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It's About Time! The Journyx Blog
This Q&A was taken from our Journyx webinar series featuring Wes Fue entitled “Federal Government Contracting-It’s a Whole New World!” For more information, sign up for an upcoming webinar or check our archives for previously recorded webinars.
The short answer to this question is: no. Consider this, you wouldn’t want your pricing information out there either! However, that does not mean that there is no way to determine a fair pricing structure for your contract proposal. One of the most effective ways is to go to usaspending.gov. From there, you can find a wealth of pricing information. For instance, you can see how much government agencies have spent on projects similar to the one you are proposing, you can see the total amount spent on certain project categories, and you can see the types of projects your chosen agency has awarded. If you are still on the hunt for competitive intelligence, it is also possible to type in the name of a business to see the projects that they have been awarded in the past and the pricing of those contracts. All of this information is free and public. So, even though it is not possible to see a specific bid for an active solicitation, it is very possible to structure a reasonable estimate using the wealth of information available online.
Many businesses require approvals of employee time entry, the more flexible the better. In addition, they often require layered approvals, or approvals from more than one individual, whether that be from supervisors, HR, or managers of specific projects. Microsoft Dynamics, one of the more popular offers a basic level of this functionality in Business Portal, but unfortunately the approvals are set to allow no more than one approver and one supervisor to review the timesheet. While this may work for smaller and simpler companies, expansion and a desire to use timesheets in a capacity beyond administrative functions will require a more robust approval system.
Another issue with the basic validation levels concerns the ability for employees to edit timesheets even after they have been approved. This effectively renders the approval invalid. Time spent going back and double-checking all previously approved timesheets for discrepancies is obviously and needlessly wasted. Approvers need to be able to “lock down” a timesheet after approval, unless of course there is an explicit reason for later modification, in which case the approver should be given the ability to request changes as necessary.
Fortunately, it is still possible to reap the substantial benefits of the Microsoft Dynamics accounting programs. Journyx Timesheet combined with Accountlink for Microsoft Dynamics allows for full approval flexibility. Timesheets can be entered and approved through any web browser, and do not require any technical knowledge whatsoever to navigate and submit. Once the approval process has been completed, the data can then be easily transferred into the Microsoft Dynamics interface. In this way businesses can experience all the benefits of Microsoft Dynamics while maintaining the robust approval levels that modern businesses require. There is no reason not to experience the best of both worlds thanks to Journyx Accountlink for Microsoft Dynamics.
Technology can either make us feel like we’re superhuman or it can be a super drag. One area that makes most of us want to pull our hair out is our email inbox. Email can easily become too cluttered to be managed and it affects the sender and the recipient. I have experienced numerous times where my email gets lost in the shuffle and I am asked to resend important information so the recipient can finally find my email.
But what if your email could be clean and automated? What if email could make you feel powerful instead of inefficient?
Boomerang is an inbox management tool for Gmail and Outlook. With Boomerang you can…
- Schedule emails
- Track email responses
- Send email back to your inbox for a later date
Boomerang is also available on your mobile phone, so you can manage your email on the go. I think Boomerang is an awesome idea. I’m already used to sending email with scheduling capabilities via our marketing automation tool, so I can see how useful this feature could be for my own personal email. No more forgetting birthdays or looking like a spammer to new network connections! The more I read about Boomerang, the more I feel empowered by this tool and what it can accomplish for the user.
Does managing your time with effective technology make you feel like a superhero? Let our readers know so they can feel superhuman as well.
Unless you are living in utopian sci-fi society, all of your employees are human, and that’s a good thing because humans are smart and resourceful. They are also prone to make mistakes and forget things. The time entry functionality of Microsoft Dynamics Business Portal is unfortunately very susceptible to both of these flaws. If an employee makes a mistake or forgets to enter time by a set date, there is nothing to validate or remind them to do so.
That means, most unfortunately, that approvers will have to manually look through timesheets to check for errors or omissions with no real idea of where, specifically, an issue will arise. Since approvers are often managers or even higher-level employees, this waste of time can have a very real and detrimental impact to the operations of a company. Worse, because Business Portal doesn’t feature multi-layered approvals, it is possible that an erroneous timesheet could make it all the way to payroll, necessitating a lengthy period in which timesheet submission processes must be backtracked and fixed. Again, a waste of time for all involved.
