Cooper Perkins is an engineering design practice with offices in Boston and San Francisco—but contrary to what its name might suggest, there’s never actually been a Cooper or a Perkins working for the business. Instead of christening the business after themselves, the four founders adopted the name of the historic house they were working in at the time: the Cooper Perkins House, named after John Perkins, a “cooper” (barrel maker).
That’s just one way Cooper Perkins does things a little differently. Another is how they position themselves as a practice, not a consultancy. “Consultancies are really in the business of dispensing advice,” explains Megan Daniher, Communications Manager. “Our team doesn’t just give advice, we work alongside our clients to help solve their business problems through engineering.” Cooper Perkins’ distinct approach has attracted some of the brightest minds in engineering (just look at their more than forty and counting patented inventions). It attracts noteworthy clients too: they’ve completed projects for New Balance, MIT’s Media Lab, and Genentech, to name a few.
The team is something Genevieve Laing, one of Cooper Perkins’ Directors of Engineering, is particularly proud of. “We have a lot of really smart engineers,” she says. “Not only are they skilled and talented—they’re eager to learn and share their knowledge with each other. I know it’s cliché to say, but I think the biggest strength of our organization is the team as a whole.”
Cooper Perkins has relied on Harvest to support their team collaboration since 2009. But until 2014, they hadn’t found the right solution to plan for the future. That’s where Forecast came in.
We bill most of our projects based on time and materials. Having an easy, clean way to do that, like there is on Harvest, allows us to focus on the tough engineering problems where we bring value to our clients.
Using Forecast to see the future
Harvest has long been a part of Cooper Perkins’ workflow. “Time is everything for us,” says Genevieve. “We bill most of our projects based on time and materials. Having an easy, clean way to do that, like there is on Harvest, allows us to focus on the tough engineering problems where we bring value to our clients and not get bogged down in administrative tasks.”
While Harvest provided a clear window into the past—allowing them to seamlessly record their hours and bill clients—planning future work felt more like gazing into a cloudy crystal ball. “I don’t know how we did it before Forecast,” says Genevieve. “I think we used a series of complicated spreadsheets, which is crazy.”
All that changed when they adopted Forecast, Harvest’s companion tool.
Forecast has revolutionized the way Genevieve and her team plan their work. “Forecasting lets us understand how many resources are available at any given time, and allows us to plan in a way that maximizes our utilization of engineers’ time,” she says. “That lets me tell Business Development, ‘Hey, we need more work for our electrical engineers.’ Or ‘We have availability coming up in December.’ Or sometimes it means telling HR, ‘It’s time to hire more engineers.’”
Being able to understand and predict the demand for their services has allowed Cooper Perkins to grow sustainably, without burning out their team. “Forecast definitely has aided our growth, particularly in terms of how we predict what’s coming into the pipeline and how we manage all our resources accordingly,” says Genevieve. “It allows us to grow in a healthy, balanced way.”
Forecast definitely has aided our growth, particularly in terms of how we predict what's coming into the pipeline and how we manage all our resources accordingly. It allows us to grow in a healthy, balanced way.
Shaping the business direction with data
While Forecast is at the heart of their planning, Harvest also plays a key role in helping Cooper Perkins scope upcoming projects—especially when they’re writing proposals. “This morning we were writing an SOW and I thought, ‘This sounds like that other project we did. How much did that cost us?’” says Genevieve. “And it’s very easy to go into Harvest and find that information.”
At this point, using Harvest to reflect on past projects is a core part of Cooper Perkins’ process. “We hold a retrospective at the end of every project,” says Genevieve. “We go back and look at Harvest, comparing what we actually spent to what we thought we would spend. This, paired with context regarding what evolved over the course of the project, allows us to have a better picture of what similar projects will cost in the future.”
This morning we were writing an SOW and I thought, ‘This sounds like that other project we did. How much did that cost us?’ And it’s very easy to go into Harvest and find that information.
Using the Harvest API, Genevieve pulls data from both Forecast and Harvest into a custom-coded spreadsheet, which she then uses to generate a graph for her team to contrast their predicted workload with their actual workload. Looking ahead, they’re able to see how demand is shaping up for their services months into the future—allowing them to determine whether they need to pull in contractors or make a new hire. “Looking into the future, we can see if there’s a brief bump above 100% utilization, meaning we need to hire a contractor, or a steady increase, which indicates we need to hire more staff,” she says.
Harvest & Forecast—the perfect pair
For Cooper Perkins, using Harvest and Forecast together just makes practical sense. While Forecast allows them to predict demand for their services, Harvest lets them test the accuracy of those predictions—which in turn, allows them to improve their estimates over time.
Genevieve sums it up best: “Tracking time in Harvest is, for the majority of our engineers, just ingrained in their day,” she says. “And there are no huge highlights or lowlights which I think is actually a good thing for that kind of tool. It’s not cumbersome. There’s an app if you want it. It’s directly tied to how we make money as a company, and it makes it really easy for our employees to record the information we need.”