The main complaint I am hearing from A&E firm leaders these days is how they would love to “find more time” for their project managers (PMs). With workloads the highest they’ve been for many years, and talented and experienced PMs difficult to hire, asking PMs to work overtime has become a necessity. The average PM is working 45 to 60 hours a week, and many executives are worried about them burning out and considering leaving for a less stressful position.

Multi-faceted Role of Project Managers

The PM’s job is a difficult and often frustrating role. More and more responsibilities have been piled on the backs of our PMs as business has become more competitive and great people harder to find. A PM is no longer just responsible for managing the day to day and contractual obligations of the contracts, but also has to help bring work in as a seller-doer; manage the time, billing and collections of the work; and maintain happy client relationships. Many PMs face frustrations in trying to be great in all of these areas, and many others lack the business or soft skills needed to optimize project success and profitability.

Saving Time, Saves Money –  Really!

The math is quite remarkable and the argument strong for doing everything possible to save PMs time and improve overall efficiencies across the organization for all staff. Saving just two hours a week for a 50 person firm is a whopping $500,000 in additional revenue or productivity!

50 employees  X  $100 hour burdened rate  X  2 hours a week  X  50 weeks a year = $500,000

It’s easy to see that the ROI from saving employees time is there – but the actual strategies and tactics to make it happen require some analysis and commitment to changing processes and everyday behavior.

Look at People, Processes and Systems

The framework for improving any area of your business is to look at your People, Processes and Systems, and make improvements to all three that lead to significant improvements in efficiency and accuracy. This requires leadership commitment to challenge how you do everything.

The best place to start this process is to evaluate your firm in 9 areas of your business. The importance of these 9 areas is spelled out in my book, Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms. In each area of your business, look at how your processes are supporting operational efficiencies, how well your systems are automating manual functions, and how well your people are trained and required to follow your processes and use systems.

I have found that the best way to figure out what is really going on every day at a more granular level is to survey your staff and ask very specific questions across all the 9 areas broken down into People, Processes and Systems. In order to efficiently capture this information, as well as easily gather anonymous employee feedback, ideas and suggestions, I have developed an automated survey tool called the Find the Lost Dollars Business Management Assessment. This tool provides 27 detailed scores, recommendations and comments from your staff in providing clear guidance as to where inefficiencies exist, and recommended next steps for improving them.

After surveying your staff, it is imperative to review the results, and prioritize initiatives that can have the greatest impact. I have found there are always a couple areas of “low-hanging fruit” that can give you some quick wins and show results in the short term.

In looking at the results we have seen in working with hundreds of A&E firms over the years, there are a few key areas that consistently come up as places we can help find more time and improve productivity for PMs and others:


  • Training Project Managers on Business and Financial Management concepts
  • Training on Systems for all staff
  • Project Manager Job Descriptions outlining roles, responsibilities, skills and expectations
  • Leveraging Project Managers’ time using administrative support
  • Clear cut goals and metrics used to measure performance
  • Accountability for following company processes and using systems


  • Clearly documented processes for sales, estimating, proposals, extra services, project management, quality control, time and expenses, customer service, and billing and collections
  • Continuous fine-tuning of processes to coincide with technology changes and business management improvement / simplification
  • Regular review of employee conformity to established processes


  • Integration of all core systems and reduction of redundant data entry
  • Automation of areas that are still manual such as marketing, proposals and sales using a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system
  • Elimination of spreadsheets that waste time and don’t add value
  • Improvement of systems functions annually to ensure optimization of systems benefits

Common Mistakes

In my opinion, a common mistake many firms make is expecting PMs to master their accounting and project budgeting and reporting systems. While it is important for them to understand the reports they get, how the numbers are calculated and what they mean, it is unlikely they will become system gurus. They just don’t have the time to learn all the features of the system and keep up with improvements included in updates. Having administrative staff that can help them with project budgets and schedules will be a great way to leverage their time and also add a little more accountability into keeping essential project data updated in your systems.

Communicate the Why

One other suggestion for overall success with making operational changes to improve efficiency is to make sure you always communicate the “Why” of all changes you are making or new processes you are putting in place. Many firms neglect informing staff about why they are making improvements and then wonder why they face so much resistance. Explain to employees and especially PMs what is in it for them (WIIFM) and you will see much less resistance and more cooperation.

Get Going and Save Time!

Assessing your business annually and continuous streamlining of these areas will not only save employees time and improve overall firm financial performance, but these improvements will also help to increase firm value and allow the firm to more easily scale for growth.


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