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.

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Cost Management Documents (And Which Ones You Really Need)

5 Expert Tips For Managing Virtual Teams

4 Key Terms for Earned Value

5 Common Project Budget Problems (and How to Fix Them)

Making the Most of Tools for Communicating About Your Project

How Much Do Meetings Cost You?

Categories: team

Today I wanted to share this infographic on the cost of unproductive meetings. I work virtually a lot of the time, but that doesn't generate half as many meetings as when I am physically in the office with my colleagues. Perhaps it's because when they see me they are keen to chat, or perhaps they forget I'm around to invite when I'm working out of the office.

When I attend meetings, and I'm sure you'll say the same, they often start with general chat or get derailed (obviously not the ones I'm chairing...!). When you add up the fact we spend around 7 days a month in meetings that's a lot of time wasted if you don't get the best out of your meetings. Have a look at the figures and I'll join you again at the bottom.

Lets Start A Meeting Revolution

This infographic was put together by

I was surprised that only 73% of people confess to multi-tasking during meetings but we should also acknowledge that it isn't always a bad thing. I've been in a few meetings recently where someone asked a question and the group didn't have the data. A team manager Skype'd her colleague, got the response and shared the information with us so we could continue to debate that point. That's multi-tasking, but it's productive and useful and probably saved us from having a follow up meeting.

I'd also question that 50% of meetings are unnecessary. They might have the wrong people in the room, and if an exec says a meeting is unnecessary then they might simply mean that they personally didn't have to be there, not that the meeting shouldn't have happened at all.

We do need to make sure that project meetings involve the right group of people: senior enough to take ownership for decisions and move things forward but not so senior that it's too much detail for them and wastes their time (or lets them meddle in tasks that we'd rather they stayed out of).

So, what do you think about this data? Share your thoughts on meetings good and bad in the comments below. And is the answer better meeting management or just scrapping meetings altogether?

Posted on: October 09, 2015 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

How to handle out of hours work

Categories: team

Projects often require out of hours work. That means someone staying late or working over the weekend (or in other non-normal working time) to complete project tasks. It happens in many industries: in IT for example you can’t always make changes to systems during working hours as it stops the production system, so someone has to make those changes at night when the office is closed – and if they can’t be automated then it really does mean someone staying up to press a button.

I haven’t come across many project team members who are willing to work unsociable hours, unless they are getting paid a lot to do so. Therefore you have to handle the requirement for out of hours work sensitively as it does normally mean someone giving up their social and family time to do project work. Here are some guidelines for managing project tasks that have to happen out of hours.

Is it planned?

First, consider if the project task is planned. That could include:

  • Software installations or upgrades
  • Building work
  • Hardware upgrades like PC replacements or other kit
  • Networking and telephony project work

I’m sure you can think of other things relevant to your industries and projects that involve out of hours tasks.

If out of hours work can be planned, then it can be managed.

Provide lots of notice. The more notice people have, the easier it is for them to rearrange their other activities and tasks around this. No one likes to be told that they have to work out of hours at short notice (more on this later). Keep reminding them that the out of hours work is coming up and checking that it is still on their radar.

Arrange who is required. When work is out of hours it can be hard to call in a colleague if you have forgotten something. You can’t just dial up your mate at 3am and ask them to do something. So make sure you have lined up the right resources from the outset. This could involve you or a project team leader, the resource in question, technical or IT staff and someone from the vendor.

Check access. If you are going to site, make sure they remember you are coming and haven’t locked up. If you need access to a secure area, check that someone is available to let you in.

Check the facilities. Do they need to take their own food with them? The canteen on site closing at six isn’t going to be a problem for the normal staff, but if your project team goes on shift then and is planning to work through the night, make sure they’ve got the facilities to at least make themselves a cup of tea. If necessary, turn up yourself with cake – I have done this and it was really appreciated, even though I contributed very little to the actual project tasks in hand.

Arrange overtime payments. Let the individuals know how they will be compensated for working out of hours so there are no surprises. This could be overtime at time and a half or double time, or time off in lieu.

Is it an emergency?

Sometimes project work has to happen as a matter of urgency. Sometimes stuff happens that creates problems that have to be fixed immediately (like a technical failure in the middle of a training course) and that might mean calling someone in when they are supposed to be on leave or asking someone on a Friday afternoon to stay late and work all weekend. Because most project disasters happen on a Friday at 4pm, don’t they?

This type of out of hours work should be managed through your project issue management process.

