Announcing systems@work Version 6

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Version 5 of systems@work’s time@work, expense@work and forms@work was released at the end of 2015. It contained a number of enhancements, most of them enthusiastically received and put to use.

Version 6 will be released in early July. It seems soon for a new major release, but the radical revision of the browser-based Professional Services Workbench warrants it. Gone are the variously muddy-coloured lists of functional options, to be replaced by dynamic tabs, panels, links, and shortcuts.

Our aim has been fourfold:

  • To comply with current standards and graphical fashions
  • To present the user more clearly with To Do lists for data submission and approval
  • To enable navigation with fewer clicks
  • To make navigation pages responses to the user’s device (responsive design)

The result is a Home Page (for time@work) that is more pleasant to look at and easier to use.

Version 6

And list pages that look more modern:

listpage.png

Version 6 will also contain the following enhancements:

  • A new reporting option that allows you to report on and export static data (such as Employees, Clients, Projects and Tasks). This will be of particular benefit for integration.
  • Credit Notes in the browser-based PSW
  • Enhanced emailing options for Invoicing, including an option to select an Employee as a destination and to allow emailing to multiple email addresses
  • Workflow Control for Timesheets to allow diversion of a timesheet from one authoriser to another

 

Keeping an Eye on Projects

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Whether you’re a lawyer, an IT consultant, an engineer, or working in PR, architecture, or for an advertising agency, or indeed any other kind of professional service organisation, it is your time that is probably the chief determinant of project cost, and the fees that your firm will charge to your customers. Sometimes it’s a matter of adding up all the time you’ve reported in your timesheet and multiplying it by a fee rate; sometimes your firm will have estimated how much time is needed for a project and calculated a fixed price for a well-scoped piece of work. In both cases, it’s never quite as simple as you would wish it to be. Sometimes there’s time you can’t charge, and very often a fixed-price project takes more time (and very occasionally less time) than planned.

If you’re working for a professional services company and you’re in a position of responsibility you’ll be familiar with these month-end questions:

‘How much of your Work in Progress (the time you haven’t yet billed) will you be able to bill? How much is it really worth?’

‘How is your fixed price project going? Do you expect it to take more time or less time than planned? ‘

You’re asked these questions especially sternly by your firm’s Finance Director, since he or she is responsible for calculating revenue for the month that’s closing, and revenue depends on the value of the project time that you’ve reported for the month. This is not just a matter of multiplying time by fee rate.

At year-end it’s even more important, since it’s your annual P&L that statutory and corporate auditors will analyse, and if you’re not too careful your managers will defer serious consideration of the value of Work in Progress and the progress of Fixed Price Projects until then. That can mean unpleasant surprises in the last month of the year.

At LLP Group we use systems@work’s time@work to keep an eye on what’s going on. Adjustments to Work in Progress value and the value of time in Fixed Price Projects are tracked as discounts or uplifts to the values that are calculated from timesheets. We can track how these values are discounted or uplifted when billed or written off, and we can track when this is done.

It’s never pleasant to discount work, but it’s some consolation when it’s done steadily throughout the year, rather than all in the last month. Take this report, for example:

project virtue

This, from one division of the company, shows the month in which work was executed down the left y-axis and the month in which the  value of time was increased or decreased along the top x-axis. What we see is that the value of time is written up or written down in the month in which it is recorded, or a month or two later. This is virtuous. This division doesn’t execute many fixed price projects and doesn’t hold Work in Progress for long.

lessvirtuousThe matrix, above, shows data for another division, one which executes more fixed price projects. It’s clear that decisions about the write down or write up of time are made sometimes many months after time is recorded, and as year-end approaches large values are written off. This is less virtuous.

If you’re running a professional services organisation this is the kind of tool you need if you want to avert unwelcome surprises.

When it comes to Fixed Price Projects you might also track the estimates that your project managers give you and track time recorded on the project (green), planned time (blue), and evolving estimated time (orange).

