RANA is more than just a design studio with an ecological consciousness. They see themselves as a “co-habitat” company—creating spaces for people and nature to coexist in harmony. “We bring ecology into urban environments,” explains CEO Marta Kephart. Best known for their work on green roofs and living walls, RANA has worked on everything from residential projects to environmental restoration. They even have their own plant nursery with over 1500 species of native plants.
Their commitment to coming up with ecological solutions to design challenges means they’re often inventing from scratch. To accomplish this work, they’ve had to innovate their team structure—vertically integrating their design studio with a planning department, construction division, and the aforementioned plant nursery. “It works well because you have continuity,” explains Matt Yurus, Principal Landscape Architect. “A lot of the same people who are designing might be involved in the construction management, and we can go out to the nursery and see whether the plant material we want to use is available.” This structure allows them to manage every detail of projects, from inception to completion, and bring their creative visions (often literally) to life.
Still, collaborating across four distinct teams does make project management a bit more complicated. “We’re constantly trying to integrate our four different divisions, which could very well stand to be their own businesses,” says Marta. Much like the ecosystems they work with, it’s a complicated, integrated network. “Making sure that people are communicating and each department is profitable is probably the biggest ongoing challenge that we have.”
In order to coordinate between teams successfully, they needed a way to keep track of their projects and billable hours in one place. That’s where Harvest comes in.
Creating an integrated project ecosystem
Like many companies billing on an hourly basis, RANA started on spreadsheets. “At that time, we were just using Excel and everybody would write in their task, how many hours they spent, and turn it in at the end of the week,” says Matt. It wasn’t an ideal solution, but at the time, they didn’t know of any better options.
That is, until they started working with someone who was using Harvest—and loving it. “A consultant who we worked with on a job in San Francisco was using it and he said, ‘Oh, you should check this out,’” Matt recalls. Game to try something new, he signed up for an account. “I was the first on the team to start using Harvest. I think I used it for a month on my own. I thought it was pretty cool—just being able to track your time in a more seamless way.”
"This has been a way for us to keep things in one place, across all divisions. Our departments often work together on projects. So we’ve been able to pretty seamlessly integrate our projects using Harvest."
And he wasn’t alone for long. Inspired by his positive review, the rest of the team soon adopted Harvest too. That was back in 2013, and today, they’re still going strong. Now, they can’t imagine living without it. “One of the reasons we’ve been using Harvest for so long is because we sell our services and billable hours,” explains Marta. “This has been a way for us to keep things in one place, across all divisions. Our departments often work together on projects. So we’ve been able to pretty seamlessly integrate our projects using Harvest.”
Maintaining profitability and managing people
By integrating their disparate departments through Harvest, RANA is able to gain a holistic picture of their overall performance. “I think it’s been really helpful in tracking the profitability of a given job,” says Matt. “It gives us a lot more detail than, say, QuickBooks, which just gives you a line item for the cost of labor. That doesn’t tell you anything about what that labor was. We can look in Harvest and see we spent this much time on estimating, this much time on designing, and so on.”
I think it’s been really helpful in tracking the profitability of a given job. It gives us a lot more detail than, say, QuickBooks, which just gives you a line item for the cost of labor. That doesn’t tell you anything about what that labor was.
This data helps the team plan better for the future. “It definitely helps us refine our proposals and new contracts going forward,” says Marta. “We can look at our past projects, see them broken into phases, and say, ‘Okay, we did really well here, but didn’t estimate enough time for this other part of the project.’ That just helps us be better at our jobs.” The next time they encounter a similar project, they can check their estimates against real numbers from archived projects—enabling them to create a more accurate project plan.
Keeping a record of this data also helps them coach employees on their performance. “It’s a really good tool for our employee reviews,” says Marta. Managers can look at employees’ hours and gauge their productivity, how they’re spending their billable hours, and how effectively they’re managing their projects. This has led to a lot of internal growth.
“We’ve been able to coach our team on time management and project management,” she continues. “Early on, we had an employee who didn’t quite understand the principles of time management and when he went over budget on a project, he just created a second project with the same name. All of a sudden, he wasn’t over budget anymore!” (Marta laughs). “That was a really good teaching moment. I think overall it’s made everybody better team members and better project managers.” Using their personal time tracking data, the whole RANA team can continuously work on improving their skills.
Building a drought-resistant business
Hardy plants can survive extreme conditions—and successful businesses are no different. Like the living architecture they build, RANA has learned to become resilient to the threats they face. Thanks, in part, to the data that Harvest provides.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, RANA was prepared. Having previously weathered the 2008 recession, they were able to take lessons from their past experiences. But crucially, this time, they had data to work with. “When COVID happened, we had eight years of consistent time entry reporting and budget tracking under our belts,” says Marta. “We were in a good position with our projects—and if there were projects that weren’t performing well enough, we were aware of it and could make an adequate response.”
Now as they navigate a post-pandemic environment, there will no doubt be new challenges on the horizon. But no matter what’s next for RANA, Harvest will be there to help them grow and flourish.