Organise channels of communication. Make sure that the individuals know who to talk to and who they need to report to when the problem is fixed.

Appoint an issue owner. If you aren’t going to be managing this issue through to resolution, make sure you appoint someone else. Let everyone know who is the main point of contact for decisions, whether that is you or a colleague.

Deal with the problem. Do the work. Get the project back on track. Then fill in the issue log with the resolution and do any other project reporting that you have to and update your project plan.

Recognise the effort. Again, if you have had staff work out of hours in order to resolve a problem, look at how this can be rewarded and recognised. If you can, pay overtime for the hours worked. If you can’t, time off in lieu is normally at your discretion. Say thank you – they got you out of a hole.

Out of hours work is part of managing many projects and you can keep your team on side while you ask them to work unsociable hours for practically nothing. Keep cheerful, keep them cheerful and explain the benefits of the project over and over again. And above all, be grateful. Very few people have ‘must work overtime for project manager’ in their contract so recognise their commitment and thank them for their contribution to a successful project.

Posted on: September 23, 2014 11:18 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)

Motivation without money

Categories: team

These days project budgets don’t stretch to nice things like bonuses for all team members for when the project completes on time. If the team members don’t work for you then you probably can’t give them a pay rise either. You might not even get enough in the budget left over for a party at the end of the project. Even if you do, you might be hampered by local tax laws that specify how much you can give gifts in lieu of financial amounts, and you could make it harder for people to complete their tax returns by giving any sort of bonus at all.

Common practice on projects is to take people out for a meal or even to a bar for drinks, but if your budget is tight you might have to resort to getting people to pay for themselves, or for you to pay for the first round of drinks, for example. There are other ways to motivate your team without it looking like you are being too stingy.

So, if you can’t motivate people to do a good job with financial incentives, what can you do to ensure they perform well (or to reward people who did perform well)? Here are some ideas.

Grant time off

You might have to check with their line manager, but granting someone time off in lieu of extra hours worked can be a great way to reward project team members who have put in extra hours during a push on a project, or a go live weekend. It’s also worth checking with HR about the policy for this, as you could be setting a precedent, but it is definitely worth considering.

Training courses

Being ‘allowed’ to go on a training course might not seem like much of a reward. After all, surely this is part of your normal contract of employment with your boss – they should be providing training anyway. But in times like these where extra cash for training is hard to come by, operations managers might not have a training budget. You, on the other hand, could offer developmental activities as part of the project, and then encourage people to try out their new skills. There’s even a process for this in thePMBOK® Guide – Develop Project Team.

Time off for study

If someone is taking a professional credential like PMP or working towards an MBA, could you give them time off to study? Many companies have study leave policies but managers don’t always know about what their employees are studying for outside of the office. If you can find out, you can apply the policy terms and make sure that those employees feel supported during their learning.


This is probably the fastest, cheapest way to build good will in the team. Saying thank you is completely free and people appreciate it a lot more than you think. Say it often, and every so often do it in writing so that they can keep your email for their end of year review, or to show it to their manager.

Remember to say it in a timely manner – it’s no good thanking someone for a job well done when that was last month as they might not even remember what they did that was so deserving!

References for contractors

Most contractors will expect a reference at the end of a contract, but knowing that you are prepared to give a positive one can be a motivating factor. People appreciate that they are appreciated, and are prepared to put the work in if it means they get something out of it at the end.

Talk to your contractors about their expectations for a reference or recommendation and see what you can jointly do to ensure that their skills are recognised elsewhere in the organisation where they may be able to get their next contract.

Bring your own picnic

OK, it’s not as glam as going to a restaurant, but you could organise a pot luck picnic with everyone bringing their own food. If your office has a garden or outside space, or even a park within walking distance, you can camp out there. Otherwise, book a meeting room and get all the food on the table. This can also be a good team building exercise – after all, you don’t want everyone turning up with a bowl of green salad!

What other ways have you motivated your employees without hard cash? Let us know in the comments.

Posted on: September 15, 2013 11:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Your project is like a computer

Categories: risk, team

Think of your project like a computer.

The culture of your project team is the operating system.

The project objectives are the applications you run on it.

You can set any objectives you want for the team. You can ask them to deliver on time, on budget and on scope. You can ask them to be customer-centric. You can encourage them to schedule their own time effectively, using any number of software products.

But, if the culture doesn’t support it, you will struggle to get your objectives done. Understanding organisational culture will help you manage project risk and get a better outcome for your project!

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

"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

- Groucho Marx