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Recent Posts

5 Questions To Ask During Benefits Identification

How To Keep PMO Costs Down

What You Need To Know About Individuals For A Resource Pool

10 Things I’m Hoping To Get From PMI EMEA

Book Review: Project Think

5 Questions To Ask During Benefits Identification

Categories: benefits

PMI has recently released a new Pulse report that goes deep into the topic of benefits realisation, specifically around benefits identification. The introduction to that report says it’s the first in a series of deep dives into the project management area that is benefits.

The report calls out 5 questions that you should be asking during the benefits identification phase of your project. What, you don’t have a benefits identification step? That’s where you are going wrong.

Planning for Benefits

Project management is now widely acknowledged as the link between strategy and actually making change in the business work to achieve that strategy. The report defines benefits identification as a key part of this because if you don’t know what the benefits are going to be you cannot accurately assess whether the project or programme will help you get closer to your strategic goals.

The report includes the results of a survey of over 1000 project managers and shares the results. This one, in particular, jumped out at me:

When project benefits are frequently identified before the start of a project—as part of the business case—organisations experience better results: 74 % of projects meet goals and business intent versus 48 % in organisations that do not. And when organisations frequently use formal project management to address the benefits identification process, they experience greater gains: 80 % of their projects meet goals and business intent versus 54 % in organisations that do not.

Pretty compelling, right? If you spend time thinking about benefits then you are more likely to achieve them. There are a lot of reasons we can guess at for why this might be the case:

  • Project teams understand how the tasks they are doing fit in with the bigger picture.
  • Everyone is more focused on the end goal because they understand the reason why the project is being done.
  • Decisions are made in line with whether the benefits will be achieved or harmed as a result, which could result in better decision-making with fewer office politics.
  • As there is a documented end state, results can be compared back to this and measured instead of being guessed at or not tracked at all.

And so on.

So where do you start? You need to identify your benefits and the report helpfully provides 5 questions to ask when you start. Here they are, along with my interpretation and ideas about how you could use these to prompt discussion on your project.

The Essential Benefits Questions

1. Why are we doing the project or programme— what are the business drivers?

Understanding the business drivers will help you pin down what kind of benefits you are expecting to see. A project that is starting out because of the business driver to increase sales, for example, would expect to see benefits related to sales targets.

If you can get your executives and your project sponsor to explain the rationale behind the project is gives you all a starting point to look for clarifying benefits.

That leads on to…

2. What are the measurable benefits?

The key word here is ‘measurable’.

I would argue that it’s also fine to have non-measurable benefits, but you can’t track those really. Some people would point out that even so-called intangible benefits like staff happiness can be tracked and measured, for example by engagement surveys, so think carefully about including non-measurable benefits and don’t get lazy and avoid working out any measures. It’s not too difficult if you spend the time on it.

3. Who is accountable for the benefits?

This is a really important question because the jury is out – and has been for 20 years, according to Dr Terry Cooke-Davies’s piece in the Pulse report – about whether it’s the role of the project manager or the customer.

The truth, I suspect, is partly between the two. To avoid the “You were going to do it,” “No, you were going to do it,” scenario at the end of your project, make sure that you have some clarity around who is going to be accountable.

4. Who ensures the project benefits are aligned with strategic goals?

I imagine the answer to this question in most cases is the Project Board or Steering Group. There is a degree of ongoing governance that has to happen on any project and it makes sense to me to make that group responsible for ensuring that benefits align with the strategic goals at the start and then don’t deviate during the delivery part of the project.

You’ll have to have this discussion internally to get an idea  of where your sponsor feels the responsibility sits, and if it doesn’t seem logical to you, feel free to challenge.

5. Who signs off on the benefits?

And is this different from the person who is accountable? Getting all these different roles straight is important because if anything changes through the life of the project and you become aware that reaching the benefits will not be possible, or will be challenging, then you’ll have identified everyone who needs to know.

Consider it a mini stakeholder identification exercise, because you’ll be surprised at how many people want to have a say in benefits when you start talking to the wider team and managers about them.

These 5 questions give you an easy framework for starting conversations about benefits. You can still use them, even if your project has already started. I hope you find them useful!

Read the whole report here:

Posted on: May 28, 2016 06:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

How To Keep PMO Costs Down

Categories: PMO, video

In this video I talk about how to keep the costs of your Project Management Office down - or at least under consideration!

Posted on: May 26, 2016 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

What You Need To Know About Individuals For A Resource Pool

Categories: events, pmi, resources

An enterprise resource pool is a great way to track and manage the people available to work on projects. It’s often set up by the Project Management Office and used to work out who is going to be a good fit for the skill needs of a new project.

Setting one up doesn’t have to be a big job or particularly complex, and many project management software tools will do this for you. Dan Lefsky, speaking at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Barcelona, talked about the things you need to include in your resource pool data set in order to get the most use out of it.

Categories of Resource

He explained that a resource pool includes two types of resources:

  • Generic resources (these could actually be non-people resources like meeting rooms, although he didn’t cover those)
  • Named resources (these are your potential project team members).

