Should You Use Project-Based Accounting? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company has been using the accrual method of accounting. As they approach the fourth quarter of the year, they are looking at project-based accounting to reduce year-end cash reserves and taxable income. How do you create and manage a project-based accounting system?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The PeopleSoft Division of Oracle offers a project-based accounting package. There are a several issues that accompany a shift to project-based accounting: do employees work on more than one project, how do you plan to account for shared services such as administration and Human Resources, and do you plan to share revenue and costs across projects? These can entail a fundamental change in how the company is organized and behaves. If your primary motive is tax avoidance rather than organizational change, why would you pursue this level of change in the organization?
  • Looking at hundreds of companies with which the CEOs in the group have worked, nobody has seen any that utilize project-based accounting.
  • The company’s objective is to better understand the various projects that the company manages, and to have revenue travel with cost. A far simpler option from an accounting standpoint is to look for ways to pre-pay future expenses and thus reduce year-end cash reserves.
  • Another option is a hybrid between cash and accrual accounting.
  • If you have a strategic reason to pursue project-based accounting, look at firms that serve the construction and entertainment industries. These industries have similar challenges to those faced by the company.

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