Businesses must have a system in place that both validates timesheets to make sure there are no issues with the entered information, and that sends reminders so that timesheets are submitted at a designated time. Fortunately, Journyx Timesheet combined with Journyx Accountlink for Microsoft Dynamics allows for just such a functionality, and does so while still enabling all of the advantages of Microsoft Dynamics, extending its value by adding necessary functionality.
Data from Microsoft Dynamics can be transferred bi-directionally with data from Journyx Timesheet, so the robust validations and reminders set in Journyx Timesheet reflect in the Microsoft Dynamics program. Best of all, none of this requires any advanced technical skills, and data can be input and viewed over the web. It is a convenient solution to a very real problem, and can drastically improve the value of timesheet data through error elimination.
This Q&A was taken from our Journyx webinar series featuring Laura Faulkner entitled “Holding Your Ground-3 Keys to Expanding Your Government Contracts Now” For more information, sign up for an upcoming webinar or check our archives for previously recorded webinars.
This can be tricky, because it is never wise to spread yourself too thin and dilute resources. However, considering the potential volatility of government contracting (due to budget costs, contract realignment, etc.) it is also wise to branch out into several different contract areas to be sure you always have a place. Thus, it is advisable to proceed into those other areas using a low-risk approach. That might mean subcontracting or taking on smaller contracts initially. That way, you do not expend too many resources on untested ventures, and should the need arise to reallocate resources it will be easier to maintain a less risky contract with less experienced personnel.
That’s right – there were delicious giveaways left and right this month! First, let’s talk about a giveaway from a project management blog that is one of our favorite indulgences: A Girl’s Guide to Project Management. Brian from Utah won our CEO, Curt Finch’s book, “All Your Money Wont Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource”. I’ve read it and can confirm it’s a great resource for anyone who wants to bring intelligent, forward-thinking time management into their business. Thanks to Girl’s Guide editor, Elizabeth Harrin, for coordinating the giveaway!
Next off, I’d like to congratulate Tommy from HireRight for winning one of our grand prizes at the Microsoft Convergence conference – an Xbox 360 w/ 250 GB and Kinect. Congratulations to Tommy for scoring the top time racing around the Journyx Dash Track on the JoyRide for Xbox Kinect. He was quick – I know, I raced against him!
Erin from the Microsoft Convergence team presenting one of the prizes.
We also gave away a $50 Visa gift card to Stefan from Canada. Anyone who Tweeted about their Journyx Dash Track experience got entered into the drawing. The biggest giveaway (quite literally) was a 42” LCD HD TV – maybe you read about in our previous Convergence post. We are shipping it to Stephanie Holcomb of Kansas.
Once again congratulations to all of our winners and thanks for playing!
If you’ve been following my posts on this blog, you may already know this about me: I love, love, love SXSW Interactive. But do you know what Interactive means? Do you know why I think it’s so grand? Let’s take a closer look at what’s behind all the annoyingly bright orange lanyards, outrageously long lines, conference hashtags crowding your Twitter stream, more swag than you could possibly ever use, and a conference that turns major highways into parking lots. Despite how “glamorous” I just made SXSWi sound, it’s actually quite incredible and here’s why.
Hands down, the main reason I enjoy going to these tech events is because of the community they bring. Bringing together the most intelligent, proactive, disruptive-thinking people so they can all interact is electric. It’s kind of like TED – SXSWi has an “Idea Worth Spreading” (pun intended). SXSWi shares similar TED qualities but with lots of wide-eyed entrepreneurs, gaggles of freshly venture-backed startup teams, a sea of highly judgmental venture capitalists and, of course, me!
Here’s a little secret: experiences like this actually happen all the time in Austin. SXSWi just attracts people from around the country to our playground for a week. Talk about intense! I love to brag that I have the opportunity to live in this up-and-coming tech hub. Although now our secret is out and Austin really isn’t “up-and-coming” anymore. It has arrived with fascinating momentum!