The Data Needed For Your Resource Pool

He gave examples of the 8 things you need to consider and record for each named resource in order for you to be able to usefully draw on the data to select team members for upcoming projects. These are:

1. The Type of Resource

Is the person a Business Analyst, a Project Manager, a Quality Analyst, a User Experience expert, a Tech Writer, a Developer? Or something else? This is typically their job title and doesn’t necessarily reflect their particular skills.

2. Skillset

This is where you record their skills. You’ll probably want to set up a drop down list or categories that you can tick from as searching free text fields is going to be too difficult once you’ve got all your resources on there. Skills can include programming languages, Agile/waterfall/hybrid PM methodologies and so on.

3. Experience

It’s worth noting the experience of each individual. This could include the departments they have worked on, the category of project they do, the number of years they have been at the company, or years’ experience overall in their role, the key relationships they have within informal networks etc.

4. Cost

Cost of resource is a factor. Are they charged at time and materials? Or fixed price? What’s their internal day rate when working on projects? You might not have costs for some resources because it’s moving ‘wooden dollars’ around the organisation and that’s fine, but if you intend to charge clients for resource time then you’ll need to know what each person costs.

5. Location

Where is the resource based? For some projects it might not matter because they can work virtually, but for others it might have a significant impact. You could categorise these, Lefsky said, by onsite, offshore, onshore, nearshore or remote. Or you could list the city where they work (or do both).

6. Maximum Availability

This could change depending on their other commitments but it’s definitely a useful piece of information to have for some resources. For example, where an individual also works as a team manager, they will have certain management responsibilities that take up some time. These are things, speaking from experience, like approving timesheets, managing team’s expenses, team-level reporting, 1-to-1 meetings and performance reviews, dealing with sickness absence and so on.

You can’t allocate these people to your project 100% of the time. In fact, it’s not sensible to allocate anyone to your project 100% of the time. Note down what time they have outside their normal responsibilities that can be allocated to project work.

7. Manager

Knowing their line manager is helpful for resource requests.

8. Resource Breakdown Structure

Lefsky talked about positioning resources in the Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS) as this lets you see their security permissions, areas of control and similar. If you have a formal RBS then this could be worth doing but if you don’t, you could just as easily create another categorisation for security clearance if that was important to you.

Gather all this information and start to populate your enterprise resource pool. When you get started you’ll probably just focus on the people who spend a lot of time working on projects, but it’s worth expanding this if you can, and if you are going to take an enterprise-wide view of portfolio management. It’s a big job, and you have to reconcile the fact of treating individuals as ‘resources’ who can be put into little boxes and categorised, instead of the unique individuals that they are, but in large organisations particularly it can be incredibly successful.

Note that you’re going to have to continually review this. While someone’s job title might not change that often they could gain new experience through projects or develop new skills after training. Don’t let your resource pool data get out of date or you won’t benefit from being able to develop individuals or from letting them use new skills.

Do you use a resource pool? Let us know in the comments if it has been successful for you or whether – as I suspect it might be in many companies – it was set up as a one-off exercise and then not developed further, thus falling out of use very quickly. I look forward to hearing your experiences!

Posted on: May 20, 2016 02:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

10 Things I’m Hoping To Get From PMI EMEA

Categories: events


I’m off to Barcelona very, very soon, to get ready for the PMI Global Congress EMEA which is happening next week.

Here are the 10 things I am most looking forward to.

1. Great Networking

I’ve already arranged lunch with someone I’ve ‘met’ here on The discussion forums and messaging tools on the site really do allow you to make new connections that go far further than a simple ‘follow’.

I’m looking forward to meeting her and to finding out more about her project management world.

2. Great Speakers

The PMI events attract some great speakers and while there aren’t a lot of names I recognise on the line up (I don’t think anyone could top seeing Colin Powell for me – regardless of your opinion of his politics he was a fantastic headliner at one North America Congress), I know that they have all gone through a rigorous process for being selected.

I know that because I did too. I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow panellists at the session I am delivering on Wednesday. We’re giving a panel debate on future trends in project management and collaboration tools, as well as talking about how to practically use them in your job.

3. A Break

One of the main reasons I go to conferences is to recharge my batteries. I know that sounds ironic, as I often spend longer at the conference venue, then typing up my notes afterwards, than I do in a normal working day.

Plus it’s brain intense a lot of the time – not just listening to new ideas, but also having to think about everything from where to go to lunch to how to change my session registrations. Normally a work day includes at least some time where I’m doing something that I do regularly and can therefore do without thinking.

4. Inspiration

A good conference should mean I come home with loads of interesting ideas but most importantly, inspiration of how I can grow as a professional.

5. Practical Tips

The carer and personal growth thing is all good, but what I also need are practical tips that I can use in my project management day job from the moment I get back to the office. I’ll be hoping to mix up my sessions so I see a few inspirational, big picture talks and a few practitioner-level speakers for those practical takeaways.

6. Reaffirming Existing Connections

Yes, I hope to catch up with some old project management buddies. In fact, I’ve arranged to share an apartment with one, to keep costs down, get a nicer place between us and spend some time catching up.

