Chris R

About Chris Ronak

Chris Ronak has spent his career in software, project management and business in Canada, USA, Germany and the UK. His passions include music, food, family and friends - and has an intense commitment to delivering the kind of technology that truly helps businesses and people make strategic improvements.

The Innovative Customer

Having worked in technology for many years, I’ve come across numerous diverse opinions and positions on how best to make roadmap decisions on a software product. Well, in fact, I’ve come across a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Most people, I find, are quite full of opinions.  You might find this odd, but I actually get a lot of enjoyment out of listening to people’s opinions – regardless of the topic: politics, religion, food, music, the latest tablet, parenting, books, movies, sports and whatever else comes to mind. People can be quite interesting if you give them a chance to rant-on about any topic they feel passionate about. I don’t always agree with them, of course, but for the most part, it is interesting to listen.   Being in the business of delivering innovative technology solutions, the prioritization of new software features to build into a product is a very important aspect of our business. So listening to people has become a vital part of making those prioritizing decisions. Many in the technology world will however, strongly advise us to not listen to customers when it comes to setting the urgency of one feature over another. The thinking behind such a stance is that customers who are using the software on a day-to-day basis are only going to make suggestions/demands for features & fixes that will make their own little world a bit better. They’re not too concerned with long-term strategic planning.  So, as the thinking goes, if we expend all our development resources on tiny items that will help a handful of people - but will have negligible effect on the broader customer base (both current and future) - our software

Reduce Errors by Forecasting Regularly

Running forecasts on your project is an extremely powerful way to get critical insight into your project’s current status and projected final results.  Forecasts, however, do a lot more than that; especially if you run forecasts on regular intervals. Regularly forecasting is a key strategy for the project manager in any construction project. There are several reasons for this. First of all, entering percent complete on the tasks in your project is prone to some subjectivity and error. Regardless of how you go about determining percent complete – whether it’s pre-defined earning rules,  best-guess approach or team-based assessment – it’s practically impossible to know exactly how far along any task is. There are a number of techniques for mitigating the errors in applying percent complete – and we’ll talk about more of these in other articles – but one of these techniques lies is the power of executing forecasts on a regular basis. In 4castplus, forecasts are easy to do and provide a quick, high-value snapshot of where things are at right now in your project. What you may not have realized is that 4castplus also keeps a copy of all the information in your project as it was in that forecast period. So taking that snapshot means that all that information is preserved for historical reporting. If you run forecasts on, for example, a weekly basis, 4castplus will enable you run reports on the history of how your project progressed over time, on a week-by-week basis. Have a look at the screenshot below (click on it for a full view). It shows a summary-detail report that’s interactive for the user to click-through the forecast periods in a project. The detail report below shows all

The Walk of Shame

About a year ago I bumped into a former work colleague who I hadn’t seen in about 6 years. It prompted us to go have lunch to get caught up on life, family, business and everything else. His name was Dan. And since leaving our former employer, he went on to become CFO at a large construction & manufacturing company.  It was quite fortuitous for us to have reconnected because he was having a lot of struggles with his company’s projects suffering disastrous cost overruns & delays. “I get so frustrated,” he said as he knifed his steak sandwich. “it’s like they [the project managers] deliberately leave it to the end to figure out where things are at with their projects.” He was referring to how information flows to his financial group about the status of the various projects on the go in his company. “What’s the point in that? Why can’t we have those conversations six months earlier?” He waved his hands dismissively in the air as though he was at a complete loss as to what to do. “I used to think they were avoiding me.” He continued. “I figured they knew all along that it was bad news, and they didn’t want to have to face telling me. But now I know that they simply have no idea what’s going on until pretty late in the project. Essentially, until all the invoices have come in. Then it’s like, they just add up all the invoices and figure out what we owe. Then they come tell me. Is that normal?” Sensing that he was waiting for an answer at this point, I told him that it really isn’t all that uncommon for projects to