This would not have happened without organizations putting in the elbow grease to make this work. It is absolutely necessary to give credit to networking groups like Door64, Tech Ranch, Austin Women In Technology , ATC, We Are Austin Tech and, of course, Austin Ventures. All of these organizations recognize the great potential of getting the geeks (and geekettes!) of Austin in collaboration.
Armed with a Redbull, I stopped by the We Are Austin Tech booth at the SXSW Startup Crawl in the gorgeous downtown Omni Hotel for the Interactive kickoff. It was great to meet up with director/producer, Ruben Cantu of We are Austin Tech at their booth.
Let’s keep in mind that it’s all of our responsibility to grow the community. I’ll speak for Austin when I say we certainly have a fun time doing it!
The most obvious question many people ask when they decide to pursue a government contract is almost always, “where do I start?” Unfortunately, they will often hear many different things from various advisors, and while the advice can be quite solid, it always overlooks the fundamental first step of the process. I am not talking about receiving your DUNS number or even checking the available RFP’s. In fact, you shouldn’t be directly involving yourself with any government agency at this earliest and most crucial stage. No, your first step is incredibly obvious, yet so many aspiring contractors overlook it – a critical mistake.
The first step when pursuing a contract is to create a business plan.
Again, this seems incredibly apparent, but a major factor in contract failure is the inability to meet the terms of the contract due to poor initial planning. It is impossible to make a realistic plan without knowing the resources you have available and what the realistic costs of the pursuit will be. That means going through your existing business plan (you did create one initially, didn’t you?) and revamping it with this new business goal in mind. Contracts require some flexibility, so it is always best to err on the side of caution when adding this important endeavor to your future plans. However, the pay off for going through this innocuous logistical task means that you will be better prepared for the rigors of contracting.
In order to create a plan with a potential contract in mind, it is absolutely essential to know your business data, best achieved by keeping and maintaining a backlog of information from past projects. This will allow you to make accurate forecasts about future allocations of resources. You will also be able to make more precise proposals that promise the maximum ROI for your company while still being competitive. Without an accurate estimate it is very possible to either over or underbid on the proposal, resulting in needless frustration for you and the agency, and even a possible loss of the contract. So, right now, go and fix your business plan. It’s an easy step that will save immense headaches later.
At Journyx, we speak to many professionals who deal with payroll on a day-to-day basis. Our customers have an easy time submitting data to payroll, but other companies that don’t have a solution like Journyx can have a harder time. Payroll can be a huge headache, especially for a CEO of a start-up. Take, for example, the CEO of Tasting Table:
Being without a bookkeeper, Geoff Bartakovics needed to process payroll ASAP. I find it interesting that Bartakovics felt such pressure to get payroll done on time because of his employees. He believed that distributing his team’s paychecks late would make his employees doubt his new company. The faith that his employees had in the business wasn’t something Bartakovics would sacrifice.
When I hear this story, I wonder if I take my on-time paycheck for granted sometimes. As a young worker, I sometimes read horror stories on Facebook of friends who aren’t paid on time. I can’t imagine the stress they’re going through with a late paycheck; how is that affecting their ability to support themselves? I can remember a former job where I experienced something worse than a late paycheck—a bounced paycheck. My trust for my employer was shaken during that time, and rightly so. It was a clear sign that something was seriously wrong with the company and shortly after I left, the company folded.
In this stressful economic time, are you making sure that your employees are paid on time? Is payroll a total nightmare for your company or a breeze?
This Q&A was taken from our Journyx webinar series featuring Wes Fue entitled “Federal Government Contracting-It’s a Whole New World!” For more information, sign up for an upcoming webinar or check our archives for previously recorded webinars.
This is an excellent question. Unfortunately, the answer is that they do not have to. While agencies do release the final competitor standings they do not necessarily advise across the board. For a business that is waiting for a decision to proceed on certain other business operations, this information can be crucial. Therefore, it is a good idea to stay on top of the contracting agency and ask for a debrief if you have submitted a contract and know that submissions close on a set date. You can also wait a couple of weeks to see if a decision has been made if you are uncertain of the close date. Finally, it is a good idea to find out where you stood in relation to the other competitors if you do not win the contract because most agencies will base their decision on a relatively fair scoring system.
