Published March 1, 2018 . 0 min read

Storytelling with Job Cost Data

We work with contractors daily on how best to take advantage of the data that’s locked up in their accounting systems and ERPs.

The initial conversations are almost always about building specific reports and drilling down to the transactions. I acknowledge that this is very useful and I encourage them to ask as many questions of the data as possible.  I also nudge them to think of their data in a different way.

From my perspective, everything is about context. Let’s take job cost data as an example. You might consider all of the different ways your job cost data can be viewed. Here are a few common examples:

  • Organizational
  • Regional
  • State
  • Project Manager
  • Vendors & Subcontractors
  • Individual Jobs
  • Cost Codes

Timing around job cost is also very important.  Most contractors care about the current JTD (Job-To-Date) costs. However, being able to see the cost over time also provides great insight. Here are a few examples of adding the Time context to job cost.

  • Do you spend more during the summer months vs. other seasons? This is an interesting one because it has implications on future estimates.
  • Are you spending money on material and equipment too early on jobs?
  • How are you performing year over year, quarter over quarter or month over month?

Everything so far has really been about exploratory analysis. We perform this analysis to gain understanding and to also figure out what is noteworthy so that we can communicate our findings to others. Exploratory analysis is important, but can be very time consuming. However, if we want to tell a compelling visual story to executives, then sometimes we might need to include narrative analysis.

Narrative analysis should be clearly articulated to your audience and action oriented. When creating a really good analytical visual, ask yourself what would a successful outcome look like? What do you want the audience to understand about the job(s)?


I believe in the 3-minute story rule. Basically the 3-minute story rule says, you only have 3 minutes to tell your executives or project managers everything that they need to know about cost data. So you need to be clear, concise and action oriented.

I love examples, so here’s a very basic example…

A contracting firm was experiencing a high attrition rate with their field employees. We analyzed their JTD labor rate for all jobs over the past 10 years and compared it to the average hourly rate for other contracting firms in their area. We noticed a progressive gap over the years between the market average and what they were paying their employees. We also found a strong correlation between attrition and the labor rate gap. The visual below paints a compelling story for executives and is also action oriented.

As I mentioned earlier, the example above is very basic. Most modern analytical tools should provide many visualizations to help you tell the right story. I’ve included a few visuals that you can within the Pronovos product. No matter what visuals you’re using, make sure that it’s right for your audience. Play around with the 3-minute rule and get as much feedback as possible.

Here are a few of the standard visualizations that you will find in Pronovos.

About the author:

Bruce Orr is the Chief Data Scientist at Pronovos Construction Analytics. Pronovos provides affordable analytical solutions for contracting firms that utilize ERP software from Sage, Viewpoint, Procore, Foundation, SAP, Jonas, Accubuild and many others.