve billable utilization rate, or the amount of time staffers spend doing billable work. But how? This post gives you four ways to take action today.

1. Track time

Daily time tracking is one of the best ways to find out where staffers spend their time. Some project managers encourage staffers to track project time at the end of the day. Others prefer staffers to track time throughout their day, as they move from project to project. Either way, make tracking time a daily habit.

Convenience equals compliance. To get staffers to track time daily, choose software that makes the time tracking process seamless and convenient. That way, staffers can log their hours when working in the office, at home, or around the world. Look for time tracking software with a mobile app and the option to log time even when offline.

2. Add timesheet notes

Are your staffers adding notes to their timesheets? They should. This is one more way to understand how staffers spend their time. It’s helpful that staffer Joe works six hours on a project for Putnam and Associates, but what does he do during these six hours? Is he doing tasks that an administrative staff member can handle, like making copies and organizing meetings, or is he designing a webpage? Timesheet notes can reveal these details.

Plus, there’s another benefit. According to our 2016 study, timesheet entries with notes of 140 characters yield a 4.95% higher billing realization rate compared to those without notes. This means the small to mid-size US professional services market could increase billings by $35 billion just by adding on timesheet notes the length of a tweet.

3. Monitor data

Once your staffers log time regularly, monitor it constantly. Run reports and monitor real-time dashboards to see where time is spent and who’s working on what. How much time is spent on non-billable work, like internal meetings? Use these resources to spot trends and find irregularities.

4. Use resource allocation

Put the data you’re tracking to good use with resource allocation: a tool companies use to help manage their resources, like staffers and budgets. You decide where staffers spend their time by allocating hours to each staffer. Then, review actual hours to see if your staffers are working the hours you’ve allocated to them. Resource allocation is a powerful tool that helps you stay on the pulse of project and staff details.

Some software packages track utilization automatically with real-time utilization dashboards, where you can see a staffer’s overall utilization can their utilization rate per project. Utilization dashboards along with the resources mentioned in this post can help you increase billable utilization in order to help boost your bottom line and get the most from your staffers.

  • Nov 12,2018

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” said Peter Drucker, the late management guru and writer. This quote underscores why utilization rates matter: it’s a way to measure performance in order to get the most from your employees.

Utilization rate refers to time spent doing billable work. Fred, for example, has a utilization rate of 75%. This means he spends most of his time doing tasks he’ll bill to a client. By contrast, Max has a utilization rate of 30% because he spends most of his day on non-billable work: attending internal meetings and doing administrative tasks. Usually, the higher the utilization rate, the better.

This post explains four reasons why utilization matters to your firm.

1. Work on the right tasks

Utilization can tell you where employees spend their time. Do they spend time on non-billable work, like administrative tasks, or are they logging billable hours?

People typically don’t know how they spend their time each day. Max may not realize how much time he spends on tasks that an administrator can handle. That said, an employee’s utilization rate can be enlightening to both employees and managers, and keep everyone “in the know.”

2. Know the details

A high utilization rate doesn’t always tell the entire story. Fred has an overall utilization of 75%, but he’s logging most of his time to a low-paying client with ever-changing demands. Since he’s one of your top performers, you want him working on projects for your higher-paying clients.

Some software packages show you the utilization rate by project. This gives you the detail you need to make informed decisions.

3. Increase employee productivity

Many companies use utilization as a metric: if Max improves his utilization rate from 40% to 60%, he gets a bonus at the end of the quarter.

Max may work a bit smarter—spending time on billable projects and reducing time spent non-billable ones—since he knows that his utilization rate is being tracked.

At the same time, managers need to be realistic about utilization rates. A rate of 100% is unlikely, since there’s almost always some non-billable work employees do. Max will have to attend a status meeting or fill out some administrative form at some point during the quarter, neither is billable.

4. Improve project planning

Better your project planning with utilization rates. Say you have five employees working on a website design project, but they each have a utilization of about 50%. What’s going on?

Low utilization rates can alert you to the situation so you can inquire further. Maybe your demands are too high and have spread your employees too thin working on multiple projects along with several internal tasks.

Drucker’s quote resonates today because we live in the world of big data, where just about everything can be measured including utilization. It’s one way to help get the most from your employees and boost your company’s bottom line.

  • Sep 04,2018

Are your staffers being used to their capacity? Are they logging billable hours? What’s their billable productivity rate? These are important questions that project managers had trouble answering—until now.

