The Money Files

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

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5 Facts from Benefit Realisation Management [Slideshare]

Career trends: the picture from 2014

15 Things You Should Have Done This Year on Your Project Budget

Project Cost Management: Determining Your Budget

5 Tools for Project Budgeting [video]

Career trends: the picture from 2014

Categories: research, salaries

Did you get a new job in 2014? Or are you hoping to get one next year? ESI have released a new report that looks at career trends over the last 12 months.

Starting salaries

As this in the inaugural report, ESI don’t have historical trend data on starting salaries. Even so, their assessment is interesting. In US Dollars, they report starting salaries as:

  • Graduate entry level: $38,957
  • Small project: $53,291
  • Moderate project: $64,768
  • Large, highly integrated project: $74,264

Note to self: put together justification for pay rise to present to my manager.

Getting the big money

The study found that if you want to be ‘proficient’ and earn the big bucks, you need to start off with 2 years on small projects, 5 years on medium sized projects and then 7 years on large, complex projects. That’s a career trajectory of 14 years! I hope that it doesn’t take the new project managers on my team that long to become a valuable, proficient project manager.

Note to self: plot out the career plans of the project managers in my team so they can see how they are advancing on to larger projects

Earn more with training

Just 5 days of training a year can make you a better project manager, and in turn, lead to a higher salary, the report says.

  • On small, low risk projects a week’s training can advance your career by 5 months
  • On moderate, medium risk projects, a week’s training can advance your career by 9 months
  • On large, highly integrated projects, a week’s training can advance your career by 13 months.

Targeted training can accelerate your ability to take on more complex and larger projects, jumping you ahead of your peers.

Note to self: find a course and get training booked for 2015.

Experienced PMs are in demand

Let’s say that you’ve done your time, you’ve advanced with training and you are now an experienced, proficient project manager. How hard is it to get a job?

Not very hard, according to the ESI study.

They report that it is difficult to find suitable, skilled project managers at all levels but it’s really, really hard when you want someone capable of managing a big, complex project.

  • 36% of respondents found it hard to find staff for small, low risk projects
  • 67% of respondents found it hard to find staff for moderate, medium risk projects
  • 88% of staff of respondents found it hard to find staff for large, highly integrated projects.

So there should be plenty of opportunities around for people at the experienced end of the scale, if you are able to take the time to seek them out.

Note to self:  update CV for all those great opportunities!

What are your career goals for the next 12 months? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted on: December 12, 2014 06:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

3 Types of Complexity

Categories: events, leadership, pmi, research

At PMI’s Synergy conference at the end of last year, Stephen Carver gave a well-received presentation which included some information about the different types of complexity, as perceived by the brains at Cranfield.

He talked about what success looks like on projects and said that the level of complexity faced is part of whether a project is deemed to be a success or not. The 3 types of complexity he identified are:

  • Structural
  • Emergent
  • Socio-political.

Let’s look at each of those in turn.

Structural complexity

This is the ‘easiest’ level of complexity and it involves the scale of the work on the project. A project is structurally complex when it has many stakeholders, workstreams or other elements. There is a lot for the project manager to manage and control, with many variables.

Emergent complexity

This is where the project is changing around you, for example increases to the price of steel in a construction project or stakeholders who were not identified at the outset suddenly needing to be included. It encompasses projects where there are a number of unforeseen issues or where the situation is unknowable, for example where there is a great deal of novelty perhaps in the technical set up or the way the commercials are being managed.

Socio-political complexity

This is where the project suffers from hidden agendas and lots of politics. There is little transparency and at the worst end of the scale maybe even sabotage. There are conflicting priorities and resistance. Cultural IQ becomes really important for the project manager along with being able to adequately manage the people involved and creating a shared understanding of objectives and the project’s vision in order to align agendas effectively.

Stephen said that most training courses cover dealing with structural complexity but in a survey of 246 project managers who were asked which of these 3 areas they found most challenging, socio-political complexity came out on top.

Which is hardly a surprise.

“Projects,” he said, “are deeply emotional things.” Whether the Millennium Dome, for example, was seen as a success or failure is down to your point of view and the passage of time: rebadged as the O2, it’s now a very successful arena and venue. The Sydney Opera House, Concord and Terminal 5 at Heathrow were other examples he gave of projects where the definition of success was difficult to pin down and would mean different things to different people.

