Michael S. Wilson

About Michael S. Wilson

Michael S. Wilson (Msc, PMP) is a Projects Controls specialist that has been delivering projects large and small for over 18 years. He's a strong believer in the power of information, communication and risk management as primary influencers determining a successful project. He's worked in Construction, IT and Utilities and is always full of ideas and creative solutions to some often tricky problems.

How do you Monitor Subcontractor Productivity?

If any part of executing on your projects includes hiring subcontractors to perform work for you, I’m sure you’ve run into many situations where you question whether or not some of them are any good. So, how do you measure that? How can you easily gather performance metrics on your subs so that you can make key decisions? Getting out of the Dark Being in the dark about whether your subs are performing to plan is a very common frustration for project managers. They may be out there working every day and appearing as though they’re making good progress, but then they mysteriously surprise you at the last minute that things are taking longer than expected. Of course, there may be good reasons for it taking longer; but maybe not. And maybe it would’ve been good to know that two weeks ago, instead of them coming to you with the last-minute stunner. Being able to objectively measure subcontractor productivity is critical for project managers, so that they can make key decisions to keep projects running smoothly. It’s more than just measuring productivity however; it’s also vital to also to benchmark what their productivity should be. Regardless of the type of subcontractor, you need to establish the planned daily progress, so that you can compare the actual daily progress against that.  But how do you do it? How do you objectively measure what they’re doing, as compared to what they should be doing? In this article, I’m going to discuss how the right software solution can provide you the platform for measuring Planned Versus Actual in terms of subcontractor performance. Not only that, but also provide real-time indicators of potential delays so

Do You Really Need That Cost Code?

Project Cost Code Planning – such a love/hate relationship we have with cost codes.  Project controls professionals can spend endless hours discussing, debating and tweaking the required codes for their project.  Understandably so, as there can be so many layers of complexity of how to design the right code structure. We get many questions from companies about what code structure is the right structure for them, and we spend a great deal of time working with them to help define it.  We often get asked if there’s a standard coding structure they can just lift from some standards body and simply use it. Or if we have one they can use, or what do other companies use, etc.  Unfortunately, there’s no single source where a robust project-level code of accounts is fully defined for public or paid-for access for every industry.  There are, however, some standards and samples that have been defined for a variety of industries published by, for example, the AACE (http://www.aacei.org/) and CSI (http://www.csinet.org) which can provide you a significant jump on defining the system that best fits your business.  You’ll need to be a member, but well worth it. Here are a few teasers that give you the idea: http://www.aacei.org/toc/toc_20R-98.pdf www.aacei.org/toc/toc_21R-98.pdf http://fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/build99/PDF/b99080.pdf It hurts me to tell you this, but beyond resources like that, you’re likely going to have to bear down, get into it, and define your own coding structure. However, I do have some good news for you.  If you’re using a cost management system, your coding efforts can be significantly simplified. And that’s because a software system that understands concepts like a Cost Breakdown Structure, Resource Codes, Discipline Codes, Material Codes, etc. – can do a tremendous amount

Mistakes Happen – Adjustments and the Clean-up Guys

With the hundreds of people entering data into the system every day, what are the chances that a day will ever go by when all the data is entered perfectly – without a single mistake? Pretty unlikely. The reality is, people get tired, careless and are often in a hurry. So, despite the many mechanisms in place in 4castplus to reduce the chances of errors, they still happen; and the need to elegantly deal with errors is an unavoidable certainty.  The 4castplus Adjustments module is one of the most widely-used features in the whole system. In this article I’m going to go through the what, why, when and how of putting in adjustments as an auditable way to make financially controlled data corrections. Why Adjustments? Before I dive into how to use adjustments, you may be wondering why a formal Adjustments module is needed at all; and what would be the benefits of it.  It’s not uncommon for organizations to move into 4castplus from using mostly spreadsheets to manage their day-to-day operations, so formalized adjustments may at first seem like unnecessary extra work. The convenient thing about spreadsheets is that when you need to make a change to something, you just go ahead and change it and that’s that. There’s no formality around it or real record around the change – you change it and it’s done. Quick & dirty. The challenge with that of course, is: There’s no auditability around the change. No documented reason, history or reporting available regarding that change. There’s no financial control. You may have already closed-out the month of May, for example, and then someone goes and changes a rate or cost-code on an entry that occurred in May.

