Don’t Let Scope Creep Ruin Your Next IT Project

Today’s business technology is both powerful and restive. No matter how “feature rich” a software solution or hardware asset may be, there’s always another upgrade around the corner. In other words, it’s just a matter of time before your company’s next IT project.

When that day arrives, watch out for “scope creep.” This term refers to the tendency of a project’s objective (or “scope”) to gradually expand while the job is underway. As a result, the schedule may drag and dollars may go to waste.

Common culprits

A variety of things can cause scope creep. In many cases, too few users give input during the planning stage. Or misunderstandings may occur between the project team and users, obscuring the purpose of the job.

Excessive implementation time undoes many projects as well. As weeks and months go by, business processes, policies and priorities tend to change. For a new system to meet the needs of the business, the project’s scope needs to be executable within a reasonable time frame.

Ineffective project management is another common culprit. Scope creep often arises when a project manager underestimates the complexity of the tasks at hand or fails to adequately motivate his or her team.

5 steps to success

To stop or at least minimize scope creep, follow these five steps:

1. Distinguish “must-haves” from “nice-to-haves.” Draw a red line between the functionalities your business absolutely must have and any added features that would be nice to have. Schedule the prioritized requirements in the form of phased deliverables during the project’s life cycle. Add “nice-to-haves” to the final phase or, better yet, defer them to future projects.

2. Put agreed-on deliverables in writing. Use a Statement of Work document to clearly outline the stated project requirements. Be sure to cover both those that are included and those that aren’t. Have everyone involved sign off on this document.

3. Divide and conquer. Segregate the project into small, manageable phases. As it proceeds, continue to review and sign off on each phase as it’s delivered, following an adequate testing period.

4. Introduce a formal change management process. If someone demands a change, ask him or her to rationalize the request in writing on a change order form. Then analyze the potential impact, estimate the added cost and time, and obtain consensus before proceeding. Adhering to this step typically eliminates many low-priority demands.

5. Anticipate some scope creep. It’s a rare project, if any, that proceeds exactly as planned. Allow for some scope creep in your budget and timeline.

Head-on approach

Improving your company’s technology should be cause for excitement and, eventually, celebration. Unfortunately, it too often brings anxiety and conflict. Tackling scope creep head on can help ensure that your IT projects go more smoothly. Our firm can help you assess the financial impact of any technology solution you’re considering and, if you decide to proceed, set a budget for the job.  Contact us today!

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Getting Wise to the Rise of “Smart” Buildings

Nowadays, data drives everything — including the very buildings in which companies operate. If your business is considering upgrading its current facility, or moving to or constructing a new one, it’s important to be aware of “smart” buildings.

A smart building is one equipped with a variety of sensors that gather and track information about the structure’s energy usage and performance. With this data, the owners can better regulate the building’s energy consumption and, ultimately, save money.

Has this been the case in real life? The results of a 2018 Forbes Insights/Intel survey seem to indicate so. Of the 211 business leaders from around the world who responded, 66% answered affirmatively when asked whether smart building management technologies have produced a return on investment.

What’s out there

The name of the game with smart buildings is integration. Traditional building management and control systems don’t easily converge with today’s technology-driven and Internet-connected infrastructure. (This infrastructure is often referred to as “the Internet of Things.”) Sensor-collected data, however, flows directly to the management and control system of a building to automate everything from HVAC to lighting to security features.

Smart technology isn’t limited to new construction. When real estate developers renovate commercial space, it’s increasingly retrofitted with smart technology. By the same token, many large companies have renovated their own buildings to install data-gathering sensors. Doing so is an expensive undertaking but may be worthwhile if your business owns facilities in a prime location and doesn’t want to move.

At the same time, don’t assume every building will be completely automated. In the health care sector, for example, some facilities are finding that manual control of lighting and ventilation systems remains more effective because high traffic volume hampers computerized efforts to regulate energy usage.

Criteria to consider

The primary advantage of smart technology is simple. Over time, you should save money on energy costs by more accurately tracking and regulating usage — dollars that you can redirect toward more profitable activities. Any property you buy, however, must still fit a sensible budget and fulfill other functional criteria, such as being “right-sized” to your on-site workforce and perhaps coming with tax incentives.

When leasing, you’ll need to get specifics from the owner regarding the smart building in question. Was it built new with sensors or retrofitted? Are the sensors and data-processing equipment themselves up to date? You’ll also need to research local energy costs to ensure that the property owner is passing along the savings to you under a reasonable lease agreement.