It may seem a little counterintuitive, but tracking time can actually be used to strengthen employee morale at the office. When viewed through an automated system wherein employees track time to tasks, it can readily become apparent where employees are spending the majority of their time, but more importantly, it can also demonstrate where they are spending their time most efficiently. These two metrics can be referenced together to gain insight into what employees are assigned to do, and what they actually enjoy doing.
Let’s break this down a little further with an example. Say John is in charge of managing his company’s website. Viewing the hours he has tracked over a set period of time, it is obvious that he spends the majority of his time cleaning up bad code, refreshing links, and performing mundane site maintenance. However, as an occasional side assignment, John also works on building code for his company’s software. His timesheet indicates that he spends far less time on this.
However, the savvy manager looks at the time spent on both of these tasks and compares completion rates to find that while John spends much more time on maintaining the website, he actually completes a greater percentage of work in less time when working on the software. The manager checks the software and finds the work is good, thus negating the possibility that John was simply speeding through the task to get it done. On these grounds, the manager decides he has enough information to speak with John about a shift in responsibility since it appears that John is better at programming software, and thus might enjoy that work more.
This example might seem simplistic, yet you would be surprised just how often circumstances like these appear in an organization, and how often they goes unnoticed. Employees working on tasks that they view as mundane will become dissatisfied in their job roles very quickly, increasing employee turnover unnecessarily. With a little insight it is possible to increase employee morale without necessarily spending more money or offering incentives. Simply giving workers responsibilities at which they excel creates the groundwork for increased satisfaction and productivity long term.
It’s typical for local publications to showcase the yearly keynote speakers at SXSW Interactive here in Austin where Journyx is based, but there’s always one speaker that shines just a little bit brighter than the others. This year it was Cyborg Anthropologist Amber Case:
Case is responsible for the app Geoloqi and speaks at many tech conferences. She even has a TED Talk under her belt called “We Are All Cyborgs Now.” I find Case fascinating because she speaks about technology like she’s already seen how it will ultimately develop. Case isn’t afraid of the fact that we are dependent on technology. Rather, she sees power in mobile technology becoming an extension of ourselves. Case has convinced me that we need more philosophical discussions of our developing relationship with technology as new tech is developed.
Ultimately, what Amber Case has to say about technology makes me very excited, and a lot of other people are taking notice as well.
As you already know, Journyx will be at the Microsoft Convergence show next week in Houston to showcase Journyx Timesheet’s integration with Microsoft Dynamics. Here at Journyx, we are definitely experts in the field of Microsoft Dynamics, as evidenced by our published article in today's issue of MSDynamicsWorld.com.
The article, by Journyx CEO Curt Finch, is titled, "Evaluating Cloud Solution Options for Microsoft Dynamics". Below is just a taste of what you'll learn in the article but head over to the MSDynamicsWorld web site to read the full article. (It requires a quick and easy - and free! - registration.)
Evaluating Cloud Solution Options for Microsoft Dynamics
The advent of Microsoft partners offering cloud software solutions represents the beginning of a transition away from traditional self-maintained offerings. That being said, businesses are still seeking information about the cloud options available to them. Microsoft now offers multiple deployment solutions for their software, and many find that popular business software such as Dynamics ERP experiences increased functionality via the low maintenance and minimal up-front costs that a cloud system can provide.
For some companies, this transition might be viewed with suspicion and concern for security. There are reasons to be cautious. However, while cloud solutions have different issues than traditional IT systems, that does not mean they have more extensive issues. In order to understand the benefits and setbacks of cloud systems, you must first understand the types of cloud solutions available.
What Do the Different Solutions Look Like?
Basically, there are three types of cloud solutions available to Microsoft Dynamics users. From partner-hosted solutions, to on-site installation and management, to "pure" cloud solutions hosted by Microsoft or other major cloud platform vendors, the options can appear complicated at first glance. However, all of these deployment options will fall into one of three general cloud categories: private clouds, public clouds, and hybrid clouds. Depending on your exposure to current trends in IT, you might already be familiar with one or more of these. For the sake of clarity, let's take a look at each one in depth.
