The Money Files

A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

How to read a bridge (and use one on your project)

What recruiters want from project managers (and what the project management industry thinks they want)

How much do you cost your project?

Easy illustrations for your project meetings

7 Reasons to crash your schedule

How to read a bridge (and use one on your project)

Categories: methods, reports, tips

A bridge is a way of displaying financial information in visual format. You might also know it is as a waterfall chart, or ‘the one with the flying bricks that looks like something from Mario’. It’s just a way of showing how an initial position has been affected by subsequent changes, so you can see why that would be useful for a company’s financial position. It can show changes that are positive and changes that are negative, and ends up with the new cumulative position as you can see in this diagram.

This picture shows a completely made up scenario, but I think it illustrates a point. In September, the starting position for this department was $75,000. This could represent value, profit or anything else. Then there were some things that changed. These are illustrated by the small floating boxes: the first change that happened was a positive improvement of $16,000. Then there were some other criteria, inputs and changes that also increased the situation positively.

Now we come to the black boxes. These on my chart represent money out, so let’s say this department spent $2,000 on some new software licences and $1,000 on a big party for everyone. This has had an impact on the net position so if my maths is right, the closing position on the graph, the situation in October, is now $100,000.

Great. But how is this relevant to projects?

Typically this type of bridge is used to represent financial information and you have financial information on your project, don’t you? I think it is a great way to present the impact of changes on your project budget to stakeholders. It’s useful because it’s a good visual representation of how you got from there to here and where the money went.

So you could use it to show the financial changes on your project, but there is nothing to stop you using the same layout to display other sorts of changes. Take this version, for example.

This shows you the situation in September in terms of project days. There are 150 days allocated to this project. Then there are a number of changes put forward. The green boxes show what would happen if you add those changes – the number of days spent on the project goes up (it’s not rocket science really). There are also some changes that save you time on the project. Let’s say that the big one, the 20 day time saving, is because the project sponsor has decided that the overseas office isn’t going to be included in this initiative after all, so there is no need to train those team members and you can save a whole lot of time. Another little change knocks 3 days off your project total.

If all these changes are approved, your project will now take 152 days.

When you are looking at individual changes at the change board, some stakeholders might find it hard to keep approving changes that add time. Two changes that add 10 days each? That’s huge. But when they see all the changes on the table that month laid out like this they can see that approving them all only adds 2 days to the project overall. That’s a very different story.

Of course, you might not want all those changes approved – there might be some stupid suggestions in there or functionality that would be better pushed off to a Phase 2. But using this bridge diagram gives you a new way to present the same data to stakeholders and help them decide on the impact overall.

I hope you find it useful!

Posted on: September 16, 2014 05:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Easy illustrations for your project meetings

Categories: team, tips

You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, at this month we are really testing that theory with the features on visual project management. And not wanting to miss out, I thought I would share some drawing tips with you.

Drawing? If you are thinking now that you can’t draw, bear with me. By the end of this article you will be able to, I promise.

First, let’s think about why you should be using illustrations and pictures in your project meetings. It’s easy to come up with lots of reasons:

  • It’s fun
  • Drawings help explain complicated concepts
  • People remember drawings better than lists
  • Drawings help get everyone on the same page (ha ha! You know what I mean)
  • Drawings help remove misunderstandings about processes.

And I’m sure you can think of other reasons.

When can you use illustrations in your project meetings? There are lots of times when it is appropriate, for example:

  • Requirements elicitation workshops
  • Solution design workshops
  • Process workshops
  • Change management meetings
  • Long meetings that need something extra to keep the attendees engaged
  • Any time when you are facilitating a session and taking notes on a flip chart.

OK? Let’s get started.

Drawing people

I hated drawing at school so if I can do this, then anyone can. Think of people as a five-pointed star. Then replace the top point with a head, like in the illustration below. An easy person! You can make it look as if the person is pointing, and put them together around an object to represent breakout sessions or collaborative working.

It doesn’t take much to adapt the star concept to have pointy arms and lots of legs to represent a group. I know this particular group only has 5 legs which isn’t realistic. Six would have been better (although there are 4 heads in the front row so someone is still missing out). But you still know what it relates to, don’t you? You can see that this could represent a client group, a project team, a user community… anything.

Illustrating processes

Process maps are represented in a particular way when you are using Visio or similar to put them together in their final version. But in a workshop, you can have much more flexibility about how you draw out processes on flip charts or illustrate them on slides. And there are likely to be some processes that are discussed in meetings where you don’t want a full-blown detailed process map and a quick illustration to show that there is a process will do just fine.

