7 May 2019

Seeing through the project jungle: time recording for companies in management consultancy

"Boom of management consultants continues unabated" - this was the headline of the Handelsblatt in its online edition mid-March 2019 referring to the latest turnover figures of the industry association BDU for 2018. The turnover of management consultancies in Germany rose by around seven percent to 33.8 billion euros last year. According to Handelsblatt, an end to the boom, which has already lasted for more than a decade, is not to be expected despite the economic slowdown that is expected in the meantime. The main reason for this optimistic forecast: the digital transformation, which is so profound that, according to the Handelsblatt, "it cannot simply be stopped even if the economy slows down."

E-mobility, online banking, e-commerce and the energy transition are just four examples of disruptive changes in core sectors of the German economy that have led to almost every company having to review its business model and adapt it accordingly. The fact that this business transformation poses major challenges for companies is exemplified by the German automotive industry in the tension between "Dieselgate", electric drives and new mobility concepts that may even completely call the car into question in its current form in the medium term.

Management consultancies: The view from outside, shortage of skilled workers, special know-how

And so it is precisely the so-called "digital topics" that have caused companies to bring in external consultants. As a rule, the relevant qualifications are lacking internally, and in addition, the internal view is often traditionally shaped, so the "view from the outside" is often the only way to identify deficits. Furthermore, the shortage of skilled workers has worsened drastically in recent years, especially in the digital professions. This shortage of qualified staff also affects management consultancies - BDU President Ralf Strehlau confirms: "The search for employees will remain the limiting factor in 2019" - but consulting firms are usually in a better position to compensate for this shortage through a stronger thematic focus. As a result, they can offer their consulting clients precisely the specialised know-how that they so urgently need.

Time recording and project controlling in management consultancy: the basis for entrepreneurial success

In order to be able to profit from the continuing boom in the industry, time recording and project controlling play a central role for management consultancies. Only if it is possible to record and account for the working hours worked on the various client projects in a timely and precise manner can the company's success be ensured. In addition, it is important for the project and management teams not to lose track of the various consulting projects, which usually run in parallel.

4 + 1: The typical consultant week

"4 + 1" as a typical characteristic of a consultant's week means that the consultant is usually on site with the client for four days and works in his office for one day - usually on Friday. On this day, all organisational matters have to be taken care of before going back to the client "on the road" on Monday. The meticulous recording of the working hours of the past week as well as the compilation and submission of receipts for travel expenses is really not one of the "favourite tasks" of a management consultant and is therefore often put on the back burner. But as long as working hours are not recorded, they cannot be accounted for.

The main feature of modern time recording for management consultancies must therefore be to enable mobile recording of working hours and travel expenses - via the internet or a mobile app. An important selection criterion is user-friendliness. The fewer clicks the consultant needs to record his times, the better.

As a management consultancy, Business Process Experts GmbH from Neu-Isenburg supports companies from the manufacturing industry as well as the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors in the conception and implementation of initiatives for business transformation. For time recording and project controlling, the company relies on the web-based solution ZEP - Time Recording for Projects. Katharina Bozem is responsible for project controlling at Business Process Experts. On the subject of user-friendliness, she explains: "The intuitive user interface of ZEP makes it very easy to get started with the solution without much prior knowledge. The work steps for entering the times are logically structured on top of each other, so that only little effort is required."

Time recording in project-oriented companies: More than just a time clock

In contrast to companies in industry or manufacturing, where time recording generally means recording when the employee starts and finishes work, in project-oriented companies time recording means additionally recording for which client and which project the employee has worked. Especially in management consultancies, it is more than common for a consultant to work for several projects of one client or even for different clients during one working day. The hours worked must then be assigned to the corresponding clients and/or projects - manually by the consultant himself or by mouse click via the corresponding time recording software.

Timely accounting and project controlling

Another important aspect of ensuring entrepreneurial success in management consultancy is the prompt billing of project working hours. As a rule, management consultancies work for several clients and a multitude of different projects at the same time. It is easy to lose track of this, especially if days or even weeks pass between the time when the work was done and the time when it is billed. It is better if the time recording software has interfaces or additional modules that enable prompt accounting. Example Business Process Experts and ZEP: Katharina Bozem uses the optionally available invoicing module of ZEP for invoicing. The system automatically takes over all times recorded in ZEP and combines them with the hourly and daily rates also stored in ZEP. The invoices are then also printed directly from ZEP.

The reminder function of the ZEP Invoice module informs Ms Bozem when invoices can be issued or when expenses have been incurred that have not yet been invoiced. So it cannot happen to Ms Bozem that she forgets to invoice recorded project times. Incoming payments are also recorded in ZEP. In addition, numerous evaluation functions are available, e.g. an overview of invoices issued, an open item list (invoices issued but not yet paid), an accrual of services on a key date based on billable booked working hours (unfinished services) or a turnover forecast.

At project and management level, as already mentioned, it is important not to lose the overview in the "jungle" of numerous projects. This applies in particular to the project status, but also to staff scheduling. In times of scarce personnel resources - keyword: shortage of skilled workers - it is especially important for those responsible for management consultancies to be able to get an overview at the click of a mouse of who is working on what and when, and how the available capacities can be optimally allocated to the ongoing projects. And so not only Ms Bozem uses the project controlling functions of ZEP at Business Process Experts, the management also regularly accesses these functions. She explains: "On the one hand, the evaluations at project level play a major role. In addition, the three partners also use the diverse reporting options at company level, such as forecasts on future business development."

For more information about how ZEP works, you can read here.