Standard Procedures Deliver Standard Data
I’ve written before about the importance of having good processes to get good data (for example, not making sub-ledger entries in the general ledger).
The importance of good processes was underlined to us again recently when writing some complex Crystal Reports against Sage’s Timberline construction software for a client.
I’m not a Timberline expert, but I’ve done my fair share of job costing/project management over the years, and the same general concepts apply. Here, the challenge was to get a consistent set of report numbers when the system allows users to make entries in different places.
Let’s take changes to project costs, for example. Managing scope of work changes is critical for any business, but it’s especially critical in construction because you’re always working from an estimate. The original estimate is only a best guess; subject to change once the project starts. This is especially true in New York City, where large amounts of commercial space date back to pre-WWI.* Consequently, it’s crucial to track changes in both your costs and your billing.
In Sage’s Timberline, one way to track these changes is through change requests. For example, if you need to increase a payment amount to a subcontractor, you enter a change request. The change request status reflects where it is in your process. For example, in this screen it’s marked “pending,” as in pending approval:
Eventually, the change request will move to a purchase order or commitment.
The catch with Timberline is that this is not the only way to show you have a pending change for a subcontractor. You can also record it directly on the purchase order—within the item detail button on the purchase order line:
Because there are two ways of entering this change, you may get different information depending on the report you run. Normally, I’d strongly suggest standardizing the process to make it consistent. But as I’m not a Timberline expert, I’ve accepted my client’s argument that there are valid process reasons for having two different methods.
In any case, by having different ways to get to the same number, you run the risk of confusion and mistakes. So, you need to be absolutely clear on your process and which reports reflect it—instead of just going with the most common scenario.
*In my apartment, we discovered old gas lighting pipes in the ceiling when installing a new light fixture. Not something you’d find in the suburbs.