Know where your staffers stand with BigTime’s Utilization Dashboard.* It takes the guesswork out of staffer productivity and performance. This customizable Dashboard shows staffer utilization based on allocated hours, inputted hours, and billable hours for specific projects. Plus, you can see these details based on department and/or various cost centers.

This post explains how to find the Dashboard and highlights several features on it, so you can get the most from your staff.

Access and Customize Your Dashboard

Click Reports….Utilization Dashboard to access the Dashboard.

Customize your Dashboard by using the filters on the gray sidebar. You’ve got many filters to choose from, and you can use them in any combination. Let’s explore your options, starting at the top with “Date Range.”

Date Range

Enter the time period that you want to get utilization details for, such as the past quarter or year. The date range filter can select full months. In the image above, we selected two month time period, April and May. (Even though the date range says April 1 to May 1, BigTime is pulling data for all of April and all of May.)

Click on the textbox under “Date Range” to enter your desired date range. Two calendars will populate, and you’ll select a month and year. Then, click “Apply” to apply your changes.

Project and Staff Cost Centers

Add filters to project or staff cost centers. The cost center sections allow you to add filters for staff role, service offering, or N/A. Staffer department is another filter option for staff cost centers.

Cost centers are extra, customizable fields that firms use as they like. Some firms use them to refer to the department responsible for a cost. If an engineer purchases a new computer, the cost will be allocated to the engineering department. Make cost centers useful to your firm by changing the name of a cost center (My Company…My Company…Lexicon).

To add one or more field to each filter, click on the white triangle under the desired header and check the box(es) next to the field(s) you want to add.

Notice the three boxes at the bottom of the sidebar. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Show Non-Billable Projects means you want to see projects used to track non-billable hours, like vacation time.
  • Select Projects and Select Staffers allow you to select the specific projects and staffers, respectively, including inactive ones. Check the box next to one or both options and a picklist will populate, so you can make your selection(s).

Filter changes made in this gray sidebar will impact the data that populates to the Dashboard itself, which we’ll explore next.

Use Your Utilization Dashboard

The Dashboard gives you more detail than you can imagine! We’ll walk through a simple example to highlight some of the details you can glean.

Notice we’ve set the date range filter (on the gray sidebar) from April 1 to May 1, so our Dashboard will populate with details during that time period.

We’re viewing the Dashboard from the “Staff Role” view. (See the top-right button. We’ll explain how to change the view later in the article.) Staffers who’ve logged time during the selected date range are hyperlinked, as you can see in the image above.

When we click on Ben’s hyperlinked name, we can see all of the projects he’s logged hours to (they’re listed below his name), along with many more details that we’ll explain next.

Here are some key points to keep in mind, moving left to right across the tabs in the image above:

  • Capacity: Ben’s work capacity is 352 hours. So there were 352 hours available for him to work during our selected date range. This number is based on the capacity you set for the staffer on their Staffer Dashboard.
  • Allocated/Budgeted: We allocated 312 hours to Ben over six projects. BigTime automatically calculates his utilization rate (312 / 352), which is 89%. Notice that BigTime calculates the utilization for each project, too. Get a detailed view of allocated hours by clicking on a hyperlinked number under the “Hours” column. A new window will open to the resource allocation editor if you need to make changes.
  • Input Hours: The number of hours Ben has logged during the selected date range is reflected in the 209 number. See a breakdown of Ben’s inputted hours and his input utilization rate for each project under the “Hours” and “UTIL” columns, respectively.
  • Billable Hours: The number of billable hours Ben has logged is reflected in the number 209. See a breakdown of Ben’s billable hours and his billable utilization rate for each project under the “Hours” and “UTIL” columns, respectively.
  • The bottom of the Utilization Dashboard reveals the grand totals for each of the columns explained above.

    Change Dashboard Views

    Let’s move to the top of your Dashboard and explore some more customizable features.

    Modify how your Dashboard looks and organize the data with one of these filters:

    • None: You don’t want to organize your Dashboard in a specific way. Instead, your staffers will be listed in alphabetical order.
    • Department: The department, such as engineering, a staffer is assigned to.
    • Staff Role: The role (function) of your staffer, like a designer.
    • Service Offering: A broad categorization of your staffers, like engineering or sales.
    • N/A: Some firms use the N/A field for their different company locations, like Boston and New York.

    Note that the bottom three options are cost centers and can be changed based on your firm’s needs.

    Graphs on the Utilization Dashboard

    Visualize your data with the donut and bar graphs at the top of the Dashboard. You can customize your data here, too.

    Click the red triangle under the donut graph to change your view: allocated utilization, input utilization, or billable utilization. Easily toggle among the three options.