In this case, below, the project manager has seriously underestimated the number of days’ consulting that the project requires. As the project progresses he or she estimates more and more work. The result is that the achieved project rate is nearly 40% lower than the planned rate of 500. It’s probably loss making.

FPP

In the more complex case, below, the project has been ‘sold’ on the basis of ‘planned’ time, and as the project progresses the client adds additional scope and additional planned time (though not at the same fee rate). Time estimated by the project manager for the whole project gradually exceeds planned time. The Rates graph shows how the planned daily rate for the project is reduced as the scope of the project increases, and the actual achieved daily rate also declines.

FPP changing project

Whatever kind of service you’re selling, it’s essential that you keep track of the value of Work in Progress and the progress of Fixed Price Projects every month of the year.

Undergoing Analysis

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It’s a well-worn truism of business systems that there’s no point in a report if it doesn’t change what you do. If you’re to control something you must measure it. Conversely, if you don’t need to control something, then there’s no point in measurement.

Even so, for nerds like me, there might be some pleasure in measurement. Analysis for its own sake.

I love statistics. I am an out-of-the-closet nerd. At school, although I was no genius at mathematics, I wasn’t bad at it either, and I took particular pleasure in statistics, the art of deriving meaning from apparent chaos (yes, and lies too, as they suggest). Whilst I’ve forgotten most of what I knew (nowadays I don’t know my mean from my median) I still love the idea of distilling something interesting, if not useful, from vast reservoirs of data (I think the fashionable term is BIG DATA).

analysis

Over a decade ago my company LLP Group sponsored a music competition in the Czech and Slovak Republics. We traipsed around both countries with a jury of four distinguished teacher/musicians, one from each category (strings, woodwind, brass and keyboards) and we listened to nearly two hundred young musicians. We had a relatively simple scoring system that delivered a single number between zero and ten for each player, and at the end of the tour, we promoted the top four from each category to the semi-finals.

I ran the scoring system using an Access database of my own devising, and every morning after I’d crunched the previous day’s numbers I’d produce a report for each juror, laying bare the unconscious stirrings that influenced his or her preferences. I was particularly keen to analyse these biases – a preference for Slovaks or Czechs (nationalism is always a danger in this part of the world), a preference for their own category of instrument, a preference for men or women (numbers I didn’t make public) and their average score and standard deviation. In the case of average score I had great difficulty in convincing them that the lower the average the less influence they might have on the final result. As for standard deviations, they didn’t like the sound of that at all.

Nationalism was a clear bias, unsurprisingly, but I found that each juror was biased not for, but against his or her category of instrument, as if he or she knew exactly where to find fault. As for bias towards men or women, this was fascinating, but I was careful to keep the sometimes surprising results to myself.

The systems@work part of LLP Group produces software for professional services management, which I design, and we’ve implemented the system across the group. In idle moments I speculate on certain questions such as ‘Is utilisation different on different days of the week?’ and ‘Is realisation related to the length of a client engagement?’ Utilisation is a measure of how much available time a consultant spends on client-directed work. Realisation is a measure of how much client-directed work is finally billable. I’m not sure that one can do anything with this knowledge, but it’s fun, and when I looked at all the reports in our system the other day I came across some of the reports I’d idly written a year or two ago to answer these two questions (it must have been a rainy winter weekend).

Here for example, you can see that utilisation is slightly lower on Mondays and Fridays. No surprise there, I suppose. What could one do about it? Well, maybe make Monday and Friday six-hour, rather than eight-hour days, making the midweek days longer ones?

Utilisation

 

And here you can see that average realisation is not significantly a function of engagement length.

realisation

time@work can do all of this (and less!). And no doubt more. Utilisation by nationality, by sex, by age, by client sector? Average engagement length by season? Hmmm…work to do!

 

For me this is fascinating, but perhaps it is I who should undergo analysis.

 

 

 

On Systems Integration – How to reduce the risk?

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A couple of days ago I wrote about the challenges of systems integration, and the advantages and disadvantages of Best-of-Breed and Fully Integrated Solutions.

See Systems Integration.