Arrows are great as shortcut symbols for processes. It’s easy to draw a basic arrow, I’m sure everyone can do that. A few dotted lines and it becomes the most basic process diagram. You can write in the sections if you want to show what happens where (maybe useful for illustrating the project lifecycle in a kick off meeting?). Where your process has several different end points (like accept, reject or hold changes) you can give your arrow multiple-heads, like in the picture below.

One of my favourite types of arrow is the twisty one. It can stand for lots of things but it represents transformation. So something goes in, something happens and an output falls out the other side. It could mean that software code is quality checked, or that ‘the magic happens’ in a black box process that is being provided by a third party. But it is fiendish to draw, at least that’s what I thought.

I learned how to draw the twisty arrow and the other elements at the Oredev IT conference a few years ago, in a session about visual recoding. The speaker broke it down and I have done the same for you in the picture below.

So now you have the tools to illustrate your meetings, why not give it a go?

Posted on: August 23, 2014 05:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

5 Ways to make better decisions

Categories: tips

Projects need lots of decisions and often it can take a long time to get a decision made, especially if there are numerous levels of bureaucracy to get through. Time is money on many projects, and while I don’t often come across project teams sitting around waiting for a decision before they can move it forward, I am aware of several projects where stalled decisions have impacted delivery dates and tasks on the critical path.

Speedy decision making relies on people actually thinking the problem through, gathering data and coming to the decision – and, of course, speedy decisions are not always the best decisions.

When the decision is under your control, you’ll have to make it. How can you be better at decision-making? Here are 5 tips to help.

1. Consider the long view

Think forward: what decision would you wish you had made next month? Next year? In five years? Approving overtime might feel like the right thing to do now but how will you feel about it on your next project when you’ve already set the precedent and the team are expecting to be paid for extra hours?

Think about the long view as it relates to your decision. This will also help you put the decision in perspective. Remember back to when you took your school exams. I expect the results meant a great deal to you then, but you probably don’t even put them on your resumé any longer. The significance of actions changes with the passing of time, so think about how you’ll feel about  this decision in 10 years – you’ll probably realise that it isn’t that big a deal after all.

2. Cut out data

What data do you really need to make this decision? Strip away everything else. It might be nice to know the resource allocations for the next month, but if that doesn’t have a bearing on whether you accept a schedule change or not then they shouldn’t be taken into account.

Make sure that you are using the right data, not any data to make your decisions, and go for the minimum possible. This will help cut the mental clutter and make it easier for you to see what needs to be done.

3. Understand the impact

What’s the impact of this decision? What will happen if you don’t make it? Sometimes understanding the ramifications of a quick/slow/positive/negative decision can help you tackle it effectively (or at least gather the right information to help).

I’ve often found that the larger the impact, the easier it is to make the decision. Sometimes small decisions seem the hardest because there tends to be less clarity about  the appropriate route forward.

4. Lose the emotion

We all get attached to our projects and teams but it is best to take the emotion out of decision-making. Think about what is best for the project and the company. For example, it might be an unpopular decision to reject a change from the Marketing department, but if it doesn’t help the project meet its objectives and it costs a lot of money, then it isn’t a smart thing to recommend to your sponsor. After all, your sponsor can choose to accept or reject it – you are just putting forward an emotion-free assessment of the change.

5. Intuition isn’t always right

Many project managers report ‘going with their gut’ when it comes to making decisions or working out how to resolve problems on projects. However, the application of some technique does have benefits. Your intuition isn’t always right – ever been caught out in the rain because you figured it would be dry all day so no need for an umbrella? You can’t rely  on your gut when project dollars are at stake.

Choose the right data to support your decision. By all means include some ‘gut’ in your decision-making process but be able to back it up in case anyone asks you why you’ve made that choice.

What decision-making tips and techniques do you use, or do you tend to simply go with what feels right? Let us know in the comments.

Posted on: July 08, 2014 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

5 Things for a Friday afternoon

Categories: tips

In his book, How To Be A Productivity Ninja, Graham Allcott talks about how to manage your time more effectively. It’s a good book, but one of the best things I took away from it was his idea of how you should spend your Friday afternoons (assuming that your working week finishes on a Friday).

He recommends spending time working through a weekly checklist and clearing out your email inbox, reviewing your To Do list, updating your processes, consolidating notes from the week and preparing ahead. So what does that look like in practice? Here are 5 things that you can do on a Friday afternoon to clear your head for the weekend and start the following week with the least possible disruption.

1. Clear your inbox

Allcott is a huge fan of ‘Inbox Zero’ which means not using your email inbox as a dumping ground where emails go to die. He thinks we should all clear out our inboxes, and when better to do that than a Friday, when you’ve got all the messages from the week to look over and deal with.