When Thomas Hobbes wrote The Leviathan, his philosophical political treatise, he put forth that a government should be heavily centralized and have near absolute power in order to essentially save people from themselves. Thankfully, western society affords us much more freedom than this theory would allow, and somehow we survive without bludgeoning each other over the heads with dull stones. That being said, much like the government in Hobbes’ philosophy, the United States government does have some “sovereign” powers that ordinary consumers do not have. When working on a government contract, it is important to realize this, as well as how those privileges can affect you.
One of the most important of these additional rights is the ability to unilaterally alter a contract, so long as it remains within the parameters of the contract. In practical terms, that means that the government contractor might be required to ship or package the product in a certain way, or even to supply more product. Of course, this does not mean that the contractor is without rights. Equitable cost adjustments may be instituted to scale compensation. In any case, the contractor must comply with these new contract components.
Perhaps the most concerning possibility for a government contractor is the fact that, should the government decide that the need for the contracted product or service no longer exists, the government might cancel the contract. The contractor will be compensated for the project in this case, but it can be unexpected. When dealing with the government, it pays to be prepared.
So what does this mean, and what should the aspiring contractor do? First, it is absolutely essential to keep your house in working order, and to be sure that you have the necessary resources to take on a project. Second, it always pays to have a pivot strategy in place. The possibility for alteration or cancellation of a project is remote, yet if you can prepare for multiple possibilities it can save you from financial distress and in some cases can improve your relationship. Raising a big stink over shipping specifications, for example, will only make you seem uncooperative. It’s far better to maintain some level of flexibility in your operations so that no situation is ever too far outside of your control. The best way to do this is to consistently track resources and time to projects, that way you know exactly how much additional funding, time, or materials can be diverted while still remaining profitable.
As you probably have heard, Journyx is exhibiting at Microsoft Convergence 2012. The conference attracts about 9,000 attendees every year, so it’s a great time to network and make valuable business connections, as seen here in this video by Microsoft:
We’re extending an open invitation to meet up with Journyx in Houston during March 18-21. You can stop by booth #2053 to meet the Journyx team. You can also schedule one-on-one meetings with a Journyx team member. Our sales team, marketing team, and upper management are all available to meet with you personally. If you’re interested in setting up a personal meeting, you can contact me directly at email@example.com and I’ll make sure your meeting is set up. We look forward to meeting you!
Will you be attending SXSW in Austin over the next few weeks? If so, you’ll definitely want to do the whole SXSW networking thing! But maybe you’re having doubts because you’re feeling shy? Don’t be! Most likely, everyone else is just as weary of getting out there as you are and like you, they all just want to make the most of it. There are three stages of networking: pregame, during, and after-party. Keep in mind that these are figurative, not literal, phases of networking that you need to be aware of before stepping out to your next event.
The Pregame – Time to get warmed up. I find that it helps me to call a good friend on the phone while I’m on my way to a mixer. If you’re left to your own thoughts while driving to the event, you might start thinking of all the possible encounters in your head and get nervous. But if you have a good conversation with someone like your Mom who thinks the world of you, you will get that feeling that you are “on a roll”. A positive conversation will get your confidence flowing before you make your appearance.
During the Event – If you think or talk about how uneasy you feel especially while at the event, it’s going to flow into your actual behavior. You’ll walk into the room with these things I like to call “negative tapes” in your head:
“Everyone’s smarter than me”
“I am horrible at conversation”
“People think I don’t belong here”
These are terrible things to say to yourself and are detrimental not just to how you feel at the event but for your self esteem, in general! Instead, think to yourself, “His badge says National Instruments – my dad used to work there” or “She’s got cool boots, I wonder if she’s from Austin?” or “I wonder if anyone else had trouble finding this place?” Get curious about OTHERS and notice interesting things about THEM. It’s a wonderful way to take the focus off yourself and start conversations with people you don’t know. These “positive tapes” are really as painless as ice breakers get.
Dave Michaels, Director of Business Development, whom I met from a Tech Ranch Incubator Mixer
The After Party – Now that the event is over, you need to reach out to the people you’ve met, reminding them of the conversation you had or ideas you shared. Networking is a waste of time if you don’t follow up and do this important step. To maintain relationships with people you met, invite them to other events that spark your interest since you both are at least somewhat like-minded with events. Doing so makes it much easier to maintain a natural momentum and keep in touch with people you meet instead of it being a chore. Friendly, social, smart, encouraging people who have a passion for learning will wear off on you. I promise! You can see passion in others…which brings me to my final point. I know I said there are three stages, but this one’s a bonus and probably the most important!