To Get Paid on Time – Organize Your Job Billing

End-of-month or end-of-week scrambles to get invoices together to bill your customers can be a soul-wrenching hassle. Especially when the systems you have to do your job billing are spread out between spreadsheets, paper, a stack of invoices & purchase orders and some reports from financial.  Sitting in a dark office on a Friday night, trying to reconcile it all into invoices while your buddies are at the hockey game – isn’t the best use of your time. On top of that, you’re faintly hoping that, fingers crossed, your customers don’t dispute or find discrepancies with them this time – and you can for once get paid within 30 days. Chances are, though, if everything doesn’t line-up perfectly, there will be phone calls, corrections and the payment will end up being over 120 days.   Invoicing in construction projects has its share of complications that aren’t found in other businesses. Progress draws, holdbacks, time & material transaction billing, retainage, flowing through 3rd party direct costs, split-billing, all the complexities around markup on materials & equipment, and much more. Add to that, the knocks to a company’s reputation that go along with invoicing mistakes, double billing or missed billing. To get it right and keep it simple requires a highly organized, flexible and thorough solution.   Ultimately, everyone’s in business to get paid, and to get paid on time.  Companies and projects can come to an abrupt and grinding halt if they struggle with cash flow issues.  A number of years ago, a very smart man – a man who was seasoned in building many businesses – pointed his fat, hard-working finger at me and said, “You can get a lot of things wrong, but you

Mike is an Excel Pro

When I first met Mike he was a senior project manager at a seismic services company that operates large 3D seismic shoots all over North America. Mike was an Excel pro. He planned & tracked those seismic shoots with pretty decent precision considering the size of the projects – and especially considering he did it using a collection of about 6 spreadsheets. Unfortunately for Mike however, he had no idea that he was spending about 30 extra hours every week just on spreadsheet management. In addition to the extra time, it also wasn’t clear to him that there was very little ROI on that effort since the solution that he’d built was achieving only minimal results. The challenge for Mike – and many others like him – was that he had invested so much time and personal emotional equity in the creation and management of his solution, that the idea of abandoning his dear spreadsheets for a better, more efficient solution was like asking him to drown babies. In our first meeting, he presented his solution to a boardroom full of his colleagues as well as a couple of us 4castplus guys. His presentation took just under an hour, and during that time, there were surprisingly few questions asked. It became clear why by the end: everyone in the room had a jaw-dropping stunned look on their face at the sheer complexity and enormity of his solution. He, on the other hand, was excited and quite proud of his major accomplishment and appeared to be expecting a round of applause.  It was practically impossible to truly understand his whole process. There were so many parts to it; and so much movement of data, and copying

Do you Face the Pain?

  When you see something wrong in your organization, do you fix it? Or are you more the type to ignore it and hope it goes away? In our business we come across quite a number of people who are more the breed that put off making any needed changes in their organization until they’re drowning deep in pain and frustration. It’s bad enough sometimes that they reach a point where they need a rescue line to bail them out. It’s not uncommon for organizations to go through a period of growth where they become far too busy to address the numerous challenges that go along with that growth.  Instead of confronting the creeping deficiencies as they appear, they side-step the obvious and hope for the best. That is – until these deficiencies result in what I call a “Defining Event”. A defining event could be any number of undesirable results (catastrophic even) such as: a project that went way over budget; a legal dispute with an owner or subcontractor; an embarrassing shortfall in productivity or performance; loss of business; safety incident; etc.   There are a load of reasons why people avoid addressing the pain head-on.  First of all, people are born procrastinators. It’s pretty rare for someone to fix something before it becomes a real problem, even though they know that the longer they dodge the issue, the bigger problem it becomes. People also fear change. Even though they may be very aware that their current methods are inefficient, difficult, error-prone and time-consuming, these failing methods are a pain they know. A familiar pain that they’ve just learned to deal with – and for some reason the perceived pain of fixing it seems

Top 5 Advantages of Cloud-based Construction Software

  With all the buzz recently about cloud based construction software, I’m sure many business owners and project managers are wondering if it’s the right fit for their business. So I thought I’d jot down a few of the considerations with adopting software in-the-cloud. You might first be asking why it’s suddenly emerged that the cloud is all the rage. The answer to that is it really comes down to timing. The idea of cloud computing has existed for many years; but it was only about five or six years ago that the technology and infrastructure were in a mature enough state to truly support complex applications that were web-based and hosted in the cloud. Prior to that, software like Facebook, Gmail and online trading systems were about as complex as you’d want to go. Today, however, that’s all changed. With new more powerful browsers, huge advancements in underlying software development tools and a proliferation of high-speed data centers; we now have the capability to do anything a desktop (or, thick-client) software solution can do. Construction software typically manages a lot of data and varying workflows such as: project estimating, earned value management, project accounting, change management, project cost tracking, procurement, etc. So, the demand it has on the server, as well as the client browser, is much greater than the typical website. But today's cloud software systems can easily handle it - and it just keeps getting better. So then, what would be the downside of cloud computing? Well, depending on what your priorities are, it’s hard to find a downside – especially in the world of construction project management software. The biggest concern that people express about cloud software essentially boils down to

