Cost and Budget Considerations for Project Management

Every project has a cost – that cost comes in the form of a budget. Budgetary overruns are the number one cause of project failure in all industries. Even if you manage to achieve the goals of the project, if you do so by going over your budget, you can’t consider it a success. Blowing your budget is never a good thing, but there are a few ways that you can keep an eye on costs and ensure that you stay within the bounds set for the project.
Know Your Budget
Obviously, the first step in staying within the bounds of your budget is to know what it is. This should be set during your planning and initiation stage, but there’s a problem here. Sometimes, project managers are not brought onboard until after this stage. This is particularly true in instances where the project was planned by upper management and then delegated out afterward. If you don’t know what your budget is, find out. You’ll need to communicate with upper management and the program’s sponsor to get this information. If they are unable to provide it, that should be a red flag – the project should go on hold until you have this data.
Tracking the Budget
In addition to knowing what your budget is set at, you also need to make sure that you’re tracking your budget at all times. This will require that you do some very specific things. First, make sure that there is someone responsible for tracking the budget at all times – that might be you, the project manager, or it might be a stakeholder, manager or even a team member. The point is, a very close eye needs to be kept on your budget, and how your project is faring in regards to it.
Constant Reporting
Yet another vital element here is that your team members all understand the importance of constant, accurate reporting where costs and time are concerned. This applies directly to the amount of time they spend working (the number of payable hours they’re racking up) each day. For team members that struggle with time management, this can be a challenge. Thankfully, there’s a whole host of time tracking software out there that can help make this more feasible. Make sure you have a solution in place for this and that your team members use it.
Project Your Costs
Finally, you need to be good at forecasting your costs in terms of the amount spent at the end of the project. How far over budget will you be if no changes are made in the meantime? Will you come in under budget? Is there a way to authorize more money? With accurate forecasting, you can take preemptive steps to ensure that you are able to remain within your budget, or get approved modifications to increase the funds available to you.
With a proactive stance and the right steps, you can avoid the most common failure to plague the world of project management.

Project Meetings – Planning for Success

Project meetings – they’re both vital and possibly one of the least popular things involving your project. Those attending the meeting don’t always want to be there (particularly if they’ve been left out at previous meetings) and planning a project meeting isn’t the simplest thing in the world either. With that being said, these are important meetings, and it’s equally important that you go about planning them the right way. Doing so will not only ensure that you’re able to cover the information necessary, but that your audience is engaged, that everyone has a chance to contribute, and that communication is enhanced.
What’s the Reason for the Meeting?
The first thing involved with planning your meeting is determining exactly what it’s about. You need a purpose, and you can’t afford to be too inclusive of other topics. The reason for the meeting will also determine at least to some extent who you invite. Have a clearly stated purpose and you’ll be able to follow through with all the other elements in project meeting planning.
Supporting Materials
Very rarely will your project meeting not require some type of supporting materials. These materials can vary considerably from one meeting to another, and might involve charts and graphs, digital projections, handouts and more. Make sure that you not only know what supporting materials you’ll need, but have enough time to produce those materials in sufficient quantities.
Who’s Necessary?
One of the areas where project managers get into trouble (particularly those new to the role) is in the number of people invited to project meetings. Make it a point to only invite those who are absolutely necessary. There are several reasons to limit the number of attendees.
First, the fewer people you have at the meeting, the fewer interruptions you’ll have. You’ll also find that it’s easier to get to everyone in the meeting, ensuring that no one is left out and your meeting doesn’t run over its allotted time.
Second, limiting the number of people attending reduces the amount of prep work that you have to do, and also ensures that those attending your meeting are responsible for disseminating the information to their teams, departments or others they supervise who have some interest in the project.
Length Considerations
Never assume that your meeting attendees don’t have something important to do before and after the meeting. Keep your meetings as short as possible, but long enough to cover everything that needs to be said and still provide ample time for attendees to participate. This also requires you to choose the appropriate time for your meeting. Find out from your attendees what time of day is usually best for them, and then set the meeting during the period that most find preferable. There’s no way to satisfy everyone here, but you do need to make it a concern.
As a final note, you might find that smaller, more frequent meetings (of a short duration) are preferable to long meetings with a large audience. A five-member audience in a 15-minute meeting might be a better fit for your needs.

The Right and Wrong Ways of Head-On Confrontations

One of the basic premises of project management is you’re going to butt heads with someone at some point. It’s just a fact of life when you’re trying to get something done on deadline and on budget.

That’s why it’s good to know the right way and the wrong way to butt heads. Dan Rockwell, author of the Leadership Freak blog has some excellent advice on how to tackle (not literally) opponents in your way – without them feeling run over.

He shares his points in an article entitled “12 Dos and Don’ts for Butting Heads Successfully.” While I’m not going to just print the list verbatim, I am going to highlight some of the more salient points. There are also some comments to the article you may want to read.

Here are five of his don’ts I want to focus on:

Don’t talk over things with affirming friends who take your side rather than exploring issues. – Basically, don’t build yourself up off the opinion of “yes men” (or women). Conflicts aren’t resolved successfully when the only view you entertain is your own.

Don’t forget the big picture. You may become so focused that you forget the impact of your suggestions on others. – It’s the age-old saying: don’t sweat the small stuff. Small thinkers have small careers. Big thinkers who can see the big picture are more successful.

Don’t use, “You,” aggressively. Ask, don’t tell people what they think. – It personalizes a disagreement too much when the focus is on a particular person. You may not think that’s the case but overusing the pronoun “you” conveys that point. Asking people for input sets up a cooperative environment.

Don’t sit at conference tables or in offices. Relaxed atmospheres lower barriers. – Grab a cup of coffee is the simple solution. Even heading outside to breathe in some fresh air can work wonders. Step outside your zone of confrontation and meet on neutral ground.

Don’t overreact. Choose the emotional middle. – As the parent of young children, what comes to mind is this: use your inside voice. Another point that works with children – and will work with adults – is the statement, “You’re not that kind of child.” It means, is this the way you want to be perceived? It actually works on quieting down my girls. Ask yourself that question mentally when you start to boil over.

Here are five of his dos worthing following up on:

Define issues, problems, and challenges. It’s a waste of time to talk around what’s important. – Basically you have to cut to the chase. It’s difficult to do this in corporate environments at times, you think, but it ultimately garners respect when done well.

State and restate the arguments of others. Make people feel understood, even if you disagree. – This is the drive-through approach to conflict resolution. Never heard of it? Well, if you have a toddler you might have because it’s a theory from “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” (a must read for parents). Basically, when you order fast food, the cashier repeats back to you what you ordered. It’s an affirming step that makes you know you are understood and resolves any questions you might have. The same is true in any discussion. Restate the argument and you’re halfway there to resolving it.

Believe things can be better, even if not perfect. – You don’t have to be a pie in the sky optimist but you also can’t be imbued with a rain cloud over your head. It’s a sign of weakness when you project negativity.

Take breaks. Marathon conversations wear people down. Tired people do and say dumb things. – This was touched on in an article I wrote recently on stand-up meetings. It said, in effect, no meeting should last more than 15 minutes. Granted, that’s not always possible, but a one-on-one confrontational conversation more than a half-hour long just isn’t going to be productive.

Prepare by exploring issues, not rehearsing sentences. – This is a trick good public speakers use. Have bullet points – not a canned speech. Understand the broad outlines. It will help you speak to specific points without seeming like you have rehearsed. It makes your language flow more freely and more openly. After all, openness is perceived positively even when butting heads.