Go through your inbox and delete anything that can go. File anything that you need to keep for reference. Forward any messages that require other people to do actions on the project with instructions on what you are delegating to them. Anything that takes less than a couple of minutes to do, do now. You’ll probably have to put any other email-related tasks to one side as otherwise you won’t get the rest of your Friday afternoon checklist done.

2. Update your To Do list

What actions have you written in your project notebook or stuck on sticky notes around your monitor this week? Consolidate all that into your master To Do list. I take this a step further by writing the 3 most important tasks for Monday on a sticky note and sticking it on the front of my laptop. Then when I get my laptop out of my bag on Monday morning I know exactly what I should be focused on.

3. Update your files

Make some time to update your filing system and files. Create new folders for stuff if you need to. Otherwise, make sure that your project schedule reflects reality, and that all the risks and issues have up-to-date statuses.

4. Prepare for next week’s meetings

What are you up to next week? Book train or travel tickets. Check meeting room reservations and who is coming to your meetings. Send out agendas if you haven’t done so already, or call round the venues and sort out coffees and teas for people on arrival. It’s easy to put these little admin tasks off during the week but it’s getting a bit late now and you don’t want to be issuing driving and parking instructions on the morning of the meeting, so sort it out now.

5. Review what’s going to stop you

Finally, Allcott suggests thinking critically about what is going to stop you achieving your goals next week. That could be anything from a project team member being off ill, to not having the template for this quarter’s budget submission, to not being able to find time on your calendar to meet with the project sponsor. Once you identify the things that are going to hold up your progress, you can start to think about what you can do about them (if anything). Anything major can go on your project risk log. Anything that is more about your personal productivity can either be dealt with or accepted. Having this time to think about blockers will hopefully make them less stressful when they do happen next week – it’s another sort of risk management to do.

That seems a lot to me for a couple of hours on a Friday, because your project team members won’t stop emailing you or asking questions, and your project sponsor will still expect a weekly report to be produced in the same time slot or to turn up at your desk unannounced and ask for the latest earned value figures to take to the board. But give it a go. I think a period of updating and reflection on the last working day of the week will certainly make it easier to leave the project behind at the office. What do you think?

Posted on: March 10, 2014 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

What’s your USP?

Categories: recruitment, tips, training

One way to distinguish yourself from the other project managers in the department is to think about how good your grasp is of project finances. This is often an area where project managers have weaker skills because not all projects require them to balance lots of books and sometimes big projects even have financial analysts assigned to them so they don’t have to worry about working out the detail themselves.

So if you want to set yourself apart and develop a USP (unique selling point – something that makes you different from everyone else), building your project financial skills is a great start. You can then demonstrate how much value you add by being able to explain the project financials to your C-suite stakeholders.

Show you have a grasp on project finances

When asked, you should be able to talk knowledgeably about your project’s budget and whether or not you are on track. If you don’t have the figures to hand and you’ve been caught in the corridor by an exec who wants to know, explain that you don’t want to tell them the wrong thing and that you’ll check when you are back at your desk. Then follow up and email them the right figures as soon as you can. Of course, if pushed, you can always give a ballpark figure.

Show you understand the business case

Ideally, when you discuss your project with C-suite stakeholders (or anyone else, for that matter), you should be able to demonstrate that you have an understanding of the financials of the business case. If the project is going to deliver some kind of return on investment, then you should understand how that is going to be calculated. If there are other financial benefits, make sure you understand those and how the project deliverables and the work the team is doing will actually end up generating cash when the project is complete.

Work with your finance team

Get to know your finance department! They are a source of lots of useful information so find out what help they can offer you and make use of them! Even if they don’t have the staff to be able to dedicate lots of time to your project they can often help with ad hoc queries especially when it comes to things like invoice processing, year end processes and accruals.

Educate yourself

Be aware of context that your project is working in. For example, is the company under some financial strains or is there pressure to spend a certain amount of the department budget before the end of the year?

Also make sure that you understand the financial terms that you are likely to hear when it comes to company budgets – ROI, IRR, payback period and so on. Check out my videos on these subjects if you need a refresher.

Think big picture

How does your project fit into your programme and the business strategy overall? This will also help set you apart as in my experience many project managers don’t have the ability to think about the bigger picture overall and focus very much on their own projects and getting those done (although this is changing). Being able to see the big picture is a further way to demonstrate your value to the C-suite and to set yourself apart from your fellow project managers.

Showing that you have a grasp on your project finances and how this affects the project and the company overall brings a touch of reality to business case, and helps you explain your project’s contribution to your team members as well. Make your business savvy the way you distinguish yourself from the competition at the top level – it really can set you apart in the quest for a new job or for recognition in what you do.

Posted on: February 17, 2014 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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