    Keep in mind that our date range is for this Dashboard is April 1 to May 1. We checked the box under “4/1/2018” to get details from the start of our date range. When we made this change, the donut graph also updated as did the numbers on the Dashboard itself. Hover over the bar graph for more detail on allocated, inputted, and billable hours.

    To reset your chart, click Reset Chart at the top of your window and everything will be restored.

    There’s nothing worse when staffer talent goes wasted or you over-allocate hours to certain staffers, unintentionally overworking them. These situations can be avoided with the Utilization Dashboard. It’s the latest way to get the most from your staffers and your BigTime experience.

    *The Utilization Dashboard is available to Premier users. Are you interested in an upgrade? Learn more about Premier or email us at: [email protected].

  • Sep 04,2018

You’ve long been able to customize bill rates. Now you can customize cost rates, which work in a similar way. Custom cost rates are the “exception” to the cost rate “rule.”

Each staffer has a cost rate on their Staff Dashboard. Our staffer, Jason, has a cost rate of $75, which is applied despite the task or project he logs time to. Think of this rate as Jason’s standard cost rate, or the “rule.”

However, Jason, like many other staffers, has different cost rates depending on the project and task he’s working on. Custom cost rates account for these variances. They’re the “exception” to the “rule.”

Let’s look at Jason’s custom cost rates for his project, Smith Consultants LLC. His cost rate is $80 when logs time to the “update homepage” task and $70 for the “write report” task. BigTime automatically applies the appropriate custom rate each time Jason logs time—and overrides the one set up on the Staff Dashboard.

This post highlights some of the ways to use this feature. As you can see in the image below, many combinations are possible!

Create custom cost rates as detailed as you’d like. Look at the top line in the image above: we didn’t select a staff member or category. This means anyone who logs time to the “website design” task for this project has a custom cost rate of $100, effective on July 6. By contrast, we selected and inputted specific details in each field for our staffer John Johns. His cost rate is $80 each time he logs time to the “complete audit” task, effective August 13. The point is: there’s flexibility for the rates you create.

There are two important points to keep in mind when creating custom cost rates. First, you need to select an “Effective Date.” This date tells BigTime when the custom cost rate takes effect. This field automatically defaults to today’s date, so be sure to update it if you don’t want the new rate to take effect today!

Second, enter a “Prior Rate,” which is the original cost rate for the staffer. Any time logged before the effective date will apply the “prior rate.” If you leave this field empty, then BigTime will apply $0 to time logged prior to your effective date.

Explore custom cost rates on the “Rates” tab on the Project Dashboard.

  • Aug 31,2018

It’s a common scenario. Staffers’ billable and non-billable hours bottleneck in the approval process, since it takes time to sift through both billable and nonbillable hours for each staffer.

BigTime’s billable/non-billable approval feature streamlines this process. Now you can divide up time approvals for billable and non-billable time for each staffer.

Here’s how it works. Your staffer Ruth logs billable hours to a project for Putman Associates. These hours are filtered to the lead, Henry, who sees these hours and can approve or reject them (see image below). If there’s not a team lead identified for the project, then the admin can approve or reject the hours.

However, when Ruth logs non-billable time, like vacation time, these hours are filtered to her manager, Sue, who sees all submitted time, including billable hours. However, she’s only able to approve non-billable hours.

Based on the image above, Sue sees the billable hours logged to the project (in gray), but can’t do anything to these hours. However, she can approve or reject the non-billable hours that have been submitted.

There are few things you need to have in place before you can use this feature. First, identify a team lead. When you add staffers to a project, indicate that one staffer is a team lead by checking the box under “Team Lead.”

Second, create an internal project and indicate that it’s a non-billable project (on your Project Dashboard, check the box next to “Hours/Expenses billed to this project should be considered non-billable”). Firms often make an internal project for vacation time or company training.

Third, identify a manager for the project, and grant them managerial rights over a specific department. Use the Staff Dashboard to make these changes. In the image below, our staffer has managerial rights over the Engineering department.

Keep in mind that you can update managerial control by adjusting rights in your security groups.

The net result of Billable and Non-Billable approval is this: you save time and avoid bottlenecks.

  • Aug 29,2018

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” said Peter Drucker, the late management guru and writer. This quote underscores why utilization rates matter: it’s a way to measure performance in order to get the most from your employees.

Utilization rate refers to time spent doing billable work. Fred, for example, has a utilization rate of 75%. This means he spends most of his time doing tasks he’ll bill to a client. By contrast, Max has a utilization rate of 30% because he spends most of his day on non-billable work: attending internal meetings and doing administrative tasks. Usually, the higher the utilization rate, the better.