Here to stay

Just as auto manufacturers no longer make cars without built-in computers, developers and contractors generally aren’t constructing buildings without smart technology. Bear this in mind as you shop for space. Whether you’re looking to lease, buy or build, we can help you weigh the pertinent factors and make the right decision.

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Best Practices When Filing a Business Interruption Claim

Many companies, especially those that operate in areas prone to natural disasters, should consider business interruption insurance. Unlike a commercial property policy, which may cover certain repairs of damaged property, this coverage generally provides the cash flow to cover revenues lost and expenses incurred while normal operations are suspended because of an applicable event.

But be warned: Business interruption insurance is arguably among the most complicated types of coverage on the market today. Submitting a claim can be time-consuming and requires careful preparation. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Notify your insurer immediately. Contact your insurance rep by phone as soon as possible to describe the damage. If your policy has been water-damaged or destroyed, ask him or her to send you a copy.

Review your policy. Read your policy in its entirety to determine how to best present your claim. It’s important to understand the policy’s limits and deductibles before spending time documenting losses that may not be covered.

Practice careful recordkeeping. Maintain accurate records to support your claim. Reorganize your bookkeeping to segregate costs related to the business interruption and keep supporting invoices. Among the necessary documents are:

  • Predisaster financial statements and income tax returns,
  • Postdisaster business records,
  • Copies of current utility bills, employee wage and benefit statements, and other records showing continuing operating expenses,
  • Receipts for building materials, a portable generator and other supplies needed for immediate repairs,
  • Paid invoices from contractors, security personnel, media outlets and other service providers, and
  • Receipts for rental payments, if you move your business to a temporary location.

The calculation of losses is one of the most important, complex and potentially contentious issues involved in making a business interruption insurance claim. Depending on the scope of your loss, your insurer may enlist its own specialists to audit your claim. Contact us for help quantifying your business interruption losses and anticipating questions or challenges from your insurer. And if you haven’t yet purchased this type of coverage, we can help you assess whether it’s a worthy investment.

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Are Your Employees Ignoring Their 401(k)s?

For many businesses, offering employees a 401(k) plan is no longer an option — it’s a competitive necessity. But employees often grow so accustomed to having a 401(k) that they don’t pay much attention to it.

It’s in your best interest as a business owner to buck this trend. Keeping your employees engaged with their 401(k)s will increase the likelihood that they’ll appreciate this benefit and get the most from it. In turn, they’ll value you more as an employer, which can pay dividends in productivity and retention.

Promote positive awareness

Throughout the year, remind employees that a 401(k) remains one of the most tax-efficient ways to save for retirement. Regardless of investment results, the pretax advantage and any employer match make a 401(k) plan an ideal way to save.

For example, point out that, for every $100 of pay they defer to the 401(k), the entire $100 is invested in the plan — not reduced for taxes as it would be if it were paid directly to them. And any employer match increases investment potential.

At the same time, make sure employees know that your 401(k) plan operates under federal regulations. Although the value of their accounts may go up and down, it isn’t affected by the performance of your business, because plan assets aren’t commingled with company funds.

Encourage patience, involvement

The fluctuations and complexities of the stock market may cause some participants to worry about their 401(k)s — or to try not to think about them. Regularly reinforce that their accounts are part of a long-term retirement savings and investment strategy. Explain that both the economy and stock market are cyclical. If employees are invested appropriately for their respective ages, their accounts will likely rebound from most losses.

If a change occurs in the investment environment, such as a sudden drop in the stock market, present it as an opportunity for them to reassess their investment strategy and asset allocation. Market shifts have a significant impact on many individuals’ asset allocations, resulting in portfolios that may be inappropriate for their ages, retirement horizons and risk tolerance. Suggest that employees conduct annual rebalancing to maintain appropriate investment risk.

Offer help

As part of their benefits package, some businesses provide financial counseling services to employees. If you’re one of them, now is a good time to remind them of this resource. Employee assistance programs sometimes offer financial counseling as well.

Another option is to occasionally engage investment advisors to come in and meet with your employees. Your plan vendor may offer this service. Of course, you should never directly give financial advice to employees through anyone who works for your company.

Advocate appreciation

A 401(k) plan is a substantial investment for any company in time, money and resources. Encourage employees to appreciate your efforts — for their benefit and yours. We can help you assess and express the financial advantages of your plan.  Contact us for assistance.

