Project Management

The Money Files

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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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3 Ways To Be More Strategic As a Project Manager

Introducing The Public Sector Advisory Community for Estimating

Setting Up Programme Budget Tracking

Quick Tips for the Testing Phase

Programme Management: Planning Your Finances

3 Ways To Be More Strategic As a Project Manager

Strategic thinking is one of those skills that gets tossed around as something project managers should have. But how can you be more strategic in a practical way? I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and here are 3 things I think you can do as a project manager or leader of a project delivery function to try to bring more of the ‘strategic’ into the way you work.

1. Get involved with business cases and proposals

First, lobby to get involved with business cases and proposals. The more delivery expertise we have involved in the initial stages of a project, the more likely it is that the project will be able to actually hit its goals.

Have you ever been involved with a project where you’ve been handed something to do and the sales people have made promises that you can’t deliver on? Then you’ll know what I mean!

When project people are involved in business cases, in my experience you’re more likely to end up with a timescale that’s achievable and a resource plan that reflects the real amount of resources likely to be consumed by the work.

It’s even better if you can lobby for a seat at the table when the 3-year plans are being drawn up, so your top level project people, like the Head of PMO, get involved in creating the strategy in the first place. That provides a real insight into what initiatives are coming and how the delivery teams can help.

2. Use the project assurance function as a check mechanism

Project assurance is a way of checking that what you think you can do is actually achievable. It’s their job to pick apart your plans and proposals and apply a sense of real-world pragmatism. They can also help identify whether there are any resource gaps, strategic holes or other issues that you haven’t seen.

After all, as a project manager I’m sometimes so close to the information that I can’t see the bigger picture enough to realise that this project will clash with something that someone else is working on – but project assurance has the bigger picture and can point that out.

If you don’t have a project assurance function, ask a colleague for their opinion and talk them through the plans, asking them to basically pull them apart. Ideally, to be able to add some strategic oversight to your plans, this should happen around the time of the business case or PID. By the time you’ve got to creating a schedule you’ll be looking for a different kind of peer review.

3. Share what you know – but only what you know

My third tip is something I learned from Tony Meggs, Chief Executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority in quite an old article now that he wrote for Project magazine, but it has stuck with me. He said: Only announce what you know.

We know this in theory, so it’s not news to you, I’m sure. However, many project managers are ‘encouraged’ to share dates before we are ready, or pushed into committing to dates publicly before we have all the information to support the fact we can deliver to them.

So, if you want to be a strategic operator, only share what you know to be achievable. That goes for delivery methodologies as well. Meggs talked in the article about not committing to anything unless you know it to be true, including how the work would be delivered. If you are going to partner with someone and there’s a robust contract in place, by all means announce it. But don’t announce your intentions before they are fixed in stone because if it doesn’t happen you’re then having to walk back on the messaging and that can be damaging.

We can do this as project managers on a small scale, by giving our teams the space to come up with the best methods and timescales before we announce them to sponsors, but also on a strategic level, by ensuring there is a communications plan in place that supports the bigger picture messaging for the project, programme or even the portfolio.

Do you do any of these already? How are they working out for you? Let us know in the comments!

Posted on: May 17, 2022 04:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

5 Ways to Build Business Acumen [Infographic]

Here are 5 ways to see the bigger picture in your work in order to make a bigger impact with what you do.

  1. Go to internal networking events (virtual or in-person)
  2. Read the annual report
  3. Read relevant business press for your industry
  4. Join an industry body (as well as a project management-related one)
  5. Ask lots of questions!

There is more about each of these in the infographic below.

business acumen infographic

Posted on: January 19, 2021 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

5 Tips for Better Presentations

Last month I shared some tips for using spreadsheets. Today I have some tips for presentations. I tend to use Microsoft PowerPoint, but all of these tips are relevant regardless of what presentation software you use.

