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 RebelsGuideToPM.com.

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Benefits Management: How do you do it?

benefits management

I’m working with organisations who are putting a lot of thought into benefit management at the moment – more thought than I’ve ever seen in past years. I know benefits management has always been something to consider on projects, but how many project/leaders/organisations actually truly do it?

I’m sure the larger projects are geared up for benefits tracking, but smaller initiatives? Those that might only deliver a few thousand pounds/dollars of benefit per year? Are those being tracked?

I think the trend is changing, and I think there is more focus on benefits tracking, particularly in programmes. Where there is a large programme of work, even small projects get to contribute.

So how do you do it?

The first step is to work out what benefits your project is going to deliver. For example, that could be:

  • Cost saving
  • Increased sales/revenue

In fact, benefits could be lots of things (shorter cycle times, more calls answered, higher customer satisfaction) but most often they can be reduced to money. Shorter cycle times should mean more projects delivered in a year, so more value achieved, or more widgets through the process, so more sales. More calls answered should convert to more sales, so more cash. Higher customer satisfaction results in more repeat purchases and more testimonials that drive new buyers, so more cash.

Even carbon savings and sustainability targets can often be represented as financial benefits. Carbon has a financial figure associated with it, so you can translate carbon reduction into money.

The trouble comes with trying to get stakeholders to agree on how these benefits will be calculated.

More calls in, for example, might not translate to more sales for several months, depending on your business timeframes and processes. You will need some rules and assumptions around how benefit numbers are going to be worked out where the maths is not straightforward.

For example: if we outsource a service, we can reduce headcount in function and probably make a saving on the cost to serve (budgets are part of the outsourcing decision, after all). That’s a straightforward cash saving: those individuals are no longer on our payroll (even if they were moved across to the outsourced party – the UK has TUPE rules for this).

But do we count that saving as a ‘pure’ saving, or do we have to take off the cost of buying the outsourced service? How long can we claim the service for before it becomes BAU? What happens when we need to add a head or two back in, where do those costs go?

We need assumptions to make benefit calculations work, like what’s the average cost of a sale (so if we answer more calls we should convert x% and make y% extra money as a result).

This first step of creating a model on which to base benefit calculations is the hardest part, in my opinion. There are experts to consult, finances teams to engage, data to gather so we have something to use as the baseline, and lots of maths and spreadsheets to test out so we can model what the benefits might look like.

Getting agreement on how the benefits will be worked out is hard. You need everyone to agree, and more importantly, to understand how it all goes together so they can repeatedly work out the benefit using the same calculation, month after month for as long as you decided to track it for.

That’s no small undertaking, especially for organisations starting out. Especially as many projects have multiple strands and multiple things contribute to the benefits.

What’s the journey like for benefits tracking in your organisation? Let us know in the comments what the biggest challenge is for you – I’m interested to see if you agree with me that it’s the setting up and creating the assumptions and rules for calculation, or whether there is something else that is the hard part.

Posted on: December 18, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

4 ways to define value

define value

The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition talks about four different ways to define business value.

‘Value’ is quite a vague term when it’s used in everyday speech, so I think it’s useful to have something to hang a definition on when we’re using the term in project management.

The Guide does specify that there are lots of aspects to value, including non-financial considerations, and that the four ways that are listed are only some of the ways that you could measure value. However, they are a good starting point if you’re trying to have conversations with execs about what projects you should work on – you do need some kind of idea of what value means.

Here are the four metrics that you can use to measure value, as outlined in the PMBOK® Guide.

1. Cost benefit ratio

This ration works out the present value of the investment compared to the initial cost, basically, do the costs outweigh the benefits (if they do, you probably shouldn’t start the project unless there is a strong justification for doing so in the knowledge that it will cost you more to deliver than the benefit expected).

2. Planned benefits compared to actual benefits

This is a bit of a weird one if you ask me – until you start delivering, you don’t have any actual benefits to compare to. It’s fine if you want to review value after the project is complete or while it is in progress, but it’s not a metric you could use for project selection.

You’d have to use the planned benefits, and that really is the planned value of the work to the organisation – so it’s just a different way of talking about the other metrics until you have some actuals.

3. Return on investment

This is my favourite of the four (is it odd to have a favourite value metric?). Probably because I use it the most and it’s very clear on what it is. It’s easy to explain to stakeholders and finance teams seem to like it.

Plus it’s easy to work out.

ROI is the financial return compared to the cost, so it’s helpful in project selection. However, you can use it throughout the project to refer back to whether or not you are on target to hit that particular ROI – useful to do when your costs are going up.

4. Net present value

NPV used to confuse me because it’s time-phased, but once you get your head around it, it’s straightforward. It’s a very common metric in use for project selection so it’s definitely worth taking the time to understand how it is put together and what it means.

You can measure NPV throughout the project and check that the investment still holds up.

With all of these, as long as you keep measuring if you are getting enough value out of the project, you can make an ongoing commitment to keep the work going. If the numbers point to a trend of decreasing value, there is likely to be a point where you’ll want to stop the work, because the amount of effort expended isn’t worth the value you’ll get at the end of it.