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May 2019 Tax Deadlines

May 31, 2019

Deadline for financial institutions to send out Form 5498 to report balances in an individual retirement account.

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Financial Statements Tell your Business’ Story, Inside and Out

Ask many entrepreneurs and small business owners to show you their financial statements and they’ll likely open a laptop and show you their bookkeeping software. Although tracking financial transactions is critical, spreadsheets aren’t financial statements.

In short, financial statements are detailed and carefully organized reports about the financial activities and overall position of a business. As any company evolves, it will likely encounter an increasing need to properly generate these reports to build credibility with outside parties, such as investors and lenders, and to make well-informed strategic decisions.

These are the typical components of financial statements:

Income statement. Also known as a profit and loss statement, the income statement shows revenues and expenses for a specified period. To help show which parts of the business are profitable (or not), it should carefully match revenues and expenses.

Balance sheet. This provides a snapshot of a company’s assets and liabilities. Assets are items of value, such as cash, accounts receivable, equipment and intellectual property. Liabilities are debts, such as accounts payable, payroll and lines of credit. The balance sheet also states the company’s net worth, which is calculated by subtracting total liabilities from total assets.

Cash flow statement. This shows how much cash a company generates for a particular period, which is a good indicator of how easily it can pay its bills. The statement details the net increase or decrease in cash as a result of operations, investment activities (such as property or equipment sales or purchases) and financing activities (such as taking out or repaying a loan).

Retained earnings/equity statement. Not always included, this statement shows how much a company’s net worth grew during a specified period. If the business is a corporation, the statement details what percentage of profits for that period the company distributed as dividends to its shareholders and what percentage it retained internally.

Notes to financial statements. Many if not most financial statements contain a supplementary report to provide additional details about the other sections. Some of these notes may take the form of disclosures that are required under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles — the most widely used set of accounting rules and standards. Others might include supporting calculations or written clarifications.

Financial statements tell the ongoing narrative of your company’s finances and profitability. Without them, you really can’t tell anyone — including yourself — precisely how well you’re doing. We can help you generate these reports to the highest standards and then use them to your best advantage.

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Refine Your Strategic Plan with SWOT

With the year underway, your business probably has a strategic plan in place for the months ahead. Or maybe you’ve created a general outline but haven’t quite put the finishing touches on it yet. In either case, there’s a time-tested approach to refining your strategic plan that you should consider: a SWOT analysis. Let’s take a closer look at what each of the letters in that abbreviation stands for:

Strengths. A SWOT analysis starts by identifying your company’s core competencies and competitive advantages. These are how you can boost revenues and build value. Examples may include an easily identifiable brand, a loyal customer base or exceptional customer service.

Unearth the source of each strength. A loyal customer base, for instance, may be tied to a star employee or executive — say a CEO with a high regional profile and multitude of community contacts. In such a case, it’s important to consider what you’d do if that person suddenly left the business.

Weaknesses. Next the analysis looks at the opposite of strengths: potential risks to profitability and long-term viability. These might include high employee turnover, weak internal controls, unreliable quality or a location that’s no longer advantageous.

You can evaluate weaknesses relative to your competitors as well. Let’s say metrics indicate customer recognition of your brand is increasing, but you’re still up against a name-brand competitor. Is that a battle you can win? Every business has its Achilles’ heel — some have several. Identify yours so you can correct them.

Opportunities. From here, a SWOT analysis looks externally at what’s happening in your industry, local economy or regulatory environment. Opportunities are favorable external conditions that could allow you to build your bottom line if your company acts on them before competitors do.

For example, imagine a transportation service that notices a growing demand for food deliveries in its operational area. The company could allocate vehicles and hire drivers to deliver food, thereby gaining an entirely new revenue stream.

Threats. The last step in the analysis is spotting unfavorable conditions that might prevent your business from achieving its goals. Threats might come from a decline in the economy, adverse technological changes, increased competition or tougher regulation.

Going back to our previous example, that transportation service would have to consider whether its technological infrastructure could support the rigorous demands of the app-based food-delivery industry. It would also need to assess the risk of regulatory challenges of engaging independent contractors to serve as drivers.

Typically presented as a matrix (see accompanying image), a SWOT analysis provides a logical framework for better understanding how your business runs and for improving (or formulating) a strategic plan for the year ahead. Our firm can help you gather and assess the financial data associated with the analysis.

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