1. Use icons

You can make slides look so much better if you include a few icons scattered through in relevant places. Corporate slide decks (in my experience) tend to have lots of bullet points, so even if you add one or two icons you can break up the feel of large blocks of text.

Note: Remember to respect copyright. Don’t download icons to use from the internet unless you specifically have the licence and rights to use them.

Here’s an example of a slide that uses icons.

icons in presentations

2. Use a big font

The bigger the better! Anything less than 18 point is hard to read at distance.

The best way to check if you can read the slide is to go to the room you’ll be presenting in and put the slides on the screen. Then you’ll be able to see (in real life) whether you are making it difficult for people to read your material.

3. Use a full-slide background

Full-slide backgrounds can make your slides look really good.

Note: Slides that are predominately for use as training materials or to be read without you standing there talking through might be better off with more words. If you are able to talk about and explain the slides, you don’t need as many words on the slides – and a full-slide background can be a stylish way of presenting a few words on the screen.

Here’s an example of a slide that uses a full-slide background. The image is the same as one of my book jacket.

book jacket slide

4. Add an extra slide for a handout

If you are distributing the slide deck, you can add in an extra slide at the end with more information. You wouldn’t show it within the presentation as you stand up and deliver it, and you can hide the slide from the presentation (in PowerPoint) if you want to. Or just stop clicking through the slides before you reach that one!

Your final slide can then be an extra list of resources, an appendix, links or anything else that you want people to be able to refer to.

5. Rehearse with the software!

It won’t be news to you that rehearsing is a good idea!

However, you should also practice with the slides. Use your clicker, or practice moving the slides on with your keyboard or mouse. Check that any multi-media works e.g. videos or audio that you have embedded in the presentation.

Check that you are aware of the slide transitions and builds. It’s annoying to watch a speaker either fly in all the bullet points in one go before talking about the slide, or finish talking and… oops!... there’s another bullet arriving covering a point they’ve forgotten about. If you don’t like using slide builds, take them out!

What presentation tips do you have for putting together a great slide deck? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Pin for later reading:

tips for better presentations

Posted on: May 23, 2019 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

How to Create a Benefits Dependency Map

Categories: benefits, communication

A benefits dependency map is a fancy way of saying that you have a diagram that links what your project is delivering to the benefits that the business receives as a result.

It has been probably my most useful communication tool with board members. They love it, because they can see exactly why the project is happening and how I am meeting strategic objectives with what I am working on.

Why you do it

While the comms to senior stakeholders is helpful, the major benefit of this kind of diagram is actually the process you go through to draw the thing in the first place. This is because going through the process helps you work out what you should be focusing on.

The map helps you see what is important to deliver and why that is the case. This information can inform your decision making and risk management, making it easier for you to prioritise work in the future. If you know a particular deliverable links directly to a benefit, you can make sure your team focus their efforts on that one.

And as I mentioned, it is also a good communication tool for sharing the overall benefits with stakeholders. Especially if you draw it at a high level so it fits on one PowerPoint slide!

What is a Benefits Dependency Map?

Your benefits dependency map shows the link between your project or programme and the business or organisation’s strategic objectives. Personally, I have found it useful to identify where benefits are ‘claimed’ twice and there are overlaps in the business case. Two different projects in a programme claimed the benefit, and that could have skewed the results (or the interpretation of the results) of what we delivered. Having the map meant that we could link both projects to the same benefit to show that they were both important, without double-counting. That saved me a big headache with our financial team who would have expected twice the cost savings – which would have been impossible!

You can use the benefits dependency map to streamline your projects benefits too. With the information in it, you only focus on the essential, important headlines (although you might want to note the smaller benefits somewhere else).

That works both ways. You can also then cross-reference outputs with benefits to see if you are busy delivering anything that doesn’t directly link to the benefits that you are trying to get.