I know it’s cheesy but be yourself and show some passion – in all the stages of networking! Have the right mentality going in, show enthusiasm at the event and follow through to the very end. You won’t get the best experience out of it if you’re doing it halfway.
Now, off you go! Go explore SXSW and all it has to offer! From my own experience, you will meet incredible people and have an amazing time doing it.
P.S. We at Journyx are going to a few SXSW Interactive events ourselves, so stay tuned or follow us on Twitter to keep up!
Hi, Journyx blog followers, I’m Christa. You might know me from the Pearl Harbor Day post. Everyone here in the office knows me as the social media girl. If you tweet to us or write on our wall, I’m the one who sees it and responds. So be nice! Also, if you’ve been to our mixers or parties, you have most likely seen me around.
Anyway, if you’re planning to attend Microsoft Convergence 2012, you can follow us on Twitter at @JournyxInc to receive all of the important information about the conference and, of course, what’s going on at the Journyx booth (#2053). You’ll definitely want to stay up to speed on what we’ve got going on! We will have giveaways at our booth that include a 42” HD LCD TV and an Xbox 360 w/ Kinect. Also, if you share our special QR code tweet while at the tradeshow, you’ll be entered in a drawing for a $50 Visa gift card. We couldn’t forget about our social media fans!
This TV could be yours:
I’ll be uploading photos as well as video content – all of which you’ll be able to view via live tweet or right here on the blog site. Give me a shout out if you’re at the show and definitely if you’d like to meet up with the Journyx crew. There are many after parties, pre-games and everything in between we plan to attend. We can’t wait to meet up with our fellow Microsoft partners and friends like Susan Singleton at Kissimmee Utility Authority. Did you see our recent announcement we made with KUA?
We’re friendly, we won’t bite and we may or may not have lots of really cool Journyx swag handy. I can’t wait. See y’all in Houston, Texas!
Journyx has been around for more than 15 years at the time of this writing. During that time, we have developed and distributed the first web-based time tracking system. We have served industries in nearly every field and provided custom solutions when other companies said it was impossible. We have a well-developed expert knowledge base that can help you tackle government contracts, recover from an economic downturn or make a footprint in the global marketplace. Our website highlights our capabilities in “Track Time and Expenses,” “Bill For Projects,” and “Pass DCAA Audits,” among other things. We do all of these things, and we do them well. But that is not why people choose Journyx.
People choose Journyx because they want to hold a finished product in their hand, not look at a report detailing last minute budget issues that require the cancellation of a project. People choose Journyx because they want to make sure their employees are happy and working on the tasks that they are individually best at. People choose Journyx because, at the end of the day, they want to leave the office secure in the knowledge that they are on track, without the nagging fear that they really should have kept working well into the night.
They choose us not because of what we provide, but because of what we remove: Inhibition. Stress. Uncertainty. Stagnation. These things are responsible for the ills that befall nearly every company from time to time. Executives don’t refuse creative new initiatives because they hate advancement; they do so because they are afraid they will lose money. They don’t refuse the promotion because they dislike the employee, but because they aren’t certain that it will increase overall company health. At Journyx, we realize that sometimes these situations will persist regardless of the action taken, but we also believe that by providing an in-depth view into the operations of a business we can make sure that the implications of every decision are known. That way, when a company decides to build the next pipeline, rocket engine or video game, they can rest easy in the knowledge that they are doing so with the right people, resources and budget.
So don’t deal with Journyx because we are interesting. Deal with us because you are.
