Finance and Schedule tracker
The Finance and Schedule Tracker (FAST) is a project estimating, scheduling and tracking tool. The system integrates finance and operations, produces accurate project cost estimates and schedules quickly, and tracks financial and schedule performance against the baseline plan once the project is awarded and kicks off. It is aimed at longer-duration projects (up to 50 time periods) and is a valuable tool for companies that rely on competitive bids in order to win work. Since FAST is based on the Earned Value Method, it is ideal for project managers who want a reliable handle on project performance and who need to monitor project health from start to finish, e.g. contractors and sub-contractors in the construction industry.
The system is configured to suit the contractor’s production process, production standards (labour, materials, plant and equipment, etc.), organisational structure, and the required reporting requirements. It can easily handle activities or work packages with different units of measure.
Pre-set WBS Formatting Capability
The work breakdown structure (WBS) capability subdivides the project deliverable into manageable elements of work, depending on the nature of the project. It is adapted to the requirements of the project and structured in a matrix format—a functional or organisational component (Task), and a work or deliverable component (Item) (Figure 1) defines each work package (Figure 6). Each project is configured according to the appropriate WBS, ensuring that costs are fully covered without being duplicated, and facilitating effective scope management. A pre-set WBS formatting capability speeds up project setup.
User-friendly Project Scheduling and Costing Facilitation
All effective project plans revolve around cost estimates and delivery schedules. FAST incorporates a flexible estimating mechanism, which breaks cost estimates down by work package. Scheduling is done by activity. The scheduling tool calculates the duration of each activity, and its start and finish dates, depending on that activity’s work quantity, labour composition, plant and equipment allocation and subcontractor involvement. Based on the size of the project, resource usage (in terms of labour, material, plant and equipment, subcontractors) is planned for each activity (Figure 2). Indirect costs are also accounted for. A built-in resource utilization factor (RUF) guides resource planning and gives an indication of how efficient the planned resource mix for each activity is likely to be.
Precedence logic, comprising predecessors, activity dependencies (namely finish-to start, start-to-start and finish-to-finish) and time lags define the relationships between project activities. A pre-set WBS formatting capability and automated dropdown lists make it easy for the scheduler to do so. Resource allocations, together with standard production rates, determine the overall project schedule (Figure 3). Red flag alerts draw attention to incorrect or incomplete entries and eliminate illogical schedules.
The system enables multiple estimates and schedules for the same job. Where required, an automated standard project bid template can be built into FAST. This makes possible the instantaneous generation of standard format bid documents (covering scope of work, price breakdown, project schedule, etc.).
Tracking Project Progress and Managing Scope
Once the project kicks off, progress and incurred costs are recorded by work package (Figure 4) against the baseline budget. Where some data is not immediately available at the period cut-off date, that which is available immediately can be entered then, and the rest can be inputted later. Automated data input logs ensure that actual cost data is not inadvertently omitted. FAST calculates, compares and cumulates budgeted costs, actual costs and earned value for each reporting period across work packages/activities.
Structured Project Reports
Structured project status reports, generated at the required reporting frequency (e.g. weekly), indicate project performance, highlight trends and predict future impacts of the current situation. The system automatically calculates status and progress reports according to the period cut-off specified at project setup. Budget and schedule performance reports can roll up to various levels of detail, e.g. from the discrete work package or individual employee to the overall project perspective (Figure 5), enabling project performance to be compared across projects. Not only does FAST’s reporting capability provide early warning to potential budget and schedule overruns and facilitate timely corrective action to variances, but it also simplifies the submission of progress reports, speeds up progress payments and ultimately leads to better financial and cash management.
FAST is user-friendly. A search mechanism delivers immediate results to searches by project ID. Data input mechanisms (incorporating features such as self-updating dropdown lists, red flag alerts, etc.) speed up data entry and reduce unnecessary human errors, thereby enhancing data quality, reducing lead times and ultimately strengthening the effectiveness of management. The system is accompanied by an easy to understand user guide, which serves as a training document, and contains the necessary information to instruct new users.
A major shortcoming of most self-contained project management tools is that the unit of measure of amount of work performed on the project is not consistent with costs. This makes it impossible for the project manager to compare “apples with apples” when it comes to tracking the cost of work delivered to date and predicting the likely cost at completion. FAST’s single integrated project methodology, which combines measures of technical performance, scheduled performance and cost performance, overcomes this problem, and puts him at a significant advantage over his counterparts who have to rely on lesser tools.