If you’ve chosen the Best of Breed approach, how can you reduce the risks of integration, and design systems that enable integration that’s as ‘seamless’ as it can be? 

integration 2

The first way is to keep things simple. Don’t integrate the impossible. In my experience of business systems, which is largely with financial, manufacturing, expense management and professional services management systems, integration usually involves a ‘front-office’ system that reflects the special needs of an organisation, and a financial system.

I’ve come across two main reasons why organisations choose to do this:

  • Some ‘front-office’ systems, such as our systems@work software, don’t include accounting modules. This is deliberate, in that they aim to work with any system.
  • Some ‘fully-integrated’ systems don’t possess powerful enough accounting modules to meet organisations’ corporate, management or statutory reporting needs in every country in which they operate.

In many instances I’ve found myself working on the integration of, for example, hotel management systems, or time@work (our timesheet, expense, planning and billing system for professional services organisations) with back-office accounting systems.

The synchronisation of ‘reference data’, those core data items such as ’employees’, ‘products’, ‘projects’, ‘departments’, even ‘accounts’, is usually handled manually, though on occasion automatically too (if automation is cost effective) with ‘slave’ and ‘master’ well defined.

When it comes to transactional data it is usually the ‘front-office’ system that is passing data to the ‘back-office’, and rarely vice versa, the back-office accounting system being essentially more ‘passive’. Even if this transfer is done periodically rather than daily, it is not so difficult to ensure reconciliation.

In all of these cases integration is relatively easy. Data flow from ‘front’ to ‘back’. But the integration of manufacturing systems with accounting systems is much more difficult, and although I have done this too, there are areas, such as ‘costing’ (the determination of the ‘actual’ cost of a product) where the task becomes much more complex. Costs of raw materials, components and semi-finished items, often based on accruals, may already have been transmitted to the accounting system, and will usually need subsequent revision as further costing details are obtained. Techniques such as standard costing can alleviate problems of this kind, and data may still flow generally in one direction, from the manufacturing to the financial system, but the number of transactions and the reasons for passing data are many more.

Where, first, to record transactions?

More complex questions also arise when you must decide where to record various types of transaction. In which system, for example, should supplier invoices be booked? Most organisations prefer to record similar transactions in just one place in order to avoid mistakes and to simplify procedures for the finance department. But the data derived from supplier invoices may be needed by both systems.

In the professional services world, supplier invoices are often recharged to customers, so supplier invoice data are needed in the professional services modules. If they are first booked there, then the question arises as to whether it make sense to book, say, utility invoices there also, rather than directly into the financial system’s accounts payable module?

In the manufacturing world, supplier invoices contribute to the cost of products, so must find their way either by direct initial input or through integration into the manufacturing system’s database.

The choice of where to enter data is further clouded by the fact that many ‘front-office’ systems are less well adapted to meet the burdens of statutory reporting, such as VAT reporting, and do not capture the information required for this purpose.

Transaction History

You must also make sure that modifications of data are achieved through additional transactions rather than through change to existing ones (the original values thereby being lost). You always need to know the before and after status of data. This is commonplace in most transaction systems, such as accounting systems, where posted journals are not usually modifiable. Corrections and any other kind of value changes are achieved through new journals. This is important because you must always know exactly which transactions have been transferred during integration, and once passed to another system, a transaction must not change.

Marking as Passed

It is also essential that there be some way of determining whether integration processes have been executed in respect of particular data. If you’re exporting transactions from one database to another you need either to be able to mark a transaction as exported or to store details of exported transactions in a separate table. And, of course, assuming that you have taken note of the second rule of integration, and as noted earlier, a transaction that has been exported should never change its value.

Date and Time Stamp

Make sure that all transaction data are ‘date and time stamped’. This isn’t essential, even if it is wise, in a ‘fully integrated’ system because processes are executed fully and at once and any processes that depend on the evaluation of data at the time of processing will of necessity evaluate that data correctly. But if a process is split between systems and cannot therefore be completed fully and at once any data evaluation may be influenced by later transactions and processes. Separated processes therefore need some other way of determining how to evaluate data ‘as of’ a particular date and time.

