Every so often I’m asked questions about project budget. Here are a selection of your questions and my responses.
How can I manage my project cost when the actual budget is controlled by the functional prime in my organisation?
Marco, thanks for your question. This is a tough one. I don’t think you can be expected to have full control of your project costs when the budget is controlled by a functional manager. In a functional organisation (or even a weak matrix organisation) when you are not in control of the budget or resources, it is very difficult to manage in the way that you would in a projectised organisation where you have complete control over the resources and finances. I have worked in this way and it ended up getting quite messy with the functional manager approving additional work, additional purchases and the use of additional staff (to do what I considered business as usual tasks) and all of this resulted in the budget going over the forecast. However, he didn’t seem to mind, so in a way that’s OK!
What you can do is prepare a budget forecast and meet with your functional manager to go through it. Ask what their understanding of the scope is and whether there are additional tasks that he or she thinks should be included. Then your role is really about tracking the expenditure and reporting the progress against the forecasted budget. All you can do is flag up to your operational manager that it looks like you’ll be going over the predicted project budget. And ask for their help in correcting that, or to approve further spending.
Why is it important to categorise costs between Project Management Costs and Project Deliverable costs?
Diane, this is a great question. And it’s worth starting out by explaining the difference between project management costs and project deliverable costs. Project management costs are the costs of running the project. That includes things like setting up a special project office if you need one, the cost of temporary project staff, overheads, software (if you need to buy a new project management tracking system or a wiki tool etc) and so on. Project deliverable costs are the costs of the stuff needed to produce the project deliverables – what you would traditionally think of as project costs. These are things like equipment (new servers, machinery, furniture for the new store you are opening etc) and software or maintenance costs, such as the cost of purchasing new software and licences for an IT systems project.
You can categorise costs however makes sense to you, your project team and your accountants, but I find the distinction between management costs and deliverable costs very useful. It helps make it clear what the project management overhead is – the cost of doing the project at all. The deliverable costs would be incurred whoever ran the project. The management costs will be different if the project is being run in house or by an external project consultancy.
When budgeting, accounting departments want one number and not a range for their budget accounting systems? How do you choose what number in the range for the total project cost?
By a range, you mean a total project cost figure that is between $x and $y. In the early days of putting your budget together I do recommend that you use a range instead of presenting a single figure. This is because it highlights the fact that there are certain unknowns at this point and it encourages stakeholders and project sponsors to think widely about the likelihood of achieving an individual target figure.
To answer your question, I think you should work with your finance department to enable them to record a range in their systems! However, I know this isn’t going to be practical in many cases, so it is your choice which number from your range you choose. Being quite conservative, I would suggest that you choose the largest figure. That gives you a bit to play with even if you don’t ever intend to use it. And it can always be released or amended later. So, if your project budget forecast is between $700k and $900k, I would tell the finance team to use the $900k figure in their accounting systems.
Remember to keep an eye on how your actuals are shaping up so that you can reforecast and amend this appropriately later.
Last year I gave a webinar on managing project budgets, which also included the answers to many questions. You can see the whole presentation online here, via a recording of the webinar. I’ll have some more Q&A for you soon! Got any questions? Leave me a comment and I’ll answer them in a future post.