Prior to the rollout of Synergy in mid-2019, the practice faced several challenges across their business and project management systems. The inability to create varying rates for fee-earners on specific projects/stages/clients’ work meant there was no clarity over project or stage budgets; disparate, unconnected systems for project management, timesheets, and budgets meant fee-earners had no clarity on project progress; unlinked systems for project management and financials meant unclear, un-itemised invoices and increased client confusion; and non-cloud, business and project management systems meant the management team couldn’t work together remotely to manage the practice and pipeline.
In 2005, Laurence Associates moved from being a sole planner practice, with their new design director, Jason Pledger spearheading the development of the design arm of the business. This would provide clients with a much more efficient approach with all the design elements of development within the one practice.
“It goes hand in hand really, and it’s much more efficient to have it all in-house,” says Laurence Associates’ business manager, Katherine Shannon, “Architects that work for us who’d previously come from pure architecture, really like the fact that you’ve got that planning advice on hand while they’re designing, because it feeds into, and often informs the design process.
“And we’re all obviously using the Synergy software platform. We’re all using one project and practice management system.”
Rate groups allow fee-earners to apply different fees to different phases and stages of a project, and accurately see how much resource they’ve used on their budgets.
Before Synergy, Laurence Associates’ business and project management comprised disparate spreadsheets, a separate project management software system and a standalone timesheet software.
“We had different rates of fee-earners doing different things, on different phases, and different stages of various projects. So, we ended up with multiple projects on the legacy system in order to help the fee-earners have some clarity about what their budgets were — because it was very, very difficult, as they would get a lump of hours allocated to a project — it just wasn’t clear enough for them to work out how much time they had for different stages.”
With Synergy’s cloud platform, they’re able to allocate different rates to each fee-earner within the one project or stage. They can even assign two different rates to the same fee-earner for different types of work within a stage.
Fee-earners can track the progress of their projects through budget and time.
Katherine explains that Synergy solves the issues associated with project performance tracking for their staff, “because you can allocate all the budgets and the time within the different phases and stages. It’s clear — it carries through in the documents, to the fee proposal. We’ve given the project managers enough security access to be able to see and take ownership of their projects.
“Our staff are all highly qualified people and giving them the actual ownership of their projects — the ability to run with them and take more control — gives them more autonomy and ability to do their best work.
“Synergy allows clarity for them. When they look at a project, they can see the financials straight away and see how it’s been sold to the client.”
Linked fee-proposals, project budgets, timesheets and invoices allow less manual entry and a whole lot of clarity.
“Obviously, we put fee proposals together based on the time we think we’ll spend,” says Katherine. “And sometimes we know it’s going to take longer than the budget, but we want to do the job for other reasons. With Synergy, we can put notes on the system so that project owners are aware of that as well. Again, it takes the pressure off the individual fee-earner because they can see what’s expected of them, or not expected.”
This level of clarity means that if they’ve decided a project has priorities over and above profit, the Laurence Associates team can all remain clear where, when, and how much those margins can be sacrificed.
“In our industry there’s always going to be occasions where you can see a potential long-term relationship with a new client and take a bespoke approach to how you put together fee proposals and set up different projects.”
Remote collaboration and management are easy, meaning ‘new-normal’ readiness.
Katherine says that the value of the Synergy software platform only increased in the face of the COVID pandemic and associated lockdowns as it allowed them to continue work remotely.
“It’s been really good from a management perspective particularly. For fee-earners, they’re using the timesheets and they’re looking at the project budgets and so on, but from a management and administration perspective, it’s meant that we can continue to manage the practice remotely as a group.
“The reporting functions meant that we could really do a deep dive into our sales pipeline. We could contact all of our clients and prospective clients straight away and we could use all the custom fields to allocate them different statuses or tags — so that we knew what was on hold because of COVID, what wasn’t on hold, what was done with. As a result, we got this really clear, realistic pipeline, which is really important when you’re looking at staffing levels in a crisis like that.”
For Katherine, the question of ‘why Synergy?’ is quickly and emphatically answered with one word: Clarity.
Clarity of data for management to allow strategic, fact-based decision making. Clarity of project budgets and requirements for fee-earners, allowing them to manage their time efficiently and effectively. And, perhaps most importantly, clarity of invoices for clients, allowing them to see where and when time was spent by fee-earners on their project.
“We’ve actually started giving work breakdowns for all estimated work. We give monthly breakdowns because we find it so much clearer and it reduces the time spent dealing with client queries — which are rarely complaints, but often a matter of them not remembering what they’ve asked for, or losing track as time goes on — whereas if they can actually see what we’ve been doing in the breakdown, it saves everyone time and confusion.
“That’s just an example, and the fee-earners are using it in a much more simplistic manner, but in the management team we’re constantly in Synergy, constantly using it, and it’s just… It’s really quite the godsend.”
Image: Laurence Associates