Anticipation and the Project Bottom Line

Projecting the Final Results The big question everyone – including all project managers and stakeholders – wants to know is, “How long and how much.” That’s a reasonable and typical question; and it’s a question that resonates for the project as a whole, as well as every piece and subsection within a project. When it comes to actually using the information collected when adopting Earned Value Management, you need to know the full value of that information. And a big part of the value of that is in getting a handle on what the final numbers will be - and then communicating that information to other project stakeholders.   Earned Value and Cost Performance Index When we discuss things like Earned Value (EV) and Cost Performance Index (CPI), while these are important indicators as to the current health of the project, they additionally serve as stepping stones to get to the bottom line numbers. The ultimate bottom line numbers are: Estimate At Complete and Variance.   Anticipate Estimate At Complete is essentially the projected final cost. It’s ultimately what everyone wants to know, and it’s really what makes news. Whether you’re talking about the project as a whole or any section within the project, everyone wants to know, “What’s the final cost looking like?” Forecasting the results of a project not only enables a project team on any construction project to communicate project outcomes, it delivers the power to anticipate. Being able to anticipate what’s going to happen is the ultimate control weapon. It’s why we all check the weather before we leave the house in the morning – we want to be prepared. The second key Bottom Line indicator is Variance. Variance is one

Big Projects use Cost Controls – Why don’t You?

The use of project cost controls solutions is becoming pretty widespread these days amongst bigger construction organizations that execute on capital projects. For any big, billion dollar project (or any number near that), it’s understood that proper planning, cost controls and detailed progress reporting will be followed on that size of project. They have to. There’s just too much risk otherwise. Even 10 years ago, however, it wasn’t necessarily the case. There have been many bad years and a poor track record from the “project cost overrun” point of view in the world of big projects. So bad that people have got quite used to hearing about the colossal project cost overruns – you know the ones, the $3-billion project that ballooned into an $8-billion dollar project like it’s just a part of life. People have got so used to it that they’re often amazed to hear about these big projects that are actually running on budget and on schedule. The reality is, however, that projects which do actually run on budget are becoming more common. The big disasters still happen from time to time, but it’s becoming more and more infrequent. And that’s largely a result of: better planning, better controls, better information and better tools to get all that with. For a $1-billion project to go over-budget by even a modest 10% – that’s an enormous amount of money. Even for big companies & governments. They simply can’t afford to NOT use a cost controls solution. Unfortunately, this adoption of cost controls hasn’t trickled down to the typical mid-sized organization.  For this tier of company – the ones that are running $10-million to $100-million projects – they still mostly use spreadsheets and paper-based

Got projects going over budget?

You're Not Alone. Project cost overruns are common. Statistics will tell you that over 85% of projects go over budget. But Why? What are the mechanics behind project cost overruns and project schedule delays? Plenty of talented and experienced professionals engage in dialog about this very topic every day, and try to arrive at conclusions about how to stop projects from going over budget. In this article I’d like to shed some light on the underlying workings as to the root causes of cost overruns and schedule delays. In order to tackle the problem of how to eliminate overruns, it’s important to understand the main reasons why they happen. Obviously, there’s no one-sentence answer to these questions since every project is unique and the influences that trigger overruns can vary tremendously. Luckily, however, there’s been quite a bit of research and experimentation around this exact problem - since it is a pervasive issue that so many businesses, large and small, struggle with. As a result, there have emerged some key factors we can point to that are the major contributors to projects going over budget and suffering schedule delays. A lot of project managers and business owners have their own theories; and after a good deal of listening and reading, many will have you believe that it all comes down to one thing: Project Changes. Technically speaking project changes are arguably the biggest contributor to projects going over budget and blowing schedule deadlines, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s leave Change and Change Management out of it. I’m saying that because I don’t believe changes are truly the root cause of cost overruns. I believe that if you approach a project anticipating that