In a final post we will look at how software systems should be developed with integration in mind.

Thoughts on Measuring and Managing Professional Services Organisations

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Over the last three months I’ve posted several extracts from my book Eight Measures for Professional Services Management. Here’s a compilation of them all:

tape measure

Telling the Truth About Time

Four Important Design Principles

What to Measure if What You’re Selling is Time

Utilisation

Standard Fee Variance

Activity Variance

Realisation

Standard Cost Variance

Work in Progress Days

Overhead Variance and Debtor Days

Motivating Professional Staff – Team Members

Motivating Professional Staff – Team Leaders and Project Managers

Motivating Professional Staff – Business Unit and Company Managers

Interdepartmental or Intercompany Charging – Theory

Interdepartmental or Intercompany Charging – Practice

Summary of Recommendations

Download the whole thing from here:

Eight Measures for Successful Professional Services Management

Some Recommendations for a Professional Services Organisation

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Recommendations from my book Eight Measures for Successful Professional Services Management:

8Measures

Telling the Truth about Time

  1. Encourage staff to record time accurately, and make it clear that time recorded and time invoiced are different concepts
  2. Collect timesheets weekly
  3. Record time to the nearest appropriate unit (six minutes, quarter of an hour, half an hour, etc.) that does not encourage under reporting

Utilisation

  1. Distinguish between chargeable utilisation (based on projects that are directly charged to external clients) and utilisation (which includes valuable internal projects). These different measures are important when it comes to motivation.
  2. Exclude planned absences (holidays, training, etc.) from available time so that trends in utilisation are unaffected by seasonal absences
  3. Adjust available time for staff who have other responsibilities besides project work
  4. Control internal projects rigorously to avoid the ‘dumping’ of time onto internal projects that count as utilised time

Thirteen Obstacles to Good Utilisation

Increase utilisation by:

  1. Planning ahead, based on well-informed estimates, avoiding dependencies that lie outside your control
  2. Ensuring a clear view of staff availability, skills and experience
  3. Not having quite enough staff, using external staff when necessary
  4. Sharing staff between departments, business units and companies
  5. Penalising clients for postponements and cancellations, as far as good relations permit
  6. Insisting on assignments of appropriate length (whole days, half days, etc.), as far as good relations permit
  7. Finding ways to incentivise clients to buy your spare time, or to bring assignments forward
  8. Clarifying your understanding of what kinds of time are chargeable (research, travel, corrections,  etc.), and documenting this understanding in a Services Charter
  9. Analysing and improving staff time management
  10. Never do tomorrow what you can do today

Standard Fee Variance

  1. Calculate standard fee rates by grade/role and business unit, these being the fee rates that you will use as a basis for forecasting revenue (but note that standard fee rate will be the rate before the effect of realisation on the forecast)
  2. Record your ‘assumed’ or ‘implied’ rates for fixed price projects so that you can monitor variances from standard fee rates for fixed price projects as well as for time and materials projects

Realisation

  1. Record all time against each project honestly, even if the time is clearly not chargeable
  2. Scope well
  3. Estimate well

Standard Cost Variance

  1. Calculate standard costs by business unit and grade rather than by individual, to avoid inadvertent disclosure of confidential information
  2. Calculate standard project cost by dividing all directly allocable employment costs by available days and increase to reflect planned utilisation
  3. Calculate standard availability cost only if you think it worthwhile to track an availability variance
  4. Calculate standard working cost only if you think it worthwhile to track employment cost variance separately

