Evaluating Property Management Applications
The first step to choosing a new solution for your organization is determining your own needs. This article will walk you through the process of needs analysis.
This is the first installment in a new series of articles discussing the process of choosing an Association Management Software, and how to insure that the decision you make is the right one for your organization. Over the next several weeks we will be exploring the decision making process in minute detail to provide a better understanding of how to make the right choice that is tailored to your organization.
Welcome to the New System, same as the Old System
"There's Got to be Something Better." This is one of the most common responses we hear when we ask prospective clients why they are looking for a new solution to help them manage their community association management operation.
While this may sound like a perfectly obvious answer, if you have not taken the time to fully analyze your needs, and determine exactly what's holding up your success, then you may find that the new solution with all the bells and whistles that you implement doesn't actually solve your problem, putting you out a bunch of money without actually improving your processes at all.
A needs analysis will help you identify exactly where your process is breaking down and what you need to improve upon. Is your A/R process highly manual? Are payables consuming more staff than they should? Are you losing contracts to your competition due to lack of mobility? All of these questions and more need to be defined for your specific management operation before you ever begin shopping for a new software.
A lot of people may think that they already know where their road blocks are and what their organization needs. But even an identified need can be further defined when you take the time to gather measurable metrics on the subject. For example, you may know that your AP operations need to be automated, but do you know which portion of AP? Is there too much time spent coding invoices? Getting approval from board members? Or cutting the checks?
Performing a Time Study
The first step of needs analysis is to perform a time study. Why a time study? Simply put, labor is the single largest expense of any small business, so this needs to be the first thing you investigate. A time study tracks the amount of time spent on each individual task in your management operation. You can perform the time study over a period as short as a week or as long as a few months. Obviously, the longer you run the study, the more accurate the data you gather will be, but even a short study should give you a good idea of where your road blocks are coming from. We recommend at least running it for one full month to get a decent picture of the management cycle in your organization. The goal is to identify the processes that are using the most resources – they in turn become your highest areas of need.
To begin your time study, open your favorite spreadsheet program and list out the broad categories of your management operation, one to each column, across the first row in the spreadsheet. This should be basic categories like Receivables, Payables, Owner Communications, Rules Enforcement, Maintenance. Once you have identified these categories, add the sub categories that are specific to each group underneath the group header. For example, in Payables, you might have Invoice Entry, Approval Process, Check Cutting, Garnering Signatures, and Posting payments to the General Ledger.
Figure 1: Examples of Time Study Groupings
Once you have identified the groupings of your operation, the next thing you want to do is begin tracking employee time. You can use that same spreadsheet to track time, or you can utilize an online time tracking software to make the process a little more automated. The key is to have each worker in your management operation enter in the time they begin working on EVERY task, and the time they stop working on the task (even if it is not completed). This needs to be done by everyone in your management operation for every task they perform, even as small as a phone call, or else your results will be skewed.
Figure 2: Example of Time Entry Form
When the predetermined time for the study has ended, each worker should return their completed spreadsheet to the study administrator. At this point, the administrator may compile all of the results into a single spreadsheet, and use this information to determine where the processes need to be expedited, and which tasks present the largest road blocks.
This study can go a long way to providing measurable, actionable data about your management organization. Not only is it useful in making a needs analysis, it can also be used as a tool to measure the effectiveness of new programs and processes you put into place in the future.
If you'd like to try the spreadsheet tracking method, we have prepared a free sample spreadsheet that you can use to perform your own time study. We've provided sample categories and tasks based on typical management companies, as well as the Time Tracker entry form that you can distribute to your workers. Click here to download the Association Manager Time Study:
If you wish to explore full scale time tracking software, two that we have tried are toggl (www.toggl.com) and WorkTime (http://www.nestersoft.com/worktime/). We have also heard really great things about Grindstone, although we haven't tried it ourselves (http://www.epiforge.com/Grindstone/).
Now that you have the data from your Time Study, it is time to begin digging deeper into those results to determine what needs to be done. You may even find that the roadblock isn’t even a software issue, but something else entirely. Identification is the first step to resolving such issues. Once you’ve gotten to the root of the problem, list out the needs you have identified, and prioritize them. Which needs are vital to the success of your operation, and which needs will have only a minor impact? Do any of the needs conflict with each other? Is there a consistent agreement among the associated parties about the needs and their priorities?
You should now have a concrete picture of where your strengths and weaknesses are. Using this information you can ask the right kinds of questions to help you find a solution that truly speaks to the unique needs of your organization.