10 October 2018

The path to efficient project controlling in project-oriented companies - it all depends on the right software

Project controlling in project-oriented companies depends significantly on the ability to promptly and precisely record the project times that have been worked on for the project. On the one hand, this is important in order to create a target-performance comparison with the pre-agreed and planned project work. On the other hand, it is also important to be able to invoice the project work that has been done promptly and correctly. The larger the project volume, the more important the use of appropriate software becomes. The following examples from project-oriented companies provide an overview of how these companies proceed.

Everything (usually) starts with Excel

As a rule, project-oriented companies in the initial phase of their business operations rely on already existing "on-board tools" such as Microsoft Excel for time recording and Microsoft Word for creating invoices. For example, remember Sandra Gröning, Executive Assistant at the company PIM-Consult, a management consultancy from Hamburg specialising in product information management (PIM), remembers the initial approach to time recording and project controlling: "For each new project, a separate new Excel list was created at the beginning."

Jochen Weintz, Partner and Managing Director of Infocient Consulting GmbH, a certified SAP Partner with a focus on Business Intelligence from Mannheim, chose a similar approach in the early days of his company: "In the early days, Microsoft Excel was sufficient to create the corresponding activity reports on the project work done, and standard invoicing software was used to write the invoice. The client then received the invoice plus the printed Excel list as proof of activity. With only a few client projects per month, the effort was kept within limits".

I can do that myself: Develop time recording yourself

A different approach is chosen in particular by companies that have software development know-how themselves. Instead of relying on Microsoft Office products, these companies often simply programme their own application for time recording and project controlling in the beginning.

This confirms for example Markus Götsch, Partner and Project Manager in Geotechnical Engineering and Hydraulic Engineering at Geotechnik-Team, a company from Austria: "As engineers, we are naturally very tech-savvy and all have the corresponding programming skills. Time recording for our projects via pure Excel lists therefore seemed too banal to us from the beginning."

Nicole Balling, responsible for the areas of quotation, accounting and controlling at Commit GmbH, an IT project company from Leonberg, remembers: "In the beginning, time recording in the company was done quite classically via Excel lists, later we used a tool we developed ourselves based on Microsoft Access."

As projects increase, so do requirements and effort

However, as the project volume increases, project-oriented companies quickly realise that the initially chosen approach - Excel lists or in-house development - has reached its limits. Manual recording with Excel simply causes more and more effort for more and more projects.

Infocient Managing Director Jochen Weintz confirms in retrospect: "The previous largely manual workflow for time recording and accounting proved to be no longer feasible against the backdrop of an ever-increasing project volume and an ever-increasing number of employees. Soon it 'felt' like it was costing us a whole day just to gather the documents required for accounting."

According to Ms Gröning, PIM-Consult also very quickly came to the conclusion to look for an alternative to the previous MS Word/Excel combination. She explains: "At one point, it took almost two complete working days to settle just a handful of client projects."

Things don't work much better with self-developed software development. Companies often fail quickly because of their own requirements: As Nicole Balling from Committ explains, "For one thing, external employees didn't have access to the solution, which required time-consuming manual re-keying." On the other hand, the continuous further development of the solution required more and more time - without being able to meet all the requirements from the user side. "Something is always missing," Nicole Balling confirms the discrepancy between the required functionality and the available features of the in-house development.

And the company Geotechnik-Team also had to be taught better: Markus Götsch admits: "At some point, the effort for the further development of our own time recording solution became too much for us. We decided to focus on our main business in the future and look for an external solution for time recording."

Why a standard solution is the best alternative

As the above examples show, Excel lists and in-house developments may be an option in the early stages of a project-oriented company. But if the project volume or the number of employees then increases, the company should decide as soon as possible in favour of a standard software solution specifically designed for the areas of time recording and project controlling, because it offers clear advantages:

  • Extensive functionality: Instead of having to "struggle" with new functions themselves in an in-house development, companies can fall back on a multitude of existing functions that are continuously being expanded.
  • Automate manual tasks: On the one hand, this applies to the area of time recording. Instead of having to painstakingly enter every hour worked or project work into an Excel list, modern standard solutions today offer numerous user-friendly options for time recording: via a web-based user interface, via mobile apps, etc., via a web-based user interface.
  • Integration into project controlling and accounting: Time recording alone is not enough. On the one hand, these times must be analysed within the framework of project controlling. This is important for internal project management, but also for reporting to the client. In addition, the project work must also be accounted for. Today, modern standard solutions offer numerous interfaces for most invoicing programmes or corresponding invoicing modules, which make timely and precise invoicing possible and avoid errors in manual transmission.

ZEP can score on all three arguments and benefits in particular from the fact that it was designed from the outset as a solution specifically for project-oriented companies. And so it is no wonder that all the companies mentioned at the beginning ultimately decided to use ZEP as their standard solution for time recording and project controlling.