Motivation and Measurement

  1. Recognise that everyone is motivated in different ways and that motivation is rarely a matter only of material reward
  2. Where material motivation is appropriate:
    1. Motivate professional staff 40% by utilisation (not chargeable utilisation), 40% by team gross margin variance from plan, and 20% on qualitative measures
    2. Motivate team leaders 40% by utilisation (not chargeable utilisatiion), 40% by team gross margin variance from plan, and 20% on qualitative measures
    3. Motivate project managers 40% by project realisation, 40% by project gross margin and 20% on qualitative measures. Ensure that project managers and more senior staff are involved in estimating, scoping, and agreeing between themselves a reasonable project plan irrespective of the commercial decisions made by commercial and sales staff
    4. Motivate business unit managers on the basis of gross margin variance from plan, including sales and account management costs, excluding overhead costs which they do not control
    5. Motivate company managers on the basis of P&L variance from plan

Intercompany and Interdepartmental Charging

  1. Don’t implement a completely ‘free market’ for the buying and selling of time between companies and departments unless you are prepared to manage the contentious atmosphere this might engender and the complex administration it will imply
  2. Cross charges should always be chargeable from supplying to consuming entity unless the execution of work is clearly unacceptable. It is for the consuming entity to accept the risk (and associated margin) that comes with project estimation and management.
  3. Avoid situations where project management is outsourced to a supplying entity, since this confuses the responsibility and financial impact of poor management
  4. Calculate cross charges for externally chargeable projects based on a standard uplift on standard project cost, so that there is a margin both for the supplying entity (which bears the employment risk) and the consuming entity (which bears the project risk)
  5. Calculate cross charges for internal projects based on a lower uplift on standard project cost, so that there is a margin for the supplying entity (which bears the employment risk) and a reasonable and acceptable (because unrecoverable) cost for the consuming entity

Revenue Recognition, WIP and Provisions

  1. Calculate WIP for management accounting purposes on the basis of net realisable value, not on the basis of cost
  2. Always calculate WIP provisions and revenue on fixed price projects properly every month to avoid unpleasant surprises
  3. Base revenue recognition on a project manager’s estimate of days to go (reviewed by senior management) at task level as well as project level, if possible

Expenses

  1. Record and recover project expenses as rapidly as possible
  2. Make sure that it is clear to the client what expenses he will be charged
  3. Make sure that all unrecoverable expenses associated with a project are properly recorded against a project so that a more accurate P&L can be created by project

Planning and Budgeting

  1. Annual budgeting, assuming that you cannot forecast actual project work a year ahead, should be based on capacity, standard fees, planned utilisation, planned realisation and planned costs

Profit and Loss

  1. A profit and loss statement is only of use to an individual inasmuch as it contains values that are under the control of the individual
  2. Allocate direct costs and revenues to projects and tasks as transactions occur, including sales, account management and marketing time and cost, if possible. Don’t bother to allocate higher level overheads or variances at a lower level. Don’t allocate team overheads across projects, don’t allocate business unit overheads across teams, and don’t allocate company overheads across business units.

Eight Measures for Professional Services Organisations – No. 2 – Standard Fee Variance

In this series of articles I am looking at how to measure the performance of a professional services organisation (PSO). I assume, perhaps ambitiously, that all PSOs engage in some kind of planning, forecasting or budgeting process, so that a certain level of profit can be anticipated.

  • Actual results may differ from the plan due to:
  • Lower or higher than planned utilisation of staff
  • Lower or higher fee rates than planned
  • Lower or higher realisation (conversion rate of fee value to revenue through invoicing)
  • Lower or higher overall activity than planned
  • Lower or higher staff costs than planned
  • Lower or higher overheads than planned

It is important to understand which of these factors are at play in your actual results. This article deals with ‘standard fee variance’.

std fees

The idea of ‘standard fees’ may be an alien one. What I don’t mean by ‘standard fees’ is a price list that you might optimistically publish to your clients. What I mean is the fee rates on which your financial plans are based, and which, if you exceed them, could mean more profit (all other things being equal), and which, if you fail to meet them, could mean lower profit or even losses. They are central to budgeting, financial planning, and revenue planning in a professional services organisation.

One of the reasons for reticence about standard fees is that budgeting costs is a much easier task than forecasting revenue, especially if you’re assuming that your professional service team is fixed in number. But your finance director and your shareholders aren’t likely to be satisfied with a cost budget without a revenue forecast.

