October 2006 - Posts
I was cleaning my bag out today - a good idea considering how heavy it was getting - in the winter, the bulkier your clothing, the tricker it is to wear a backpack designed for, I’ll argue, small people.
Everything was different in the summer, though.
In the summer - a scant 3 months ago - I sat in a waiting room, waiting to have my eyes checked out.
I was on study leave, so I was feeling nice and carefree - as much as that’s possible when you have a big huge exam looming on the horizon, anyway.
What does this have to do with my bag?
I found a slip of paper with some random notes along with this observation:A woman asks if she’s going to have to ‘endure’ 45 minute wait at the doctor’s office near her workplace. “I have a ton of work to do and I can’t afford to be sitting around that long!” she cries.
If my memory serves me correctly, I think she wandered off. I’m not sure if she ever came back, as I only waited another 5 or 10 minutes.
Taking that little experience at face value, that’s not necessarily worth something paying attention to - yes, waiting sucks and people do have lots of work to do.
And if that woman had just said that in a civil manner to find out if her appointment was going to occur on time, I wouldn’t think anything of it.
But her obnoxiousness was both off-putting and mindblowing. I hope for the sake of whoever she interacts with on a daily basis that she was having a bad day and not always acting like a freak. I suspect, though, that this was her normal behaviour. Which is a shame.
Last year I was incredibly lucky when it came to busy season - I was on a job where I had mercifully little to do. I felt a little guilty that everyone else seemed to be working like mad while I essentially coasted through the fall.
Then of course I worked the winter busy season - but all those hours were needed for my CA, so it didn't feel like that much of a chore.
Now, I'm in my second busy season and I'm getting the full Busy Season treatment. It should probably be obvious by the fact that I haven't done any posting since my trip last week!
Travelling out of town can either lead to a scenario where you have tons of time to kill, or you're trying to experience as much as you can and can hardly find time to sit down and write about what you've done.
Needless to say, the latter scenario played itself out last week. And since then, I've worked on five different clients in a ridiculously short period of time. There is a light at the end of this tunnel - things should calm down by tomorrow, fortunately!
I found myself with one nice long job - long jobs are nice, since you have more time to space out the workload! - and a few jobs with "loose ends" I had to tie up.
I could've dragged everything out a few more days but I really didn't want to - that would only extend the period of insanity. So I tried to do everything as soon as possible. And I came pretty close to succeeding.
Now to see if things calm down, or keep humming along at a ridiculous tempo - will I get any time to go back to playing Company of Heroes
or Sid Meier's Railroads!
anytime soon? I hope so - CoH is so much fun, and hopefully SMR's numerous crash bugs will be fixed by the point when I have time to enjoy it again.
I could've had a miserable day today.
I showed up at the airport and was stunned to see a queue that would probably take an hour to go through - an hour, if I was lucky! It must’ve been at least 100 or 200 metres long.
I had over an hour and a half until flight time, but that felt like cutting things a bit short. I considered my options. You can always skip the line when you have little time left, but it wasn’t time for that. So I instead checked out the ‘no checked luggage’ line. Fortunately that line was very short, with only a few people, and I could in theory take my luggage on as carry-on.
But I really didn’t feel like checking my bag - and I then noticed that there were 6 check-in terminals that were not being used!
To say that I was shocked would be an understatement.
I ducked under the cattle rope line, and nearly took it out with my backpack in the process - oops - and I quickly set myself up at the nearest free terminal. A minute later I had my boarding pass and I was in the next queue - to check in my bag.
While lingering in the zip-zag line of people who had their boarding passes, I was amused to notice that virtually no other people were taking advantage of the unused computer terminals. There was only one Air Canada employee managing the line, providing assistance to people unfamiliar with the touchscreen terminals, and encouraging people to move further along to the aforementioned unused terminals!
One man made a snide joke about my graceless movement that ripped down the cattle herding line making me look like a “boob”, although he acknowledged the wisdom of maximizing the efficiency of the terminals!
It was interesting to see such a massive bottleneck at the first stage of the check-in process. It made me wonder how many other bottlenecks I would have to surmount.
I made a remark about the inefficiency in the first stage of the check-in process to the first Air Canada employee I met with and she lamented the fact that Air Canada has recently laid off employees.
It looks like Air Canada introduced self-check-in terminals as an alternative to the check-in counter. Now, the check-in counters are the only option at Pearson Airport’s Terminal 2. Which would be fine if there were enough staff on hand to help people with the self-check-in.