4castplus e-LEM Solutions – Vendor Portal

Tracking Daily Costs from the Jobsite is challenging enough when you're tracking your own people. What about when you have to track your Vendor LEM costs as well? Getting all the daily cost data together from multiple sources can be a time-consuming and error-prone undertaking if you don't have a software solution to automate the process. 4castplus eLEM solutions for Vendor Tracking simplifies and streamlines the gathering and processing of daily jobsite costs. Check out the brief presentation below to get a glimpse of the new Vendor LEM Tracking and Portal. I think you're going to be amazed. 4castplus e-LEM vendor portal from 4castplus

EVM Explained: Planned Value

Many EV professionals would argue that Planned Value is one of the most important metrics in earned value analysis.  It provides the critical benchmark from which numerous other metrics are being compared. To give you an idea of what PV is, consider the example where you have a $1 million project that is scheduled to take 10 months to complete. An important aspect of project controls is to be able to plan out how that $1m will be spent over the 10 months. It obviously won’t be spent in one single lump. Neither will it be spent in an even, perfectly distributed rate over the 10 months. The project spend will follow an uneven pattern – loosely following the schedule of activities and purchases that occur over the project’s duration. Planning the budget over the project’s timeline is called Time-Phased Budgeting. Planned Value is the value of scheduled project spend at a point in time of a project's duration. Planned value is also referred to as Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS). Comparing Planned Value against Earned Value and Actual Cost Calculating Planned Value is dependent on there being a time-phased budget in place for the project. By time-phasing the budget, project controls can determine what the expected budget outlay is planned to be at any point during the project.  Once the project has been underway for two months for example, a PV calculation will tell you how much of that budget was supposed to have been spent by that point in time.  The answer, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is not 20% of that 10-month project. The calculation has to take into account every item or activity budgeted on the

That Crucial Bond between Project Controls and Project Procurement

On any major project there will be strong ties between Project Controls and Procurement to ensure there is sufficient budget to cover the requisitioned and committed costs issued onto purchase orders. The importance of this relationship can't be understated! Keeping a project on plan requires careful monitoring to make certain that the project's expenses are kept within budget. 4castplus provides the intrinsic links between procurement and project controls to enable a close bond between these two groups. This connection is described briefly in the explainer presentation below. If you have any thoughts on this, please feel free to leave a comment below and let us know what you think. Understanding the relationship between Budget and Procurement in 4castplus from 4castplus

Routing Jobsite LEM Data for Approval and Billing

One of the greatest challenges construction contractors face, is billing their client for work that happened at the Jobsite. With all the layers of data capture, approval, routing, costing, etc. that need to be taken care of for the billable data to make it to accounts receivable for invoicing; it's common for things to be missed, delayed or for errors to occur. The 4castplus solution for simplifying and streamlining this whole process is briefly described in the explainer presentation below. Please have a walk-through and let us know what you think. Routing Jobsite Field Data for Approval and Billing in 4castplus from 4castplus

Managing the Complexities of Labor Rate Rules

  Simplifying Rates Management What happens when a Journeyman works a 16-hour shift? Well, first, he goes home tired and hungry and very keen on a cold beverage or two. But on top of that, he’s also got a smile in the back of his mind about the overtime and double-overtime he just earned. So, how much overtime was that exactly? Calculating how much of that 16 hours was regular, OT and Double-OT, can depend on a number of legal and contractual factors. The challenge many organizations face is: who is responsible for knowing the rules of how to allocate their hours to the correct buckets? It’s often the case that that allocation is done by the site foreman right at the jobsite when he’s recording his crew’s hours at the end of the day. But why not just let payroll or AP figure that out? Waiting for payroll or accounts payable to figure it out later is typically not an option since the Site Foreman needs to get their daily LEM sheet signed by the client on that day. Composite Rates Management This leads me to the discussion around what we call “Composite Rates”. In 4castplus, the Composite Rate Type feature enables administrators to preconfigure the quantity split for how labor timesheet entries should be allocated according to company and labor standards.  By pre-configuring these rules, the site personnel that are recording hours are alleviated from having to look-up or just know these rules for each member of the crew. All the site foreman has to enter is the total quantity of hours, and the system auto-distributes that time into the appropriate rate categories – such as Hourly, Overtime and

Field Capture Solutions from 4castplus

Linking Budget and Schedule – it’s a Challenging Task

One of the first principles of project controls is that the project budget has to be time-phased over the duration of the project. Here’s why: It’s not enough to simply know the total budget for a project – it’s critical to also know when that budget is planned to be spent. In other words, each quantity of material, labor hour or subcontractor service that’s planned for the project, is planned to occur at a particular time on the project. Some of these budget items happen over a time-span – like a service – and some happen at a point-in-time – like the delivery of some material. Together, all of these budget elements result in a budget timeline. That timeline is typically represented by a curve that plays-out over the life of the project. See the chart to the right. Click to Enlarge. S-Curve chart showing Budget over timeline along with Actuals, Earned Value and Estimate to Complete. There is more than one way to time-phase a budget of course.  Nevertheless, what project controllers most often do to put their budget on a timeline, is establish a healthy connection between the project budget and project schedule. In theory, this should be a fairly straightforward exercise since both budget and schedule have a work breakdown structure (WBS) in common.  As you’ve probably guessed however, theory is just theory and in reality it’s not that simple. Schedulers have a very distinct view of a project’s WBS as compared to estimators or cost engineers. Schedulers view the project from the perspective of activities, duration, milestones, dependencies and critical path. Their version of a WBS includes things like milestone tasks, progressing tasks and events. Things that