How can you approach forecasting?

The first thing is to understand the constraints:

  • You cannot achieve what is physically impossible. By this I mean that you cannot earn more revenue than your staff are capable of earning. Their working days are limited and utilisation has an upper limit.
  • You cannot charge fees that the market will not support.
  • You must make a profit.The first constraint sets an upper limit on the number of days your staff can work, and therefore the number of fee-days that can be charged.

Standard Fees can be defined in this way:

Standard Fees, usually associated with grades, roles, and business streams, are target fee rates on which revenue forecasts have been built.

They should take no account of any effects of realisation (of failure to realise, as revenue, the full value of time). Realisation is a separate measure.

There are two approaches to the determination of standard fees:

  •  You can start with cost and multiply it (assuming a target gross margin %) to arrive at fee rates, or
  • You can start by considering what the market will bear.In reality, whichever method you start with, you will have to look at the numbers from both points of view.

Starting with costs and an assumed utilisation rate you may arrive at a rate that the market will not sustain. Starting with what the market can bear you may discover that your gross margin (after realisation has increased or decreased your revenue) is insufficient.

In these cases there are only two alternatives:

  •  Reduce costs
  • Increase revenuesHow?CostsAssuming that overhead costs are under control, the only costs we can be seriously concerned with are the costs of professional staff. How can these be reduced?
  • By increasing utilisation. If this can be done then more fee days can be achieved to offset costs, but this is only possible if the market allows it, and if realisation is unaffected.
  • By increasing realisation. If this can be done then more revenue will be achieved from the same fee days.
  • By employing staff at lower salaries. This takes some time to achieve, and can only be a long-term goal. It may also threaten the quality of the work you do and, in turn, the realisation you achieve.
  • By changing the balance of fixed salary and bonus so that employment costs reach budgeted level only if utilisation and revenue increase.Revenues
  • By using more sophisticated fee rate structures. Fee rates are usually associated with employee grades, and are even published, on occasion, to clients. They are like hotel ‘rack rates’ in that they represent the highest rate the PSO charges. They should usually be pitched higher than the average fee rates that you’ve assumed in your forecasting, since most clients see them as the starting point for downward negotiation.But you can set your rates more cleverly if you break the fixed link between an employee’s grade and the rates you charge. It is often better to charge on the basis of role since an employee may be capable of more roles than one, and you may thus be able to increase the average fees you charge.

Whatever techniques you adopt in anticipation of challenging margins, or in search of increased profit, you will forecast on the basis of an average or target or standard fee rates that you believe can be achieved. This fee rate will probably be associated with an employee, or more typically, with a group of employees, by grade or default role.

In complex PSOs that work across international boundaries, and which may contain more than one business stream, you will probably associate standard fees with combinations of grade, business stream and company (or country), especially if markets are substantially different in each of these. But you may choose any other meaningful combination of criteria against which to hold your standard fee rates, as long as comparison with actual rates remains possible. As with all systems, however, it is sensible to keep complexity at bay if possible. This is no exact science. Think always in terms of what you will do with the information that you hope to obtain.

As long as you can achieve actual fee rates that are close to your standard fees then your PSO should meet its planned profits (as long as all other measures are as planned).

If your rates are higher or lower than planned then a variance will emerge between the value of your fees if they were calculated at standard fee rates, and your actual fees.

Standard FeeVariancecan be defined as follows:

  • Standard Fee Variance measures the difference between actual fees charged to clients and the standard fees that would be charged for the same work, these also being the rates on which revenue forecasts have been built. They may usefully be analysed by Grade, Role, Business Stream, Department, Company and any other useful segmentation.
  • Actual Rates on fixed price

This definition of standard fee variance depends on the concept of actual fee rates. So let’s look in a little more detail at this concept. Actual rate is a simple enough concept in the case of time and materials projects, when every second of professional work is potentially chargeable. But how do we handle fixed price projects when there is typically a lump sum for a project or subdivision of a project?