Of course, there’s only one over-worked lady managing dozens of terminals, and an insufficient number of terminals accepting people’s bags once they make their own boarding passes.
Stellar, Air Canada, absolutely stellar.
I proceeded to the US Customs checkpoint. Wait time? Less than a minute.
It was a big relief, and also a slap in the face: the bottleneck at the start of the check-in process leaves the customs checkpoint under supplied with ‘clients’!
The security checkpoint had a small lineup, but nothing that a five minute wait couldn’t solve.
Thanks to the fact that I was shameless or clever enough to skip over the stupid bottleneck by finding my little loophole, I had plenty of time to sit down and chat on the phone and read before getting on my plane.
I wasn’t able to share my wisdom with anyone while I was at Pearson, though - the people waiting in line for a free terminal were so far back it wasn’t possible to say, “hey, just skip the stupid line, there’s plenty of room at the front”.
Perhaps a few people will read this and learn not to trust queues operated by Air Canada.
If you understand or have heard of "utilization rates" and "chargeability", then you likely work for a professional services firm.
If this is all new to you, the simple explanation is in order: consultants, auditors, lawyers and others bill their clients based on the number of hours of work performed.
Those who work by themselves, running their own business, make their own invoices and send them out the client, much like a private detective bills for services rendered - there's nothing complicated there.
In larger firms, however, you'll find a person or a whole department dedicated to sending out those invoices. They take all the information compiled by the personnel working on audits or lawsuits or whatever, and use it to make the invoice.
For example, if
- a partner works 2.5 hours on a job at two thousand bucks an hour,
- a manager works 10 hours at five hundred bucks an hour, and
- the fresh-faced kid puts in 100 hours at two hundred bucks an hour...
... you'll end up with an invoice for $30,000. Plus tax, naturally.
This all sounds rather straightforward, doesn't it? Of course, when accountants are involved it gets complicated in a hurry.
Now before I continue, remember that these rates are all fictional and used
because they simplify the math - some of those rates are off, some
might be close, and I don't know by how much, because everyone charges
for work at different rates!
Moving right along, let's say you agreed with your client to charge a maximum of $25,000 for the job - assuming certain conditions. Now that $5000 difference had to come from somewhere.
There's two things to consider: what happens to the money, and what happens to the "charged hours". I'll deal with the money first, because I figure that appeals to general readers more - cash is interesting, right?
One of two things, or a combination of these two things have happened: you did $30k of work because your own staff was slow or it turns out that the job was more complicated than expected.
Depending on what happened, either the firm forgets about the extra five grand, or it determines if it can convince the client to pay. Or of course some combination of the two.
If the firm's staff screwed up, good luck getting the money back - the client won't care that the kid straight out of university photocopied everything backwards or set their laptop computer on fire.
If your client's books were flawed, however causing more work for the staff, then that's another story - the budget was agreed to based on certain assumptions, which usually involve the assumption that "everything is okay". If there's trouble, then a smart manager will inform the client about the nature of the problem, and also explain that additional work was necessary and what effect it will have on the final bill. Boom - you got your $5k and everyone's happy - except perhaps the client.
Now what happens if the firm can't get the money back? This is where you stumble into the original reason behind this post: discerning the difference between chargeable and billable hours
Chargeable hours are the time staff report to their company. If they say they did 55 hours on an audit, then that's the number of hours they charge to their own firm
. If, due to the billing arrangements, the company can only bill the client for 45 hours, then there will only be 45 billable hours to speak of.
Does it matter to the staff if there's a discrepancy?
Only to the extent that they want to show that they were doing "real" work, and not just 'running up the clock' by sitting around and wasting time. They don't actually make the billing decision in most normal firms so as long as they can show that they got work done as efficiently as possible, they're "safe".
For the manager, though, it does matter, because they are evaluated, in part, on the percentage of hours they actually earn back from the client. This ties in nicely to the next question you may have: why would staff willingly try and do 55 hours of work in a 40 hour work week, aside from the fact that their bosses need them to do it - hence the key word "willingly
Simple answer: they need 2500 chargeable hours to get their CA
Once they get those hours, they're set for life.
Why do they keep pushing themselves after that point? Well by then they're usually more than halfway to being managers - hitting that rank takes fives years, and it'll take about three years to get your CA from the time you start work.