This post explains four reasons why utilization matters to your firm.

1. Work on the right tasks

Utilization can tell you where employees spend their time. Do they spend time on non-billable work, like administrative tasks, or are they logging billable hours?

People typically don’t know how they spend their time each day. Max may not realize how much time he spends on tasks that an administrator can handle. That said, an employee’s utilization rate can be enlightening to both employees and managers, and keep everyone “in the know.”

2. Know the details

A high utilization rate doesn’t always tell the entire story. Fred has an overall utilization of 75%, but he’s logging most of his time to a low-paying client with ever-changing demands. Since he’s one of your top performers, you want him working on projects for your higher-paying clients.

Some software packages show you the utilization rate by project. This gives you the detail you need to make informed decisions.

3. Increase employee productivity

Many companies use utilization as a metric: if Max improves his utilization rate from 40% to 60%, he gets a bonus at the end of the quarter.

Max may work a bit smarter—spending time on billable projects and reducing time spent non-billable ones—since he knows that his utilization rate is being tracked.

At the same time, managers need to be realistic about utilization rates. A rate of 100% is unlikely, since there’s almost always some non-billable work employees do. Max will have to attend a status meeting or fill out some administrative form at some point during the quarter, neither is billable.

4. Improve project planning

Better your project planning with utilization rates. Say you have five employees working on a website design project, but they each have a utilization of about 50%. What’s going on?

Low utilization rates can alert you to the situation so you can inquire further. Maybe your demands are too high and have spread your employees too thin working on multiple projects along with several internal tasks.

Drucker’s quote resonates today because we live in the world of big data, where just about everything can be measured including utilization. It’s one way to help get the most from your employees and boost your company’s bottom line.

  • Jul 16,2018

It’s Thursday afternoon and your client calls, and wants to know if their website design project is on budget. A moment of panic sets in. It’s been awhile since you last monitored the project. You pull up your Resource Allocation Dashboard and see that it’s over budget by 100 hours, and you still have another month to go on the project.

It’s a common, but preventable, scenario. Sometimes the “management” part slides once a project is up and running. But that’s when the real work begins: from shifting allocated hours to adding or removing staffers from a project. You can do these things with BigTime’s resource allocation.

Resource allocation is the process of managing your resources, like staffers and budgets. Software, like BigTime, makes that process easier, but it’s up to you to take advantage of the benefits it offers. There are three simple ways to use resource allocation effectively. Read on to learn more.

1. Keep a Pulse of Staffers on Projects

It’s tough to figure out which staffers should go on what project. Among many things, you consider team dynamics and available talent. Inevitably, you’ll have to make tradeoffs: you can’t have your star software engineer on every project. Once you make these decisions, keep a pulse on your staffing assignments to make sure you’ve made the right decisions. You may need to move some staffers around.

Use the “view by staff member” feature to see if your staffers are within their capacity.

Based on the image above, Jason’s capacity is 40 hours (in gray font next to his name). However, some weeks he’s over capacity (indicated by the red totals) and others he’s under capacity (indicated by the green totals).

At the same time, keep an eye on the Key Members graph found on the Resource Allocation Dashboard. It’s a quick way to see which staffers are over their budgeted hours. Hover over a bar graph to get the exact numbers.

2. Expect Changes and Make Them

Planning for future projects is a benefit of BigTime’s resource allocation. But, as any project manager can attest, change happens: you plan for a project to start in December and once December hits the deadlines have changed and so have deliverables.

Easily tweak project plans with “shift allocations.” It’s a simple feature with a powerful effect: when project changes occur, as they inevitably do, shift allocations to another date without re-entering all of your data. Put another way, there’s no need to fear changes. We know they happen, which is why it’s easy to make them with BigTime.

3. Regularly Monitor Resource Allocation Data

Details matter in project management, and the best way to know project details is to check them regularly. We make this quick and easy to do.

One place to check often is your Resource Allocation Dashboard, which is updated in real time. If your staffers’ “actual” hours look particularly low for a project, you may want to see if they’re logging time to their timesheets each day.

Another way to get the details you need is by creating weekly or monthly resource allocation reports. We have several pre-built reports to make the process seamless. With these reports, you’ll identify which staffers are over and under capacity. Or you’ll notice gaps in your planning. For example, maybe you forgot to allocate hours to a project over a holiday week.

Resource allocation is a powerful tool that takes the guesswork out of business planning. Use the above suggestions to get the most of this tool and your BigTime experience.