A further, useful, cross-reference to do is to check that you have enough benefits and that they are evenly spread throughout the project or programme. Are there any areas of the project that support loads of benefits, and other workstreams that have very little in the way of practical benefit-driven output? That will tell you where you should be putting your efforts for resources and prioritisation.

What goes into a benefits map

Creating a benefits dependency map is actually very easy. You read the map from left to right. You create it (or at least, I do) as a flow diagram or flow chart. I do mine in PowerPoint. I use PowerPoint because I happen to have it, I know how to use it and so does everyone else on my team. You can use any drawing package you like or none. In the past I have drawn freehand in my notebook and taken a photograph – it’s low tech but it gets the message across.

Here are the things you need to include in the map.

Objectives

Start at the left hand side of the page. Think of your page in columns. You will need 4 columns. You can add the swim lane style dashed lines to create columns on the page if you like, but I don’t like to do it that way as I don’t think the lines add anything. I mention it just so you know that you have to split your page into 4. Do it landscape, it’s easier.

Write down the project objectives. Pop these in text boxes (the PowerPoint way) so that they stand out and so you can easily use arrows to link the objectives to the next part of the map.

Outputs

Outputs are delivery from a project. PM purists will tell you that a project delivers outputs and a programme delivers outcomes.

Whatever.

That assumes that a project alone cannot deliver anything that is absorbed into the business and delivers an outcome, but let’s leave the debate about whether benefits can be included in project management to another day!

If you subscribe to the ‘projects can’t deliver outcomes’ school of thought you may need to squeeze in an additional column that describes whatever business change is required to turn the output into an actual benefit.

It’s worth noting this because people sometimes assume that if you deliver a new product, it will magically sell millions of units without any effort on behalf of anyone else, but you need the rest of the business lined up to support the benefit (sales) through educating staff on what the new product is, training the sales team, marketing efforts that span beyond the life of the project etc.

If your management team need a bit of help working this out for themselves, give them a headstart by being specific about the role that business change has to play in the delivery of benefits.

Intermediate Benefits

Next, add in the immediate benefits. These go in the third quarter of the page, off centre to the right. Add these into boxes and draw lines from the project outcomes to the correct benefits.

In practice, you’ll have to move the benefits around a bit on the page so you don’t end up with a mess of lines. It might take several attempts to get things in each virtual column in the right order so that the lines don’t cross each other in a big mess.

 These are the quick wins, the obvious things. When you have completed your project, this is what you get for the business. Perhaps that’s more sales, better staff morale – it could be anything but it’s probably what you put in the original business case.

End Benefits

This is where you link the immediate project benefits to the longer term strategic objectives for the company. Create a set of boxes on the far right of the page with the relevant strategic objectives in. Don’t add on objectives where your project has no link. If you do that you’ll end up with floating boxes and nothing linking to them. This will only serve to make it look like you have forgotten something or that you aren’t delivering enough benefit. So make it easier on readers by only documenting the strategic benefits that you can justify linking to.

You should be able to draw a line between the immediate ‘business case’ benefit and a strategic corporate objective. If you can’t, it’s time to start wondering why you are doing the project in the first place.

And that’s it! You should have a single page with a number of boxes on, each box leading to another, until you reach the strategic objectives of the company. You can link what your project is doing to the corporate goals.

Now that’s a powerful communications tool.

Posted on: May 23, 2018 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

5 Tips for (Cheap) Project Communications [Video]

Categories: communication

In this video I share a few ideas for how to get started with project communications when you don’t have much money to spend on getting fancy mugs printed with your team logo and all that. You can do some great work communicating about your project even if money to do comms is at a premium. You might not be able to take all these ideas instantly and apply them to your own project, but I hope they give you inspiration for finding similar ideas that will work in your environment.

It is possible to communicate far and wide, spreading the vision about your project, and do it all on a shoestring!

Read more about the ideas in the video here: http://www.projectmanagement.com/blog/The-Money-Files/7570/

Posted on: April 16, 2018 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)
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