Create a compelling scoreboard

We’re already a month and a half into 2019 and if you’re like me you’ve probably set some lofty goals that you want to accomplish for the year.  In The 4 Disciplines of Execution the authors stress the difference between lead and lag measure and how important it is to have a scoreboard to track your progress toward your goals.   

Source: 4 Disciplines of Execution book

“A lag measure is the measurement of a result you are trying to achieve. We call them lag measures because by the time you get the data the result has already happened; they are always lagging....Lead measures are different; they foretell the result.  They have two primary characteristics. First, a lead measure is predictive, meaning that if the lead measure changes, you can predict that the lag measure also will change  Second, a lead measure is influenceable; it can be directly influenced by the team.” - 4 Disciplines of Execution

A lead measure is something you can control whereas a lag measure is the result of the lead measure.  I think the weight loss example best illustrates this: if you’re trying to lose weight you can’t control the exact amount of weight your body will shed in a given week but you can control how many times you work out and what you eat.  Instead of focusing on losing 5 pounds (lag measure) it’s more productive to focus on working out three times a week and eating a low-carb diet (lead measure).

The other piece the authors stress is having a scoreboard so you can track your progress in relation to your goal.  If you’re tracking your weight loss and you can see that you’ve lost 10 pounds in 2 months have you reached your goal? That depends on what your goal is.  Being able to see your progress in relation to your goal provides you with valuable feedback and can serve as a great motivator.

In our business we often set yearly revenue goals (lag measure) which are a direct result of how many invoices (lead measure) we get out.   Smartsheet is fantastic at helping us track if we’re on target to reach our annual billing goal. One of the things we cover in the course is how to create dashboards to track your key metrics.

As you’re pursuing your goals this year, remember to track your lead measures on a compelling scoreboard to keep you moving in the right direction.

Transitioning to Squava from Harvest & QBO

The inability of Freshbooks, Harvest, and Quickbooks Online to handle customizable, progressive invoices is something that has frustrated me for years. I asked some fellow architects if they had any suggestions for other softwares and Squava was one of the few that I hadn’t tried.  

Squava’s price point is noticeably higher ($40 per person per month - regardless the role of the user vs. Harvest’s $69 per month for 5 users) however, the functionality of Squava more than pays for itself.  I no longer need to use spreadsheets for job costing projects or manually input time information into Smartsheet since Squava integrates time tracking, invoicing, and financial & accounting modules together.

We’re two months into the transition and I am still loving the software! There are still some modules that need to be further developed in Squava (payroll, bank syncing, etc.) but their development team is working on them and will likely be releasing an update by Q2 this year.

Here are some of the reasons that I’m loving Squava:

  • Customer Service: it’s superb! In addition to helping us transition our data from Harvest and Quickbooks Online into Squava (for free) we’ve found the Squava team to be tremendously responsive and helpful. Between phone calls and emails all our questions have been answered.

  • Transition help: Unlike other softwares where you have to pay hundreds of dollars for onboarding help or personalized training; Squava does it for free. We were able to transition about 40 projects out of Harvest and into Squava so that contract amounts, billed fees, and task names carried over. Now that the basic framework is in Squava we’re also bringing over our historical time data as well. I’m not sure how long the transition will stay free but it was a huge selling point for me.

  • Estimates & Invoices: When you setup the estimate for a proposal it easily gets carried forward into time tracking and invoicing. Additionally, Squava lets you do progressive invoicing and shows what was previously billed! Most other softwares we’ve used change the total amount due instead of showing the previous amounts billed so this feature is a breath of fresh air! I mean just look at how clear this project summary is:

  • Dashboards & Cashflow forecasting: There is a really great cashflow forecasting tool built into the software that graphically shows you money in (based on A/R) and money out (based on A/P) and is dynamically updated based on when you set pay dates for the various bills on the A/P. Previously I was using DryRun to do forecasting and syncing it to QBO. Thankfully, now it’s all integrated.

  • Timetracking and expenses: The time tracking software is very intuitive and allows you to add expenses without leaving your timesheet.

  • Data integration: As much as I love a spreadsheet (Excel is my superpower), one of the main reasons I enjoy Squava is because it brings together data that I previously had to manually input into my sheet. Now that we’re growing and I need to streamline tasks to save time I’ve realized the advantage of paying a bit more if it will save me time and headache.  Utilizing Squava saves time and shows me the pertinent information I need (ie. what’s the projected profit on this project?)

Here are some things that Squava is still working on:

  • User interface: What the software lacks in refined graphics it more than makes up for it in valuable content and data aggregation. It look me about an hour to start thinking in Squava lingo but once I had a better understanding of how the software links all the information together it was very easy to get around. (I created a Squava navigation cheatsheet in Smartsheet if you need it).

  • Bank Syncing: This is top of the list of modules their development team is working on and it will be out later this year. Our bookkeeper is fine manually adding our financial info in the meantime.

