Saving 40% of time on project reporting with Forecast
Denise V. de Castro
Principal Architect/ Owner
Architecture & Design Philippines 20+ employees ddc.studio
DEQA Design Collaborative (formerly DDC Architectural Studio) is known for its innovative approach to design and architecture. Founded more than 10 years ago, DEQA has been crafting impactful experiences through ideas, objects, places, buildings, and communities. By integrating planning, architecture, and branding they design at all scales in close collaboration with clients across the world.
Denise Castro, the Principal Architect and Owner of DEQA Design Collaborative is a skilled design professional based in Manila, Philippines. She has combined several years of hands-on experience from IDEO, CBT Architects, and other award-winning and world-known companies, to build her own design studio. We've been speaking with Denise about her way of taking DEQA to the next level and establishing a profitable and healthy business even during times like the covid pandemic.
DEQA is operating in a market with historically many restrictions. In the Philippines, the way architecture and interior design companies typically quote fees is based on the number of square meters multiplied by a flat fee each company charges. Sadly, the flat fee rarely takes into consideration the complexity or duration of the project.
That was also how DEQA used to price projects and give quotes. Yet it was clear to Denise that it wasn't a sustainable way of running the business. Eventually, the team would spend too much time on a single project without realizing if they were making money. With her problem solving mindset and well-established ability to spot problems and find solutions, she realized that there had to be a better way to approach project finances than chasing money and taking on new projects. Instead, she wanted to create a smarter future for her company by securing steadier margins.
With her design background, Denise is trained in breaking down a problem and figuring out how to solve it in the best possible way. As a true design professional Denise approached the project by dividing it into the four phases: Discover, Define, Explore and Create.
Keen to learn how to do strategic planning, Denise did a mini MBA to educate herself, while talking to finance experts about ways to get DEAQ’s pricing model and fees correct to keep track of profitability.
Beginning to record historical project data to analyze the time spent on projects was the first part of the process aiming to get insights. “Starting from registering time on paper in old school ways all the way through to tabulating it to Excel helped us understand how much time we needed for each project and when they were no longer profitable”, pointed out Denise.
However, as the team was struggling to understand why prompt time registrations were important, she soon came to the conclusion that the Excel system wasn’t efficient enough. This made them switch to a basic project management tool called Freecamp. While Freecamp was good enough to track the progress on projects, they soon faced a problem with visibility into what the team members were working on, meaning they were missing a resource management system too.
We knew how much people were working every week. But we didn't really understand who was over- or underbooked, or if we needed more or fewer team members.
Denise started using Resource Guru but realized that the missing connectivity to the project work in Freecamp just added more friction to their days.
“Forecast has made it easy for everyone to go to one place and see what is working and not.”
To ensure full adoption, she initiated weekly studio meetings to talk about the projects they were working on, what was coming up, and how the running projects were progressing. "During those meetings, we broke everything down. We even spoke about the profitability, and we made the pie chart to illustrate we get this profit, this much goes to salaries, this much moves to software. So everyone understood where all the money is", says Denise.
The weekly meeting helped the company shed light on what was going as planned and what needed to be changed. It did, though, take away precious time from the team to work on projects. On top of that, the wasted hours on collecting the data across the used systems made it clear to Denise that they had to find a solution that could unite this work and take away the administrative tasks to free up her time to focus on other duties.
We had to find the right solution that could unite the different parts.
With their experience from Excel, Freecamp, Resource Guru, and other tools, Denise and the team kickstarted a longer investigation process. They looked for a feasible platform that could tie time registrations, project and resource management with finances, and also combine the vital business intelligence and reporting features. That’s how they discovered Forecast.
After using Forecast for more than half a year, Denise happily shares the results, highlighting how a consolidated approach helped DEQA focus on the right things.
With Forecast we know which projects are doing well, and which ones are not. It has also freed up time for the team to look into the business areas they find valuable to optimize. With the extra time that we have, my team starts doing in-house projects that they think will help us later. They are seeing problems themselves and are finding solutions to them. And it's great because it's not even coming from me. My team is the one that initiates projects. There's a reason why they're able to do that. Forecast has made it easy for everyone to go to one place and see what is working and not.
The visibility and real-time insights into what the entire team is working on and the clear understanding of profitability have made it possible for the studio to keep up the pace without cutting headcount costs even though the Philippines has been hit hard by the pandemic.
Profitable projects enabled us to survive the pandemic quite well. We don’t have to lay off anyone. I can give the team bonuses for Christmas. And what's great is that everyone also understands why we were implementing all those changes to our work processes.
In addition, they've reached a stage where the employees focus on what they are best at.
I no longer have to explain the value of a project management system, and we no longer have to spend non-billable time on generating insights.
Now Denise just pushes a button to pull a report.
I know how much we’ve really worked on every project. Before Forecast, it could take several days for one of my employees to create a project report. Now it’s a matter of a few seconds which freed up more than 40% of our time.
When ending the conversation, Denise highlights how pleased she was to find Forecast. She proudly looks back at the whole process and says that the team appreciates the effort put into uniting their project operations into one powerful core.
"After implementing Forecast, the key thing we've accomplished is reducing the time my team would spend on admin tasks."
“Forecast centralized a lot of information and gave project managers a view from the project’s baby stages right through to the budget and profitability. It’s one encompassing system for everything."
“We've got a cockpit for running the business with a superior project overview and world-class resource management.”