Every business is unique and has different business needs. Because of this, Journyx Timesheet integrates with a variety of accounting systems, from Quickbooks, ADP, Microsoft Project, and Microsoft Dynamics™ GP. Many accounting systems come with a simple time keeping system, but usually, companies find that it doesn’t meet all of their needs. This month, we’re going to Microsoft Convergence to show off our integration with Dynamics GP to the Microsoft community. Microsoft Dynamics GP is a mid-market business accounting software that is part of the Microsoft Dynamics Business Solutions platform. Are you considering using Dynamics GP? Here’s an inside peek of what the product looks like for a sales manager:
We recently announced that Kissimmee Utility Authority (KUA) will use Journyx Timesheet for employee time tracking. Their decision was in part based on Journyx’s integration with Microsoft Dynamics GP. According to Susan Singleton, Business System Quality Improvement Manager for KUA, “We can make customizations in Journyx and know that the system is going to work smoothly for our specific needs. No two companies are going to have the same needs. Companies will have different rules, levels of approval, quirky payroll calculations - all unique to them. Journyx allows us to configure everything to meet our needs upfront, which really allows us to save time and gain productivity.”
Do you use Microsoft Dynamics™ GP? Are you getting the time keeping data that you need?
It’s about 5:30 am. A man stands facing a hastily built wooden tower many miles away, grasping a handful of torn paper. As a mechanical sounding voice counts down to zero, the man begins to dribble the handmade confetti into the air. For a moment, all is deadly quiet. Then, a light many times brighter that the sun illuminates the nearby mountain ranges. The blinding white gradually transitions to deep purples and blues. The tranquility and beauty of this moment persist undisturbed for a few moments, and then a tremendous roar overtakes the man, and a wave of pure force pushes at him, dragging his clothes backward, away from the wooden tower that no longer exists. The confetti moves too, wavering from its initial descent trajectory. The man thinks for a moment. Then, satisfied, returns to the base.
That man was Enrico Fermi, preeminent atomic scientist. The event was the Trinity test, the first major test of a nuclear weapon. The strips of paper were the only measuring apparatus that Fermi wanted to use to calculate the force of the explosion. The most fascinating part of the story is that his calculation was close to accurate. Using no more sophisticated a gauge than some crudely ripped paper, Enrico Fermi figured out, within one order of magnitude, the approximate kiloton yield of an event never before seen by mankind.
So what does this mean in practical terms? Two things. One, a creative use of simple metrics can often give you insight that is less than obvious at first glance. Two, we know more than we think we know.
Fermi’s ability to gain valuable insights into events by making educated assumptions has given way to an intriguing way of thinking about things, namely, that by clearly identifying and making educated guesses about relevant variables, we can make fairly accurate observations. In the business world, that means that as long as we have a good idea about how things have behaved in the past, how much things cost, or how much time was spent on something, we can make good guesses about future behavior. That is why it is so important to build a backlog of important business data, and keep it up to date and accessible, so that these types of estimates can come naturally.
Theoretical physicists often use “Fermi Problems” to train themselves to think in this way. The classic problem asks, “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” Of course, it is possible to look up this data, but that’s not the point of the exercise. Rather, one approach might look like this:
1. There are approximately 5,000,000 people living in Chicago.
2. On average, there are two persons in each household in Chicago.
3. Roughly one household in twenty has a piano that is tuned regularly.
4. Pianos that are tuned regularly are tuned on average about once per year.
5. It takes a piano tuner about two hours to tune a piano, including travel time.
6. Each piano tuner works eight hours in a day, five days in a week, and 50 weeks in a year.
Therefore, by calculating:
(5,000,000 persons in Chicago) / (2 persons/household) × (1 piano/20 households) × (1 piano tuning per piano per year) = 125,000 piano tunings per year in Chicago.
(50 weeks/year)×(5 days/week)×(8 hours/day)/(2 hours to tune a piano) = 1000 piano tunings per year per piano tuner.
We can easily divide to find:
(125,000 piano tunings per year in Chicago) / (1000 piano tunings per year per piano tuner) = 125 piano tuners in Chicago, an estimate that, if the assumptions are good, will be relatively accurate.
Here are some more problems of this type:
How many dog groomers are there in New York?
How many hairs do you have on the top of your head?
How many competitors does a tech company have?
How many baths does the population of the United States collectively take in a month?
How many successful projects does it take to become a billion-dollar company?
Remember, these questions are intentionally vague and there is no one “right” answer. Rather, there are many reasonable answers based on the assumptions you make going into the question. Give one a try and share how you reached your answer in the comments below. And remember, no cheating!