Even if a project is creatively brilliant and delivered on time, your agency will suffer if it goes over budget.

Why do projects go over budget?

There are only two reasons a project will go over budget:

  1. The budget was wrong
  2. The project scope has changed

OK, maybe there is a third which is that your team is not as efficient as you assumed when you set the budget, but I would argue that actually comes back to my first point. Your budget was wrong.

What can I do to keep projects on budget?

I wrote in my last blog on Project Costing why project costing is essential if you want a thriving agency. By tracking your time and costs you will have better data available for when you quote for your next piece of work which, in turn, means that it will be more likely to be accurate.

If you are monitoring the time and costs on projects closely you will be in a better position to see when the team is not working efficiently or when the scope of a project has changed. This can then be addressed in a timely manner, for example, by negotiating a fee increase with your client.

Is there a tool that can help me?

Of course! There are lots of apps out there to help but it can be tricky to work out which will be best for you.

Here I compare the top three project costing solutions for agencies, Harvest, Workflow Max and Xero Projects.

All three of these apps make it is easy to track time spent on projects and to measure staff utilisation (another blog to follow on what this is and why you should measure it). Here I run through the Pros and Cons of each.

Xero Projects

In their own words, ‘Xero Projects is a streamlined project management app for smaller businesses from sole traders to mid-size’.

  • Xero Projects is a module of Xero and so it will feel familiar and is relatively intuitive to learn.
  • There is no receiptbank integration meaning that someone will need to go into each bill when it is in Xero and manually allocate it to a project.
  • Sales invoices integrate well as they can be allocated directly to a project.
  • Staff time can be tracked at either cost rate or at charge out rate but not both.
  • It is easy to set up
  • High level budget setting only meaning it is not possible to budget by staff member or task


Workflowmax is also owned by Xero though it does not have the look and feel of Xero. Workflow Max describe themselves as a ‘Highly customisable Project Tracking and Project Management Solution’.

  • Includes Project Management functionality as well as time and cost tracking
  • It is difficult to set up and clunky to use. To get the best out of it, it should be set up by an expert and comprehensive training given to your team. This makes it a costly investment.
  • Projects can be configured to follow the stages of your project life-cycle
  • Users complain of poor customer support.
  • Powerful and customisable reports
  • There has been very little product development over the years and no publicly available roadmap of planned future developments.


Harvest say that ‘Time tracking shouldn’t weigh you down. Treat yourself to easy, intuitive timers that just work, wherever work takes you’.

  • Projects can be configured to follow the stages of your project life-cycle
  • Integration with Xero is one-way – sales invoices can be raised in Harvest and pushed into Xero but not the other way around and there is no import function to bulk upload sales invoices into Harvest.
  • Phone as well as email support
  • No integration with receiptbank or Xero for the capture of third-party costs
  • Harvest Forecast, an add-on module, can be used for resource planning
  • Sub-tasks in the project lifecycle cannot be grouped.

Why we recommend Harvest

Overall it is Harvest that we recommend to our clients. This is because it has more functionality than Xero Projects yet is less onerous to set up and operate than Workflow Max. This is key as it needs to be simple to use for your team to engage with it successfully without becoming overly burdensome to administer. If you want some tips on how to get started with Harvest, read our blog Top tips to get up and running with Harvest.

Want to find out more?

Get in touch with our team at de Jong Phillips or read more about our Xero accountants in Surrey if you would like to find out more about how Harvest could help your agency.