“If you don’t do anything, you won’t make any mistakes,” he added. “We do a lot so we are bound to make mistakes.” Unfortunately, on complex projects these mistakes tend to be in the socio-political arena and they can be very hard to undo. Not setting up proper workstream reporting, for example, might give you a structural problem at the start of your project but it’s easy enough to address that sort of complexity and put it right. Dealing with damaged egos or senior stakeholders who each think the project is going to address their own pet issue is a far harder situation to deal with.

He didn’t give any pointers as far as I can remember about being able to deal with socio-political complexity, although I imagine that a 45 minute presentation about project success was never going to have much time to touch on what project managers can do differently (better) in order to address these challenges.

What tips do you have for managing projects with this type of complexity? Is it just good stakeholder management or are there other things that you can do to deal with it successfully? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted on: January 08, 2014 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Are project forecasters “fools or liars”?

Categories: forecasting, research

Oxford University“The majority of forecasters are fools or liars,” says Professor Bent Flyvbjerg from the BT Centre for Major Programme Management, at the Sa?d Business School, University of Oxford, in a new paper on inaccurate estimates for major projects.

The paper, published in the International Journal of Project Management, sees Professor Flyvbjerg criticising the way that forecasts for projects are put together. He says they are inaccurate and provide poor material from which to make decisions about cost and benefits.

“Estimates are commonly poor predictors of the actual value and viability of projects, and cannot be trusted as the basis for informed decision-making,” he says. “These forecasts frequently misinform decision makers on projects instead of informing them. Some of the inaccuracy comes from genuine forecasting mistakes arising from over-optimism, but some estimates are deliberately misleading, designed to secure financial or political support for a project.”

You probably know of examples of where a project manager has padded estimates for one reason or another, by Prof. Flyvberg is pretty scathing about forecasting methods and the people who use them.

“Many forecasts are garbage and can be shown to be worse than garbage,” he is quoted as saying in a press release from the university. “These reports give the client, investors and others the impression that they are being informed about future demand, or the costs involved in a major project, when they are being misinformed. Instead of reducing risk, reports like this increase risk by systematically misleading decision-makers and investors about the real risks involved.”

What’s the answer?

Prof. Flyvbjerg says that the answer is for everyone to be a bit better at not putting up with this (I paraphrase). For example, he recommends that clients should ask for their money back when they receive reports which later prove to be significantly inaccurate and misleading. He even goes as far as saying that they could demand compensation (some contracts must have a clause for this in anyway). His most radical idea is that in some cases criminal action would be justified. “Merely firing the forecaster may be letting them off too easily,” he says. “Some forecasts are so grossly misrepresented and have such dire consequences that we need to consider suing them for the losses incurred as a result. In a few cases where forecasters foreseeably produce deceptive forecasts, criminal penalties may be warranted.”

Personally, I can’t see many project managers ending up in court because of poor scheduling, but as this has come from the Centre for Major Programme Management, Prof. Flyvbjerg is really talking about complex, mega projects.

When we say ‘everyone’, Prof. Flyvberg includes the professional bodies in that too. He calls on them to use their codes of ethics to penalise and possibly exclude members who produce unethical forecasts. “This needs to be debated openly within the relevant professional organisations,” he says. “Malpractice in project management should be taken as seriously as malpractice in other professions like medicine and law.” How many project managers genuinely produce unethical forecasts and how many are just incompetent? I think it would be hard to decide if someone was acting in good faith and to the best of their abilities or whether they were deliberately altering estimates for political gain.

A better way of forecasting

As you would hope from someone who is so outspoken about this, Prof. Flyvberg has all the answers. His answer is to turn to his own work and in this IJPM paper he sets out the case for quality control and due diligence to be applied to the evaluation of front-end forecasts. Unfortunately, I think his answer only works for massive projects and not for the type of forecasting and estimating most project managers do on their projects.

“Recent research has developed the concepts, tools and guidance on incentives that could help curb both delusional and deceptive forecasts,” he says. “Whether forecasters are unwittingly or deliberately under-estimating the costs, completion times, and risks of projects, and over-estimating their benefits, we need to have a systematic basis for evaluating their findings in order to make informed investment decisions. Given the high cost of major infrastructure projects, the irreversibility of decisions, and the limited availability of resources, this is clearly critical for both public sector and private sector projects. Significantly more accurate forecasts can be produced by looking at the evidence available from previous similar projects which have been already completed – what I call, taking an ‘outside view’. This seems so simple, but in practice it is transformative and leads to much more accurate forecasting.”

