Headlights at Night

Using Burn Rate to Improve A/E Project Delivery

About the author: Don Archibeque is a Project Executive with Planifi, bringing more than 25 years of experience in construction and A/E (architecture and engineering) Project Management, as well as associated professional managerial services.

Architecture/Engineering (A/E) project management is a lot like driving at night. Functioning headlights are essential to safe driving, but you also need to pay attention to what’s ahead of you to make it home safely. Project Managers need useful tools to manage their projects to a successful end result, just as you need functioning headlights to drive at night.  However, many Architecture/Engineering (A/E) Project Managers don’t pay proper attention to the road ahead. They wait until invoicing to evaluate project performance, which can lead projects off the road and into a ditch.

Proactive project management means looking forward, considering how many hours have been used, what work is being done, and how quickly you’re closing in on completing deliverables. Simply put, you need to keep projects on the road by tracking burn rate. That is the rate at which project budget is being spent versus the overall budget, compared against the amount of work delivered.

Starting to use Burn Rate

The concept and components for calculating Burn Rate aren’t complicated, but they are essential to successful project delivery. The first step in the process is to assign budget by discipline and give a total number of days to complete the work, then break those days down into resource-hours (labor). This gives each member of the project team a specified amount of time to complete the necessary work.

Oftentimes, saying to project team members, “you have X hours to complete this work” is a change in and of itself. While these conversations may be difficult at first, this will help project managers set clear expectations with the team, resulting in more successful project delivery. It also helps to:

  • Clearly state and align the project team to a common set of project goals
  • Define clear standards against which progress will be measured throughout the project.
  • Define the meaning of a successful outcome for this project and manage the team to those goals.

Check Your Pace

Think of it as a long drive. In order to determine when you’ll get home, you need to factor in how fast you’re going and the distance remaining. Well, if you get stuck in traffic, it’s obvious you need to either go faster to make up the time or add that on to your overall drive time. With A/E projects, the traffic jam isn’t always so obvious.

Architecture & Engineering (A/E) project management is about constantly checking pace and making corrections throughout the project. Otherwise, you end up going 95 MPH in a school zone and the project ends up in jeopardy. You can’t manage what’s already happened. Regular checkpoints are critical to ensure projects stay on track and realize successful outcomes.

Track plan vs. actual with real-time data from Deltek Vision – Visual Planning

Learn & Improve

Review is also best done throughout the project at regular intervals, as well as at project closeout. Review project goals and processes. Was the phase/project set up for success from the beginning or can adjustments be made?

Take full advantage of what worked well. Apply lessons learned from those successes to improve future work – both on this project and on future jobs. This one might seem obvious on the surface, but stop doing activities or change the processes that aren’t contributing to success. The hard part is finding alternatives to what isn’t working. However, it’s better to test something new versus something you know for certain (and have evidence to prove) does not and will not work.

Measure often, take action, measure again, make changes (as needed).

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