How We Manage Our Consulting Projects | Keeping it Simple

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when you hire a firm to do a project? We’ve been asked many times by our clients how we manage all of the stages and details of a project. Our philosophy…keep it simple and don’t over complicate the process.

A couple years ago, we wrote about how we manage projects and stay organized. After trying a few different software packages, we went with whiteboards. Simple, but visible and easy to update. As we have grown in size since then, in number of staff and projects, we needed an upgrade to make sure we can keep saying we have never missed a deadline or gone over-budget.

As before, any number of software packages are available that can provide a dozen different ways to track, analyze, and handle all aspects of your work. But we remain minimalist and want to use the simplest solution – not to mention avoid the expense of purchasing, learning, and maintaining new software.

So, to paraphrase Matt Damon from the Martian, we opted to spreadsheet the heck out of it. We are currently using three connected spreadsheets to cover our consulting work; one for proposals, one for projects, and one for our weekly workloads.

The proposal spreadsheet covers anytime we respond to a request. When a request comes in, we list the proposal title, client (typically the company), and contact name. Once submitted, we add the submittal date and proposed fee. The spreadsheet also includes columns for follow-ups, whether the proposal was won or lost, and the selection date. Any necessary notes (rare) can be added at the end of this information. Thus, we are able to see proposals in the works (no submittal date) or if we need to check on the proposal (typically two or three weeks after submittal for most proposals). Analytics we can get from the spreadsheet include the total number of proposals, the win/loss rate, the number of outstanding proposals, and the total worth of those potential projects. Here’s the screen shot of the top line of our proposal spreadsheet.

Proposal Spreadsheet

Once a proposal is successful and turns into a project, the basic information (title, client, contact) gets transfer to a new sheet. Our internal project number is added along with the date the project starts and the promised delivery date. When the project final reports or other deliveries are sent, we input that date. From this project spreadsheet, we can then calculate the total number of active projects, their total worth, expected invoicing in the next five weeks (our short look ahead), and the average delivery time before the deadline. Our goal for beating the promised date is two days ahead of time. Here’s the screen shot of the top line for the project spreadsheet.

Project Spreadsheet

Finally, we have our workload sheet. The project information is again transfer forward and placed atop standard project tasks. An internal deadline is added to the promised date for motivation. Based upon the size of the project, we estimate hours for standard task. Then, using color coding, project hours for the week are assigned to people (I’m Mr. Green). A separate table provides the sum of hours for each person (summed by color) and for other necessary tasks (proposals, content, time off, etc.) during the week. The result is shown below, which details everyone’s hours for the week and remaining hours left for each project.

Workload Spreadsheet1

We use a weekly consulting staff meeting to review the spreadsheet on the computer, deleting hours for tasks completed and updating colors/hours as we talk. A final print is prepared for everyone’s use to know where they should be directing their time.

While technology tools can be beneficial for many organization, there’s still a place for tried and true methods as well. However, as a small, nimble organization, low tech solutions serve us well without over complicating things. We still use dry erase boards for the quick snap shot of work without opening a computer, but these spreadsheets are a step up in organization and management for us. There will come a day when we need to implement other solutions to management project. In the mean, we are keeping the system simple like we prefer.

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