Actual vs. Committed
How we helped create an immersive dashboard for Project Managers to monitor construction project costs and identify budget variances
Clark Builders is one of Canada’s leading general contractors with specialties in commercial construction, industrial construction, metals division, and construction management. They are owned by Turner, a North American based, international construction services company and a leading builder in diverse market segments, and operate from offices in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Saskatoon, and Yellowknife.
Clark Builders also provides advice and services on a direct and consultation basis. Primary functional areas include: Construction Management, Finance, Administration, Operations Support, Human Resources, Information Technology & Services, Professional Development, Safety and Environment, and Communications.
In the construction industry, a common managerial tool is the job costing report which measures project performance against the original and current estimates. Job costing breaks down a job or project into different activities or phases and helps identify variances in the results, in other words, it helps compare the budget estimates to the actual costs.
Senior Project Managers and Project Executives need to have high level visibility for potentially hundreds of projects. Therefore, they are particularly interested in quickly determining and focusing on projects with large variances and identifying the project items which are causing the discrepancies. This can be especially important because budget overruns can greatly impact the bottom line.
In the past, it was a long and laborious process for Project Managers to determine estimated cost at completion of their projects - to the point that many could not perform their roles efficiently and effectively. Routinely, it could take over a month to see the progress of the project as of the previous month. In addition, lack of visibility to expenditures resulted in cost issues not being identified or identified too late to react. Consequently, stakeholders need near real time visibility into their project cost information.
For Project Managers at Clark Builders, an experienced construction service provider, three main reports were required to effectively monitor project costs and determine estimated cost at completion (ECAC) – this resulted in hundreds of pages of data for the project manager.
To improve efficiency and increase effectiveness of Clark Builders’ Project Managers, we helped create an Actual vs. Committed dashboard, which brings cost and budget information together into an immersive and all-inclusive visualization – making it easy to identify budget variances and cost trends, as well as, the ability to drill down into details to specify the areas impacted.
Challenges and Objectives
Three reports are required to monitor project costs:
Job cost report, which summarizes the actual costs impacting each cost code (i.e. invoices from subcontractors, timecards, etc.);
Project cost report, which provides an updated record of commitments, forecasts and expenditures to identify budget variances; and the
Detailed job cost ledger, which lists itemized expenditures in the cost codes from the job cost report.
On an average size project, this can result in approximately 200 – 300 pages of data for the Project Manager to read through; it is time consuming and often not done effectively:
It can be difficult to cross reference cost codes to higher levels and identify any cost issues such as budget overruns.
Black and white pages make it strenuous to find miscoded items because they are hard to distinguish from the rest of the data.
Printed or exported reports are limited to cost information at a point of time. As a result, Project Managers are unable to identify cost issues and react in timely fashion. In addition, it was difficult to look at costs over time to identify trends or see patterns.
Figure 2. 200-300 black and white pages of data
Create a single dashboard for Project Managers to quickly access up-to-the-minute data with visibility of original budget, updated budget forecasts, change orders, committed costs, actual costs, ECAC, trends, and budget variance based on cost codes.
Easily identify profitability of the project and distinguish items of budget overruns at a glance.
Implement ability to drill down from cost types levels, to cost codes, to transaction details.
Include searchable parameters for project managers to quickly locate specific information such as a vendor invoice or purchase order.
How We Helped
With Tableau, we connected directly to the financial system (eCMS by Computer Guidance Corporation) used by Clark Builders and created an immersive dashboard with all cost information. Moreover, we integrated visualizations and highlighted the relevant information for the Project Manager. This required intimate knowledge of the source databases, as well as, the calculations being performed for key pieces of information on the dashboard, such as the Estimated Cost at Completion (ECAC). As a result, the dashboard provided near-real time information for Project Managers and Executives to see cost issues on their projects, allowing them to perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively, instead of spending hours summarizing and compiling reports.
"At the executive level, Tableau provides the ease of understanding financial information and helping to understand the trends and measuring KPIs." - Marc Timberman, CFO
"I see this software as an invaluable tool and benefit for reporting on financial metrics throughout our business." - Marc Timberman, CFO
Making use of Tableau Desktop and Server tools and collaborating with Clark Builders, we were able to create a consolidated dashboard for the Project Managers and Executives. This provided a number of benefits.
At a glance, Project Managers can see and compare the profitability on the project to the original budget. Furthermore, they have instant high-level visibility of the original contract value, change orders, the current contract value, and how much has been billed to their client. Project Managers can quickly identify the overall project budget, ECAC, and actual costs. Moreover, cost types (labour, materials, subcontract, and equipment) are visible at a high-level and can instantly evaluate the budget and cost.
Even though the cost code summary provides a high-level of detail, Project Managers can effortlessly identify cost issues (highlighted in red) rather than seeing a sea of monotone numbers. The detailed actual cost area within the dashboard allows Project Managers to see transaction level detail without having to navigate to a different screen.
Figure 3. Selecting a cost item on the left will display the detail list on the right for the cost items that make up the total for the cost code.
We helped link the detailed actual cost records to scanned vendor invoices to provide even more information and detail. Furthermore, we also provided the ability to examine costs across the life of the project via two timelines: monthly actual costs, and cumulative costs. These help to identify outliers, trends, and issues. To save space on the dashboard, only one version of the timeline is displayed at once, but the view can easily be toggled between the monthly and cumulative views as desired. Since the entire dashboard is interactive, we gave the ability to filter by months, so by selecting one or more months, the detailed cost records are automatically filtered to the corresponding period.
Finally, through searchable filters, a Project Manager can quickly locate records by a vendor name, transaction description, PO number, or cost code.
See the full presentation on Clark Builders here.
The Actual vs. Committed dashboard provided Clark Builders’ Project Managers with a valuable and powerful new tool on their jobs. Clark Builders made Tableau licenses available not just to Project Managers but also to Executive team members and Project Coordinators, so the same level of detail was available to all key project stakeholders. In addition, this project helped kick start and provided inputs on other internal reporting initiatives such as Monthly Operational Reporting.
Subsequently, Onware worked with other clients such as G.E. Johnson Construction (based in Colorado Springs, CO) and International Cooling Tower (Houston, TX) to build similar dashboards and visual analytics toolboxes.
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