You might think that it is meaningless to associate standard rates with fixed price projects. After all, revenue doesn’t depend in any way on how much time you spend on the project. Nor does it depend on who executes the work.

But this is a fallacy. If you are not imagining notional rates associated with the staff you plan to deploy on the project then you’re entertaining a very risky proposition, because you have arrived at a price without any calculation at all. True, you could claim, on the other hand, that you are fully aware of costs. And in this case, that’s fine, since you’re relating potential revenue to potential costs, and effectively defining rates as marked up costs. This is a slightly different method, but the result is the same.

You can think of it in two different ways:

You can determine a discounted or uplifted rate proportional to standard fee rates and apply this to estimated days.

Alternatively, you can uplift costs in proportion:

It doesn’t much matter which method you choose. Both deliver a notional fee rate that can be compared with standard fee rates to determine standard fee variance.

And once you can monitor standard fee variance you can act on it. Because, all other things remaining constant, if your actual fees are lower than standard fees then your profits are under threat. If they are higher, then you’re doing well.

Standard Fee Variance is a useful leading indicator of how well you’ve judged the market. If you have overestimated your rates then you must use all the tools at your disposal, as listed earlier, to claw back profitability:

  • By increasing utilisation
  • By increasing realisation
  • By reducing staff costs
  • By reducing overhead costs
  • By negotiating fees more aggressively and cleverly

Who would have thought it?

In the 1980s when I was a programmer and consultant at Hoskyns in London I was invariably the last to fill in my weekly timesheet. I hated timesheets. They were an unreasonable intrusion. How I spent my time, I felt, was no one’s business but my own, as long as I was doing a good job.

Now, thirty years later, I’m the designer of a timesheet system and I go around the world telling everyone how important timesheets are. Who would have thought it?

So many of our youthful enthusiasms and prejudices seem unreasonable as we age. Platform heels, cheese-cloth shirts, transcendental meditation, Chianti flasks with candles, the music of John Cage, Tony Blair, all seem inexplicable enthusiasms now. How odd It seems that I thought it was no business of my employer to know how I spent my working time.

Platform Shoe

But getting consultants to fill in their timesheets is just the first battle of many if you’re managing a professional services firm. Getting your consultants to tell the truth is the second and larger battle. These are some of the voiced and unvoiced reasons why consultants don’t record time accurately:

  • ‘I always put eight hours. It’s the easiest thing to do.’
  • ‘I didn’t feel I could charge the client. I don’t think the work I did was really worth what he’d have to pay.’
  • ‘I don’t want my boss to see that it took me so long.”
  • ‘I never charge more than a whole day, even if I work extra hours.’
  • ‘It’s a fixed price project and there aren’t any hours left.’
  • ‘I don’t like to charge for time I spend on research. The client expects me to know what I’m talking about.
  • ‘It was only a few minutes work. Not worth recording, surely.’
  • ‘It’s an internal project. No one minds how many hours I record against it.’
  • ‘I made a little mistake on the project. It really didn’t take me long to put it right.’
  • ‘I wanted to make it really perfect, so I spent some of my own time on it.’
  • ‘I know we need more work of this kind, and we won’t get it if we’re completely honest about how long it takes.’
  • ‘I won’t get my bonus if I don’t hit 35 chargeable hours a week.’
  • ‘This client doesn’t care how much we charge. The other one does. So I put all my time on the first one.’
  • ‘The work was useful for two of my clients, so why not record it twice. We can charge them both.’
  • ‘I can’t record time correctly because the law doesn’t allow me to work overtime.’

You can penalise staff who don’t submit their timesheets by reducing their bonuses or applying some other harsh measure. Making sure they tell the truth is a matter of explanation and encouragement.

But without knowing how long tasks take you’ll never know if you are charging too much or too little for the work you do, and you’ll never know if you’re staff are working too hard or just idling their time away.

So, try to convince your staff that timesheets must be done on time and must be truthful. And if there’s a young man in platform heels and a cheese-cloth shirt listening to some weird modern music, and scowling, tell him to grow up!