In other words, take large data sets or statistically relevant data for projects in your sector, apply due diligence, estimate from the basis of past experience and critically evaluate the forecasts. You’ve spotted it – the big downside to this estimating approach is that you need large, validated data sets to draw benchmark data from previous, relevant, projects. If your PMO has been up and running for years and has gathered all this, and you never do any projects which innovate or deliver something new in a way you haven’t done before, then you could make use of this technique.

If you don’t have all that data to hand, then this method of forecasting will not scale from mega projects and programmes to the humble projects that you and I work on. While using historical data is great and we should all look to the past to better predict the future, we would be wrong to expect this model to work for all projects.

Posted on: December 19, 2012 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The budget challenge for PMOs

Categories: PMO, research

ESI International, a large project management training company, released the findings of its latest annual benchmarking survey this month. “The State of the Project Management Office: On the Road to the Next Generation” survey investigates the current role of the Project/Programme Management Office (PMO), its development to full-blown maturity and value for the overall business.

Based on responses from over 3,000 respondents in more than 17 industries on six continents, the research revealed that budgets have been the biggest challenge for PMOs over the last year.

The survey respondents also said that in order to measure success, they relied on the standard definitions of the triple constraint: namely on time, to-budget project delivery. This is one way of defining success, and perhaps one of the easiest to measure but not the most effective (or modern) way of thinking about project success results. Maybe that’s why around 55% of respondents said that the value of their PMO was questioned by key stakeholders.

Why might budget constraints be a top problem?

Here are some reasons why budgets make the top of the list for PMO challenges:

  • Budgets are tight – we’re still in very difficult economic times
  • PMOs are not traditionally a profit centre – they don’t make any money themselves, although they do facilitate making money through the delivery of projects
  • PMO resources are typically expensive, so they need to justify their worth
  • PMO core activities like training could be being squeezed by less money available to spend on these activities, giving rise to challenges balancing the department’s books

Like all departments, PMOs are having to come up with new ways to do more with less. Maybe this is just a symptom that all departments are suffering from and is not a specific research finding related to PMOs.

Is budget the top challenge for your PMO in 2012? If not, what is?

Posted on: May 25, 2012 03:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Show me the money: the 2012 Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report

Categories: reports, research

Pile of moneyThe 2012 Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report is out - the 7th annual study of the project management industry that the company has produced. The company surveyed over 2000 project professionals, mostly UK based. This year, there were some interesting results reported around budgets and salaries.

What's your budget?

Nearly a third of project managers are responsible for budgets between £1m and £5m, which is the category that had the highest response rate. Programme managers manage the larger budgets, with 37% managing between £1m and £5m and 29% having a budget of over £5m.

Contractors have responsibility for larger budgets than employed project managers, which surprised me. They also typically have more staff working for them - again, I found this surprising. It shows that contractors aren't just brought in to fill recruitment gaps but to take the lead on significant change initiatives with significant spans of control.

How much do you earn?

The survey looked at salary movements. 83% of respondents reported that their salary increased by less than inflation in 2011 - a virtual pay cut. Unsurprisingly, the public sector was the worst hit, since the pay freeze was announced. Over 60% of public sector workers reported that their salary hadn't changed, compared to under a third of private sector project workers. The average salaries were:

•   Project manager: £43,762

•   Programme Office and Portfolio managers: £57,560

•   Programme manager: £58,788

•   PPM Consultant: £67,237 (and 46% of them feel worse off than they did last year)

For mid-range salaried jobs, the public sector is the place to be. Many more employees earn in the £35k to £50k range than in the private sector. If you want to earn more than about £55k, move to the private sector - that's where the higher paid jobs are.

If you get a bonus at all, it's likely to be up to 8% of salary according to the survey. Only 2% of people receive over 25% of salary as a bonus, so if you fall into that category, consider yourself lucky.

Contractor day rates also took a dive, especially at the lower end of the pay scale. Where day rates were already low, it looks like hiring managers have squeezed them even further.

What's next for salaries in 2012?

The experts at Arras are expecting it to be another tough year for the public sector. 95% of public sector survey respondents are predicting no change or less than inflationary change in the coming 12 months.

Private sector workers are expected to fare better. Nearly two thirds of project professionals are expecting to get a rise this year. Arras is predicting that there won't be huge increases (for huge read over 5%) but that salaries will increase this year.

21% of contractors are predicting that their rates will decrease over the next year - not good for those already suffering the effects of rate declines in 2011.

So in summary, 2011 was tough and 2012 is likely to be a little bit better, but not much. However, project and programme work still remains well-paid and sought after, so it is still a good employment sector to be in.

How do you think salaries and bonuses will evolve in your country over the next year?

Posted on: March 26, 2012 03:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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