I’m also hoping that there will be other old friends, colleagues, and clients there whom I can meet. We all work around the world, so while I’ve known some of them for years I don’t often get a chance to see them in person.

7. Great Food

I’m actually not a huge fan of tapas because I find it is way too easy to eat far too much. I also struggle to keep to Spanish dinner times and the trips I’ve had to Spain before have seen me go out to eat much earlier than the locals.

Having said that, the food is good, and I remember wonderful fish dinners on the seafront in Barcelona from previous visits.

Plus, churros. Need I say more?

8. Great Coffee.

It’s Spain. Of course the coffee is good.

9. A Sense of Community

One of the best things about being with loads of other people who love managing projects as much as I do is that it’s very reassuring to hear that we all have the same issues. “Oh, you have problems with stakeholders too, do you?” “Yes, my testing phase was just as terrible.”

We all live with the same challenges and it’s good to know that you are not alone in having to deal with an uncooperative sponsor.

10. Seeing My Book!

Collaboration Tools for Project Managers, my new book, will debut at the PMI Bookstore on site in Barcelona. I can’t wait, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to help myself from taking photos of it and then putting them on my Facebook page.

Published by PMI, it’s a totally revised and updated version of Social Media for Project Managers, building on everything that book covered and bringing it right up to date.

I haven’t yet seen a copy in real life and I’m so excited to know that it’s going to be there.

If you are going, get in touch through the PMI Congress app and I’ll try to find you to say hi!

Posted on: May 06, 2016 08:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Book Review: Project Think

Categories: books

A Russian spy, Ivan Petroff, infiltrated the white House disguised as a rat exterminator and stole a top-secret document. Three people witnessed Ivan Petroff inside the White House. Whose description of the spy is most probable?

a) White House bartended Mick Mousy described the exterminator as a big guy in a black suite.

b) White House taxi driver Mohamed Toscanini described the exterminator as a big guy in a black suit and sunglasses.

c) White House secret service agent Bert Bigneck described the exterminator as a big guy in a black suit and sunglasses, who spoke with a Russian accent.

This is how Project Think: Why Good Managers Make Poor Project Choices begins. A series of questions designed to test your decision making and uncover biases. I’ll tell you what the right answer is at the end.

Project Think, by Lev Virine and Michael Trumper, is a thought-provoking book. They include lots of examples of failed projects and poor judgement on projects and unpick why that might have happened. They talk about three types of mental error that lead to mistakes on projects:

  • Overconfidence
  • Confirmation bias
  • Optimism bias.

All of these result in a lack of analysis of the facts – basically jumping to conclusions and failure to see the real situation on a project.

Sometimes, the authors say, intuition is enough. But often, you need to take that out of the equation and go with analysis.

It’s a well-researched book that I found fascinating, but it’s a shame that there a number of typographical errors in it: a missing full stop here, a misspelling of an author’s name there. The editor could have done a better job at making sure those little points were sorted out, although I’m going through the same stages for my new book at the moment and I know that it’s not easy.

The book aims to take a different view of project risk by talking about the risks that we, as project managers, sponsors and team members, introduce into a project through poor judgment and lack of analysis. Are those on your risk register? Thought not.

The Alternatives

So what do they recommend instead? The authors talk about a number of ways that you can try to reduce your personal biases and make better decisions. While ultimately their aim is to make you more aware that those biases are there, so you can more critically analyse your own thought processes when it comes to making decisions, they also offer a number of suggestions.

They talk about ‘choice engineering’ which means not mandating one process for everything. For example, on a small project you might choose to follow a particular path or use a particular template. By allowing people to apply their judgement (or use a set of criteria to identify the suitability of their project) you can help them use the right tools for the job.

They also talk about ‘adaptive management’. This is basically using iterative processes and continuous process improvement combined with a number of other ways of working such  as:

  • Multi-model analysis: not using the same tools all the time to run your analysis when you might get a different result or a different understanding if you used another model.
  • Hypothesis testing: trying out a hypothesis and testing it before committing to a course of action.
  • Performance measurement: this gives you data to use for decision making and assuming you do it well should give an accurate picture of the truth today.
  • Making reversible decisions: I’m not personally sure how practical this is, but I can see it working in some situations where you have the flexibility to move to a different course of action if required.

Back To The Spy…

As for the Russian spy, the most probably description is (a). The authors point out that the more general the description, the more likely it is to be accurate. They also explain that the representativeness heuristic can lead to a number of mistakes in decision making, not least because it clouds your judgement. What this means is that people “make judgements about probabilities and risks based on the category that this object, person, or process represents.” In other words, you are programmed to believe the secret service agent, despite the fact that the chances of the suit, sunglasses and accent coming together at the same time is less probable than the other two descriptions.

The book is a challenge for open-mindedness and well worth a read. It will make you question how you come to conclusions on your project and the biases inherent in your decision making. While alone that won’t promise you better project results, it should go some way to making sure that your projects have a better chance of success because you are taking away the risk of poorly-formed decisions.

Posted on: April 25, 2016 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

"Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as muscles grow flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it."

- Walt Disney