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For years, the architecture industry has been using technology to innovate in the design process—from CAD to BIM, from 3D renderings to Virtual Reality.
But most of us are still stuck using spreadsheets when it comes to managing our projects.
While the design side is definitely the fun part, we also need to have systems in place to help us make informed decisions about our businesses.
There are better alternatives to spreadsheets for project management. Your entire architecture firm shouldn’t have to rely on sheets of data that don’t talk to each other.
Here are our top 5 practice operations processes that should not be in spreadsheets:
1. Time Tracking
As service-based professionals, keeping track of time is critical for us to get paid, but the reality is no one likes to track time.
I remember what a drag it was plugging my hours into an Excel spreadsheet every Friday before noon no matter how many timesheet memes my studio coordinator would send us.
Technically you can use a free architect timesheet template to track your time. But the dreaded spreadsheet and timesheet combo can lead to many problems in your operations.
It’s prone to human error when tracking time
Spreadsheets are haphazard and prone to errors. All it takes is for one team member to forget the exact amount of time or to “guesstimate” their hours and the amount you are billing your client isn’t accurate.
Inputting time tracked manually
Since spreadsheets are basically “paper”, someone (usually your managers or accountants) will have to manually input time to your accounting software to generate invoices to get paid. This can again lead to human errors between time tracked and time billed.
Manual timesheet approval workflow
With spreadsheets, Managers will have to approve piles and piles of timesheets each week and cross-check between team members. And who likes to have tons of paperwork on their desk?
Anna M., a Senior Designer, made the switch from spreadsheets to Monograph as a time tracking software and said,
“I've worked in companies that use spreadsheets, clunky programs, and even in firms that tried to create their own timekeeping software. Monograph is the easiest software I've used to track time in the design field.”
Monograph's time-tracker allows you to record your billable and non-billable time across projects. The amount of time tracked is connected to a particular project so you can be confident that the time you’re billing is the actual time spent working on that client’s deliverables.
Plus, the in-built approval workflow means that managers can approve the timesheets without going through tons of paperwork.
2. Project Scheduling
As professionals with client-facing deliverables, we need to keep our projects on schedule.
But the reality is when life gets busy with multiple projects and large teams to manage, it can be hard to keep track of multiple milestones and deadlines.
Scrolling through a Gantt chart spreadsheet to figure out when milestones are due isn’t fun. No matter how hard you try, something would always slip through the net and you’d be rushing something out of the door at the last minute.
No relation to budget in a timeline
Most architects use Gantt charts to create our project schedule, but Gantt charts in spreadsheet format don’t tell you much other than what it is designed to do - showing the timeline of your project. Without seeing your budget and schedule in one place, it’s impossible to get a clear snapshot of your project as a whole.
Manual updates on spreadsheets
Using a spreadsheet means you have to manually update your schedule every time you need to change a date on the Gantt chart (and we know how often project schedules change).
Hard to share updates with clients
Our clients want to see where we are and what we’re working on in real-time. So you might have to constantly update your project schedule to reflect what you’re working on. This is extremely time-consuming and requires a lot of emails back and forth to share your spreadsheets with your clients and consultants.
Julia K., an Architectural Designer, has been using Monograph for a couple of years.
“It's much easier for me to keep track of project phasing and time spent towards various projects, clients, and/or architectural phases. [Monograph has] made it easier for us to record and understand our own business development.”
Monograph’s MoneyGantt allows you to see where your fee is compared to your current schedule in a Gantt chart format. So you can plan accordingly every single week without opening a single spreadsheet.
3. Resource Planning
It’s normal to sit through an hour staffing meeting to figure out what everyone should work on, but it’s not normal to have to sift through tons of staffing plan spreadsheets to do so.
Staffing without fee in mind
With spreadsheets, you don’t know how much project fee is left to use in a project for staffing. This often leads to us running out of fees.
No real-time updates with spreadsheets
When you need to know the estimated hours vs actual hours a team member is spent on a project, you’ll have to compare the timesheet and with the resource plan manually.
No flexibility in planning
Every manager likes to plan their project differently, which can create different standards across the firm. Some might like to do overall staffing per project, but some prefer staffing each team member individually. Using software that allows you to see your projects differently can minimize conflicts and confusion while giving everyone flexibility to suit their style.
Marcella P., a Creative Designer, found that...
“being able to plan your week out in advance, see your timeline and budget, and what hours your teammates are assigned all in one place is a crucial asset for a growing business...this will absolutely save you time and headache in figuring out how well a project's timeline is doing.”
To make sure your projects are profitable, you need more than a spreadsheet that you just simply input a few hours - you need a tool that gives you a comprehensive look on how your staffing plan impacts your bottom line all on one page.
With Monograph, not only can you plan your team’s time with just a couple of clicks but you can quickly see how many hours each resource has spent on a project to ensure you stay on budget.
4. Project Planning
When you’re sending out multiple proposals to try to win work, you must plan them effectively so you make money from these projects. A plan from the outset will ensure that your deliverables are on time, your spending is on budget, and your team is allocated correctly.
It is possible to plan your projects using a spreadsheet, but keeping information up-to-date in all these spreadsheets can be quite a task.
No historical data for project planning
With a tool that stores all your projects in one place, you can see historic data of what you used to charge for specific projects. With spreadsheets, you will have to comb through all the misplaced files to find all the data you need to make informed decisions for your future projects.
Hard to collaborate with others
We all know that it’s usually a scramble to send out proposals with the correct project plans. But when you use spreadsheets, there’s no way to share files or other documents instantly - adding additional time and workload to slow down your process.
Manual updates in your project plan
Architecture projects are always changing. When a date has to change within your project plan, it might affect your entire project schedule. This means you’ll have to manually change all the dates in a spreadsheet - which of course takes a lot of time.
Matthew S., Principal Architect, said,
“Monograph is great for getting a quick overview of projects and team assignments. [With Monograph], planning projects is straightforward and the tracking time and money against budgets are super helpful.”
Inside Monograph’s project planner, you can create your projects from pre-populated project templates so you can depend on your past project experience to plan your project.
The correct invoicing of clients is critical. Not only will it ensure you can pay your team, but it also eliminates frictions related to billing with clients.
Granted, you can use an invoicing spreadsheet and manually send your invoices via email to your clients. But it is time-consuming, prone to error, and lacks transparency.
Manual invoice input is error-prone
Just like timesheets, you have to manually turn your time into money to create the invoices. One small mistake and you’ll find yourself scrolling through the formulas to find out what’s gone wrong and how to fix it.
Poor version control of invoices
They also offer poor version control. If you need to revert to an older version of the invoice or work out what was originally sent to the customer, you may be out of luck.
Lack of invoice records
In the event a client asks for a record of the time spent on a project, spreadsheets are less than ideal. You can share the notes on all of the hours recorded, but it’s potentially opening the door for questions to be asked with little traceability.
EunHea K., Owner and Designer, has been using Monograph for 2 years.
“I just use it daily to track time, create invoices, maybe track projects...I can track my time per project and create invoices from it which is my primary use.”
Monograph offers a quick and easy way to turn the time you tracked into money with our smart invoicing panel. Whether you invoice by Phase, Role or Activity, you can easily access all your important billable time right on the invoice page.
No More Spreadsheets
It’s time for an alternative to spreadsheets to manage all your architecture projects in one place.
By following these rules on what not to use a spreadsheet for, you can finally get the most out of your project management tool, starting today.
Whether you want to streamline your workflow…
Or reduce the amount of time spent staffing your projects…