Project Management

Setting Up Programme Budget Tracking

From the The Money Files Blog
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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

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Last month we looked at what goes into a programme financial management plan. One of the components of that document is, of course, the initial budget. You can’t track what you haven’t baselined, so there is an effort involved in making sure that the programme budget is put together in a robust way.

Creating a programme budget that is appropriate, timely, relevant, accurate, detailed enough to get through the scrutiny of the CFO, defendable, transparent and more is a huge, time-consuming task.

So where do you start?

Creating the programme budget

The initial programme budget is put together in the same way that a project budget would be: you bring together all the financial information you have from the business case, estimates, quotes, contractual arrangements and more to plan out what money is available and when it will be spent.

With a programme, you might also need to work out where the funding is coming from and on what schedule. For example, if it’s a grant-based programme of work, perhaps funding is issued in tranches, or made available on the completion or publication of particular milestones. If it’s a multi-year programme, perhaps funding is only available for this financial cycle and the expectation is that more funding will be available from next year’s pot.

Agree financial metrics

Next, work out how you are going to track and monitor the budget and what metrics will be used for benefits tracking. Again, this is no different from project budgets, although the figures might be larger and you may also have opex costs to consider – many projects are able to capitalise their costs so as a project manager I rarely had to worry about opex tracking.

The financial indicators are important because these feed into the health of the programme and will be reported regularly. But on a programme that spans many years and perhaps has difficult-to-quantify benefits, how will you check that work is proceeding as it should? Earned value management is one way, but if your company isn’t set up for that you’ll need an alternative.

The metrics you choose for indicating the financial health of the programme and also the benefits realisation measures will very much depend on what the programme is delivering. Sellafield, which is a multi-year nuclear decommissioning initiative, has a 20-year corporate plan. However, they have set out very clear milestones for each project as part of the transformation timeline.

A digital transformation programme spread over 2 years would have very different financial constraints and would be tracked with different metrics.

You may find that validating the metrics as you go is a suitable approach, if all the stakeholders buy into that. It’s important, however, to get the metrics as ‘right’ as you can because future decisions will depend on them. As you report progress, produce updates or even make decisions to move into different stages, you’ll be presenting the financial numbers using the measures for performance tracking that were agreed when the programme began. So it’s worth spending some time making sure they are the right ones and that people understand them.

Financial risk

Part of the budget planning is also being aware of the financial risk. In Sellafield’s case, for example, the timescale spans 4 government spending reviews which may impact the funding available to the team.

There will surely be budget-related risks that should be added to your programme risk log. They are likely to include similar risks that you’d see at project level, but with a programme focus, such as:

  • Changes to exchange rates
  • Changes to the price of goods or services
  • Strategic changes that alter the course of the programme

There will also be risks that are more programme-focused, specific to your particular programme.

The more risk analysis you do, the easier it will be to calculate an appropriate risk budget. Be careful not to count the risk budget twice, once at project level and then again at programme level, if it’s for an escalated risk.

All this goes into the mix for working out contingency appropriate for the programme, and at what level you wish it to be attributed to the work. At project level? At the overall programme level?  Some mix of several methods for assigning contingency?

Ultimately you end up with a programme budget that will no doubt change and flex as time goes on, but should give you a reasonable baseline from which to start.

How do you know when you’re ready?

The outputs of getting ready to track your programme budget will tell you if you’re ready to go ahead. You should have the following:

  • The programme financial management plan including the metrics you will use to track performance
  • The initial programme budget, made up of the elements above
  • Programme funding schedules showing where the income is coming from
  • Payment schedules for each project, component or workstream, at least as far as you know them right now
  • Operational costs for the programme e.g. resourcing that cannot be capitalised
  • Risks for the risk register.

When all those things are in place, I’d say you were in a pretty good position for the programme’s financial management. What would you say?

Posted on: May 03, 2022 04:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Thank you!

I love your no-nonsense approach to budget planning, Elizabeth!

Thanks, Elizabeth, for covering this important topic. Most projects want to do budgeting at the WBS level. How do you map that against the chart of accounts used by Finances?

Identifying the outputs (what you want) helps to organize the inputs (what you need) and makes sense of all the twists and turns along the way. This article is really good at explaining that.

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