The simple mindset on a project in terms of budget is this…we have a budget, we manage the project daily, we try to stay on target (and by target I usually mean 10% either way) and we manage scope so we aren’t giving work away for free and causing budget overruns. Sound familiar?
But really, there’s more to it than that. The thoughtful project manager who is thinking strategically and trying to look at it from both sides – the customer side and the delivery team side – should see the budget a bit differently. Are there things we can do along the way to keep the budget on track without sacrificing quality? Are there little things we can do for the customer that won’t significantly impact the budget but will serve as confidence boosters or will increase overall customer satisfaction or possibly serve us well as a bargaining chip later on in the project? Is the budget an ongoing source of anxiety for our project client? Do we need to strategize how we provide budget information and updates to them on a weekly or monthly basis so as to minimize this anxiety while still giving them a clear view of the overall project financial health?
I’ve dealt with project customers of all kinds over the years – ones that wanted in-depth budget updates almost continuously, others that never wanted budget updates at all, one project client who thought a high dollar project manager was a waste of his money (that was me!) and still others that wanted updates but really had no clue about what they were looking at.
What I’ve found along the way is that by sticking to a general plan, process and format, I can make most customers happy most of the time with the budget and financial information I’m giving them and with some minor tweaking I can cater to nearly all of them without too much of a hitch. Here are the concepts that I generally try to follow…
Not everyone has to travel all the time
Most of the projects I’ve managed in recent years have been remote projects with very geographically dispersed teams. That said, it’s common to plan to bring most or all of the team together – usually onsite at the customer – for project milestones or for kicking off a new phase of the project. But is that necessary? The one project customer I mentioned above who simply couldn’t see a need to pay top dollar for a project manager was very happy when I greatly reduced travel on the project from the original plan – and I eliminated nearly all of my travel because it simply wasn’t necessary when the next phase really called for a visit from the tech lead. The customer was very budget conscious and I helped ease their anxiety over a possible budget overrun by not making them pay for my entire team to show up at those periodic face-to-face touch points in the project – it saved thousands of dollars for each planned phase meeting.
Give them the current and long-range view in simple terms
The customer may say they don’t want budget info, but give it to them anyway. It’s good accountability for you, and they can never say they weren’t aware. Forecast and re-forecast the budget every week using actuals to make weekly updates and to give the customer – and team – a view into how the project looks today and how it looks through the end of the project based on the current resource plan and project schedule. If the customer wants more, they’ll ask for it. If they want less, tell them no…you need them to be at least somewhat aware.
Know what your team is working on – look for small things to give away
Heading into user acceptance testing (UAT) on one project I had only planned 20 hours of assistance on our side to help the customer plan for and prepare for this critical activity. It was clear I should have planned more…but the customer knew from kickoff that we were only planning 20 hours of UAT help. The customer was so ill prepared…and yes, I learned a lesson from this…that it was obvious they needed more like 60 hours of our time – that extra 40 hours amounted to about $6k. Not a lot and certainly not a budget breaker, but I gave it away to them and they knew that and it helped me to get a much larger dollar figure pushed through as a change order later in the project. It served as a nice negotiation chip with the customer while not decreasing their level of satisfaction…because they knew they had already received some necessary work for free.
There are some things we can do aside from the status quo that can help our project’s financial health along the way. We have to take into consideration our project customer, their preferences, and the size and complexity of the project, of course, but by following the steps above you’ll generally be making good use of your project dollars on every project you manage. See how you can control your project hours.
How about our readers…what tricks have you used to keep the project budget healthy and keep your project customer confidence level high? It’s a touchy subject with most project clients as the bottom line can sometimes mean everything to them…please feel free to share your thoughts.
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