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Measuring Profitability at a Growing Groundworks Company [User Story]

User Stories is a regular column here on the WorkflowMax blog. Here, we get a company to walk us through their workflow process. Every company is different, and every firm has different methods and processes for managing their projects. Our hope is that by studying what others do, you can find techniques to improve your own workflow.

Today we talk to Andy Bean, general manager of Polcon, a Christchurch-based groundworks company.

polcon

Tell us about your company, Polcon:

We are a groundworks contracting business which began at the beginning of the first earthquake in Christchurch. It essentially was doing support for the Earthquake Commission - helping people pull out their chimneys, clear rubble from their sites - and then it progressed pretty quickly into demolition. Then over the next couple of years, that has broadened from demolition into doing groundworks contracting, which essentially means getting a builder out of the ground to foundation level so that he can then begin to build a house on top.

We will go to a site and demolish what’s there. We will remediate the land if it requires it, which means driving big poles into the ground. We will do retaining walls and we will excavate for the foundation to then be formed and poured, along with associated services like drainage.

What kind of clients do you work with?

We’re trying to offer a package offering to the insurance companies, the project management companies and then lead builders.

We work with people like Hawkins, Southern Response, Tower Insurance, EQC and then a whole bunch of what we call Tier One builders who have service level agreements with the project management companies.

The landscape of the building sector in Christchurch at the moment is so dominated by insurance work. There’s kind of a framework - it goes insurer, project management company and then builders and then subcontractors like us. So we thought there was efficiency in coming to market - rather than just being a bunch of guys that did demolition or excavated, we would try and offer a professional package, not only for the physical works but also for managing the inspections and the professional services like the engineers, the surveyors and the geo-technical, and we’re getting some good traction on that.

What tools do you use to manage your engineering firm?

We’ve got Xero, we’ve got WorkflowMax, we’ve got Tom’s Planner. We also use a thing called FormTab, which is an iPad app and that is basically our document control app. We can go to a site, we can do a scope, we can do a H & S assessment, we can do a milestone progress payment. There’s probably around 12 key documents. They get generated on the iPad app and then they’re all stored in Dropbox, but we’ve also got it integrated through the API with WorkflowMax. So we can pull up a form if the job’s been accepted that’ll bring up the job number out of WorkflowMax and it pre-populates the client and the address. We had that developed independently.

What challenges were you facing when it came to your workflow?

I've been with the company five months and I came from a project management company that was very bureaucratic and it was very, very process driven. The owners of Polcon essentially were the classic husband and wife team that were running a small business doing everything. They were getting to a point where the business was growing and they were getting to a point of exhaustion, and realizing that they needed some support, they brought me in.

They had huge workload, they were profitable, but essentially they didn't know where they were making their money. Craig (the owner) had it in his head - and he's entrepreneurial and had an instinct and had a feel for the numbers, but nothing was being accurately measured. They were quoting out of Xero and they didn't have any job-specific reporting from any of their workflow.

I had no measurable information, but now I can just with a click of a button bring up a job profit report, job lists, a whole bunch of stuff. It generates the information in real time, which is fantastic.

Walk us through the life of a project:

I suppose we have a range of key clients which range from insurance companies, lead builders and project management companies. I cultivate those relationships and then essentially they will request a quote. We will then go to site and scope it with one of their project managers, and then we go straight into WorkflowMax.

We have the client and the job address set up and then we price it and send it off to the client. They often have to get it reviewed by their insurer or PMO. Then they will accept it or they will drill down on some detail. Once it is accepted it becomes a job and then we schedule it for commencement. It could be a three-week job or it could be a three-and-a-half month job. Right from the outset we are tracking time and materials against that quote and entering timesheets, obviously on a daily basis, and doing purchase orders.

What do you love most about WorkflowMax?

It’s secure and integrated, it’s been easy to introduce to the staff, and I think it’s also only going to get better. It gives you the financial backbone that every small business needs to have. It’s given us a robust financial structure. It’s given us great transparency and accountability in our project management.

Thanks Andy! If you’re running a company using WorkflowMax and want to talk workflow with us, then drop me a line at mallika.goel@xero.com and we can interview you for User Stories.