The Focal Point Blog // Operations Best Practices // Miranda Lawler // March 7, 2024

How to Improve Project Margin: Best Practices from Clockwork

3 Steps for Getting Started    

The Clockwork team focused on three primary factors when adopting Parallax and implementing project margin and forecasting best practices:

  1. Technology: Clockwork first made sure their business-critical data integrated with Parallax, such as their time tracking software Harvest and CRM platform Hubspot, to create a central hub of trusted data that everyone worked from. The team coordinated with Parallax to understand the platform’s best practices and proven strategies and utilized them as a blueprint for their operations. 
  1. Process: Then, Clockwork started to dig into the projects that were consistently maintained at a good margin and identified where they kept having moments of complexity. With these insights, they better understood which types of projects to prioritize and which to avoid, and they developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for their service offerings to guide teams on how to approach each type of project and what to watch for. Creating SOPs also allows Clockwork’s teams to use their brain power for the more innovative, custom work that requires their energy and creativity. 

“We wanted to be a little bit more standardized in the way that we were solving problems, so we documented our processes so that they’re relatively repeatable and efficient,” said Jenny Holman, president, Clockwork. “Then, the bespoke part of what we do can be where we spend more of our time — plus, that’s the fun stuff we like to dig into as a company.” 

  1. People: They also had to communicate to the broader Clockwork team the value of forecasting and the importance of more closely tracking project margins via Parallax. “While project margin is one success metric, the bigger picture is about delivering the best client experience,” said Holman. “We made sure to cover the “what’s in it for me?” in a way that people could connect to – if we have a strong forecast, we know how we’re going to do the work, how everything will line up, and what enhancements or changes we can or need to make.”

The Value of Directionally Accurate Forecasting 

Forecasting is essentially well-informed estimating. Your numbers won’t be exact, as it’s not a precise exercise. But when done consistently with the right data, you should gain a directionally accurate picture of the business so you can make proactive decisions.

“The data from Parallax allows us to learn each and every time what’s working and what’s not,” said Holman. “Let’s take a step back and think: do we need to estimate this differently? Did we miss a critical opportunity to have a conversation with the client? Are we not right-sizing the solution to the available budget? You have to give people the space to understand that it’s not them failing, but rather a chance for all of us to understand how we can do things better or differently.” 

Clockwork utilizes its forecasting insights from Parallax in a few ways to shape a better, more profitable future for the business: 

  1. Client relationship insights: Clockwork looks across their client portfolio – not just individual projects – to understand which relationships are profitable and which aren’t, and then they answer the ‘why.’ They’re intentional with their collected learnings and apply them as quickly as they can. “We lean into that curiosity and ask, ‘what is happening here? What are we working with exactly, and how do we apply that information to our future estimations?,” said Holman. 
  1. Service offering insights: Clockwork tracks the services they offer to understand where they’re profitable and regularly course correcting, using Parallax data as an early indicator when something might be going off the rails on a project.  

“I regularly use the margin report and project health report within Parallax — you can sort by lowest margin to highest, so it’s really easy for me to flag where I should take a closer look and ask some questions to make sure the team has their eye on the prize,” said Courtney Miner, director of client success, Clockwork. “Is it something we can address internally? Do we need to have a conversation with the client? These reports provide a trigger for real-time discussions.”

  1. Capacity and utilization insights: Accurate forecasting also helps improve capacity and utilization. “If you think about the hours that we have in the day for our people to do the brilliant work that they do, and if we don’t fill that capacity today, it’s gone tomorrow,” said Holman. “Thinking about utilization and forecasting and keeping our people at a sustainable capacity but also helps hit those margins is something that we’re always looking at. The utilization increase that we’ve had because of our visibility and ability to be proactive has driven our margin higher.” 

Real-time is the Best Time  

“Parallax enables conversations to happen at the right time – as soon as possible – because that’s the best time for them to happen,” said Miner.

Have questions about tracking and managing project margin? Interested in adopting best practices that improve your revenue? Ready to have more accurate forecasting? The Parallax team looks forward to connecting with you.