  • Payroll: This is another module that will come out later this year. In the meantime we’re going to use Squava in lieu of Quickbooks Online for all of our financials (except payroll).

  • Invoice emailing: Currently you can’t send an invoice directly in Squava. Instead the system produces a pdf that you have to email separately. This feature is on the development list as well. For now we’re going to continue using the same Invoice Journal tracking sheet in Smartsheet that we’ve been using with QBO & Harvest. (It’s available through the Smartsheet4Architects course if interested).

As we settle into 2019 our company will continue to use Smartsheet for task/project management, team communication, and scheduling but will be using Squava for timesheets, invoicing, and financial accounting. If you’re looking for a more robust financing software that allows you to track time and easily do progressive invoicing I’d recommend taking a look a Squava. You get what you pay for so don’t let the higher price of the software scare you.

PS. There’s no financial gain for me here. Just sharing our experience with a new software that we enjoy. Curious about any of the softwares we use? Let me know in the comments!

Creating checklists in Smartsheet

Processes, procedures, and checklists should be used on everything in your business from CAD standards to sending out drawings to get printed.

Having a repeatable process not only saves you time but also frees up your mental energy from having to remember things. I hate the “…I feel like I’m forgetting something feeling”. Whenever someone on the team says ‘next time we need to remember to…’ we add it to Smartsheet. Needless to say, we’ve embraced the checklist.

A checklist is great because it not only gets it out of our heads - more importantly, it allows the full team to see and use it. Having a process solely in your head can not only lead to forgetting steps but can also create a misalignment of task expectations. Even when you’re telling someone how to do it, we’re all human and can forget to tell a key step to make something happen. Having a checklist can help principals communicate with staff and contractors the baseline expectation of the task and help ensure a higher level of success.

As great as checklists are, making the process easy to edit and adapt is also crucial so the checklists are actually used and updated. Are there any repeating issues that keep getting forgotten because people say ‘we should add that to the list’ but no one ever does? That’s a give away that updating your checklists are too cumbersome. Having an outdated checklist that is cumbersome to find and edit is only slightly better than having no checklist or process at all.

Initially, I spent too much time overthinking how to set up the processes - a Word doc saved as a pdf or multiple linked Excel files. I worried about the files getting overwritten or corrupted due to multiple people accessing them within the Dropbox folders. Once we started using Smartsheet I realized that we could keep everything native in the Smartsheet system and not have to worry about files getting corrupted.

When a system is easier to use than it is to ignore, it will then be a successful system.”

- E-MYTH ARCHITECT

There are multiple ways to create and track checklists in Smartsheet - a series of sheets within a folder, a dashboard with rich text widgets, or simply linking existing pdfs to a Smartsheet dashboard for easy aggregating. Having a centralized place for your checklists and not having to remember a convoluted path to where something is saved can make all the difference between a checklist being used.

To keep it simple, I recommend utilizing a series of sheets within a folder and creating a separate sheet for each process. This will allow you a quick and easy way to scan the table of contents to see which processes are already there.

Folders in the workspace

Folders in the workspace

Sheets (Grids) in the folder. One Sheet (Grid) per process.

Sheets (Grids) in the folder. One Sheet (Grid) per process.

Sample tasks & subtasks in a sheet

Sample tasks & subtasks in a sheet

Updating and organizing the checklists in Smartsheet is quick, simple, and always current for all team members with access to the sheet. If you want to control who can change the data you could also set up a new Workspace for the checklists (instead of a folder in an existing workspace), set a few people as editors, and make everyone else a viewer. Smartsheet gives you options.

Every firm will have different checklists and processes. The E-Myth Architect is a fantastic place to get more inspiration and guidance on what to document. Here are some quick places to start:

  • Do you have a QA/QC checklist to verify permit sets have the basics: title block, drawing names, north arrows, stamps, etc.

  • What about the process for new employees or remote workers? Think through what Day 1 looks like and document all the things that are obvious to your current team but a new person would need to know - where is time tracked? What’s the company font? How do phone calls get transferred? etc. If you had 10 new people (remote or in office) starting to work for you over the course of the week could you onboard them without wasting too much billable time showing repetitive tasks that a checklist could handle.

Smarthsheet can help you document and manage your checklists. Regardless of how you decide to document your systems, remember the point is to keep the checklists easy to access and simple to edit.

Smartsheet for Architects Course

Smartsheet's new look is almost here!

Smartsheet is unveiling a new user interface this week and it is going to make the product easier to use - and look at! 

Click here for details on the release.

So what does this mean for the Smartsheet For Architects Course?  It means we're going to update the videos by December 21st to reflect the most current information.   The videos will be updated just in time for you to explore over the Holidays.

If you want to be more organized and have more clarity into your business in 2019 then kickstart your goals with Smartsheet for Architects.  Please note, the price of the course will increase on January 1st, 2019 so sign up early to lock in the savings.