And managers, you see, are usually the lowest rank of employees who make billing decisions - asking themselves the question, "do we antagonize the client by billing them for extra time, or do we just 'eat' the time and forget about it?" As mentioned above, they look bad if they don't bill enough hours, but they also look bad if they leave hours "unbilled". It's a fine line to walk and one of the many reasons many drop out of the profession and go into "industry" down the road.
Are people trying to innovate away from the hours-based mentality to reduce the insanity? Yes, but there's no widespread trend going on, just isolated movements here and there. And there's no guarantee that all these schemes will reduce the madness. For example, I just read about an American firm that decided to reduce the size of an hour to 54 minutes
There'll always be moves to change the system one way or another, although all that I've seen so far are essentially sophisticated ways of altering the semantics of how bills are issued.
In the end, people do work, charge their time, the client gets billed, the client pays, the people get paid, and the cycle repeats itself until the anti-capitalist forces destroy the System.
So, for the foreseeable future, nothing's changing - at least you can rest assured that knowing how this system works will be one nugget of knowledge which won't go obsolete within a week.
Technically I'm busy
, but I'm going to use the "trying to do work and have a social life" excuse for the recent posting drought.
Although putting a computer together from scratch probably didn't help matters either. That, plus the fact that I need to scan in a certain Gold ticket to proudly share with the world and the fact that Videosift
the biggest timesink on the internet.
Those are my excuses. Enjoy.
With all the time spent studying, I simply didn't eat or ate whatever family prepared.The Steeple
has provided me with many lists
I'm going to definitely have to try out once I find more spare time to just tool around in the kitchen.
Perhaps I should turn off the computer to get started.
Despite my ridiculously high level of involvement with <a href="">Videosift,</a> I haven't been embedding a lot of videos around here lately, partially reasoning that the people who wander in here aren't looking for videos. That logic is pretty faulty, though, since I recall seeing larger than normal crowds show up when I posted popular videos in the past - lately I haven't been checking visitor stats much, but nor have I been posting videos.
That's just a long-winded way of saying that videos have their place here, among general discussions of audit, accounting exams, and other fun stuff.
I'd like to welcome the Detoured Economist
and the Anonymous Accountant
to the list of fun links to check out down in the links section.
'Regular' auditors who do the lion's share of the accounting and audit work relating to financial statements audits get to enjoy their busy season shortly after Christmas.
IT auditors, however, kick it into gear in the summer, and rev it to a maddening pace throughout the fall.
Last year I sort of "skipped" the busy season by being sent out to Chatham to work pretty much all by myself. While I had lots of work early on, things slowed down towards the fall. Thanks to a curious arrangement, I was treated as someone working all the time, even when I wasn't busy - I was essentially put on "standby" mode whether or not tons of work surfaced.
While standby mode was fun, in the sense that I had very little stress or work for that matter, it was pretty weird. Spending hours just reading technical manuals to get up to speed on whatever I'm not familiar with still feels like work, but you know you're just killing time. My e-mail response time was super-fast those days.
Now, however, my mailbox is overflowing with overdue replies and I'm 'finally' experiencing a "real" busy season in my department. Think being placed on two different jobs simulteanously.
It's actually not that tough to juggle the two jobs and the hours aren't horrific by any stretch of the imagination, but it's clear that there's real work to do, as opposed to the lackadaiscal stretches in springtime where the only people who are frantic are the tax accountants scurrying to and fro.
Then again, I've never seen our tax people scurry, but it sounded approriately dramatic.
The interesting thing about being back in the office is definitely the fact that I can have a 'social life' in the office, as opposed to living in solitude 300km away from the capital city and all my co-workers.
It's incredibly satisfying to be able to share a hard sougth discovery with someone sitting next to you, or just join in a delightful prank to break up the monotony of sifting through data or composing lifeless memos.
I should really edit through posts like these to improve their quality from the stream of consciousness writing that spawns them, and any spontaneity that's lost should be more than compensated for by the improved quality of writing and tighter sentence structure.
But unfortunately it's late and I really feel like showing up with a full night's rest tomorrow, so I'll let you enjoy this commentary on busy season in all its raw, uncut glory.
Continuing my lazy approach to dealing with spam, I have taken a note
of how many showed up this month in my mailbox. Although 1032 offers for scams and stupidity arrived, over 99% were
successfully filtered out by the spam filters - I could count the
number of messages I manually set aside on one hand.
Impressive. Good work Google!