How Service Companies Can Increase Project Visibility with ERP

Jalene Ippolito October 17, 2013

Visibility matters a great deal when it comes to project management. Knowing that you have a great team handling any particular project doesn't make up for being in the dark about the details. If you have to wait for a regular status report to see how the costs and timeline match up with the projections, you're headed for trouble.

Typically, only the Project Manager has instant visibility into the status of a particular project. Ask them for any information and they will likely have the details at their fingertips. It's the natural advantage of being involved in every aspect of that one project, day in and day out. It's what a good Project Manager is expected to do.

The challenge is to take that level of visibility and kick it up the chain, where higher-level managers can review in the context of the other projects they're  managing.

For example, consider a management consulting company that has offices around the globe. Each Project Manager has their own payroll and expense costs to manage, their own legal environment to operate in, and their own deliverables schedule to oversee. But what they don't know is how the details of their project look in context with the half-dozen other projects the company has on the go at the same time. That's the job of the executives who need instant visibility into all the company's projects so they can make decisions to keep them all on schedule and under budget.

The specific projects may change over time, but the need to see how they're all progressing never does. We get that, because we're a project-based company, too. We couldn't give our customers visibility into their implementation project if we hadn't already put our own house in order!

How do you achieve project visibility?

First things first – you need to have the right systems in place. If you're still managing your projects and operational data (accounting, payroll, etc.) in separate systems, it will be tough to get true visibility. This is where an ERP solution like NetSuite comes into play. It pulls your core business functions into a single system, giving you the ability to evaluate progress in real-time – no more waiting to compile reports from multiple sources.

Each project will be represented on a GANTT chart that shows, at a glance, its progress against established milestones. You can view multiple projects simultaneously, or drill down one at a time if you prefer.

But visibility goes deeper than that. Because we're pulling together information from all areas of the business like payroll, accounting, sales and project delivery, you're able to compare and contrast different projects according to a number of benchmarks:

  • Actual vs. budget

  • Labour and overtime costs

  • Invoiced milestones

This data not only helps you keep current projects on track, it allows you to create more meaningful forecasts as well. Your sales force will know if you're at capacity and when you can start a new project. Your management team can predict when you'll need to hire more staff and what skill sets they'll need to fill the gaps.

All this, from a single dashboard on a single computer screen. Project visibility that is both broad (aggregating data across functional areas) and deep (for drilling down on the details). Having the ability to review labour and expense costs simultaneously without having to switch between several programs or get people from different departments on the phone at the same time – it's a game changer.

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