Of course, there are some projects where the value is simply being able to continue to trade or operate within a legal framework, or benefit related to social/corporate responsibility or sustainability, so you might find it irrelevant to track metrics like the ones above. The takeaway from all this is to work out what ‘value’ looks like to your team and your project, and measure that.

How do you do it? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: September 19, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

3 Types of Vendor Payment

Last time we looked at the different times in a contract where you would be scheduling payments. Today, I wanted to write a bit about the different types of payment you could factor into your work with vendors to give you some variety with how you structure payments.

Before we start, make sure to discuss any payment plans with your procurement and finance teams, so you don’t end up committing your company to something that you really shouldn’t! In my experience, contracting and procurement are really outside a project manager’s pay grade – organisations generally want the specialists involved, and most project managers would not have authority to sign contracts.

However, it’s worth knowing about the different payment options out there, so you can mention them in conversations with the right people if they are relevant to how you think your project would be best served.

Here are some options to consider for your next project procurement activity.

types of vendor payment

1. Uptime/availability payments

This is something to build into service level agreements. In the past, my projects have needed to set up SLAs, and uptime payments were built into those.

In essence, vendors get an incentive payment for keeping the service available instead of penalty clauses for downtime.

You could use this principle to build in payments for services or support being available, and you could have various thresholds that trigger different payments. Or you could put penalty clauses in for downtime, but that’s not so good for relationship building. The management at my last company was very much against punitive clauses as they believed it did not incentivise a partnership relationship and was too much centred on blame.

If you do put these clauses in your contracts, make sure you also document how you claim the payments. For example, for uptime incentives, if I remember rightly, we had to claim them, and sometimes for the value offered, it wasn’t really worth the admin… so think that through before you write them into contracts.

2. Performance payments

I haven’t used these personally in projects, but I believe they are common in construction (are they? Let me know in the comments).

This would be a payment related to hitting a particular performance threshold, perhaps delivering early on a particular milestone, or reaching some kind of target. When we pay for services, there are often performance-based payments built into the schedule. You’ll have seen these, too if you do any kind of online transaction processing. For example, I signed up for a service linked to my personal website that allows me to have up to 10k of transactions per month at a flat rate fee, and then if I go over that, the next tier of payment-based payments kick in. Payment is based on how many transactions you put through the system.

That could be relevant for your project if you are launching a service where volume or number of transactions or units processed would trigger an additional payment or an additional discount.

3. Incentives

You could find any number of ways to incentivise vendors. For example:

  • Productivity savings
  • Process improvements
  • Staff savings
  • Time per transaction saving
  • Decrease in number of complaints or increase in staff satisfaction as measured by a survey

In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned above. Anything that reduces overall cost of the service or product could be passed on to the client (your project), and there could be an incentive payment linked to that – ideally something that is beneficial to you both, not just cost-cutting for cost-cutting’s sake.

Have you used any of these payment methods on your projects? Let us know in the comments!

Posted on: September 13, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

12 Non-labour costs

Mostly on projects we think of ‘resource’ costs and ‘resources’ as people. Because mostly, with the majority of office-based, corporate-led projects, what we need to get the work done is people’s time. And people are expensive.

Meetings in particular are often left out of the time-budget. We’ve factored in the cost of the hours required for them to deliver their tasks, but not for them to show up to project team meetings, lessons learned calls, extra meetings because something in someone else’s area has gone wrong, and so on.

So factor in enough buffer time for the overhead of meetings for resources that are booked out to do work on the project.

But what about the other things we need to cost out in project budgets that aren’t people’s time? There is a whole host of smaller (and bigger) costs that it is worth building into your financial planning if they are relevant to you – because even the small costs start to add up when you are asking for ‘real’ money (versus people’s time which is wooden dollars if they are internal resources).

Here are 12 non-labour costs that you might incur on your project.

non-labour costs

1. Room hire and hospitality

In my last job, we had open plan office space and very few meeting rooms. They were reserved for the exec, and it was difficult to book them. Even if we did book them, I remember being bumped out of a room because someone more important than me needed it (they did give me notice, to be fair).

Room hire costs might be something you need to factor in, and with that comes catering for people attending.

In fact, it’s not just meetings. On one project, the team had a portacabin on site as their project war room. That was a space we had to pay to hire.

2. Event hosting

Event hosting also falls into the bracket of room hire and hospitality – but it’s not necessarily project stakeholders attending.

Perhaps you have clients who need to see the new release of a software product. Perhaps you’re running an industry conference as part of the product launch. Perhaps you have training events for internal staff who need to travel and be fed when they arrive.

Training events might also incur the cost of producing materials for the delegates or paying an external trainer, as well as hire for the AV kit in the room.

3. Admin support

Sometimes projects require admin support.

You could buy in a VA (virtual assistant), or even buy access to an AI-powered assistant for meeting note taking or meeting booking, and all the many other things AI can do for you these days.

You may also need transcription or translation services, depending on what you are working on and who is involved.

4. Travel and accommodation

On my first project in my last job, there was a lot of travel for the implementation teams. They were out on the road 4 days a week during most of the go live periods, supporting locations to implement new processes and tools. As a result, we had huge expense bills for petrol, rail travel, accommodation and food.

Fortunately for me, most of it went through the corporate expense booking system so all I had to do was add the numbers to the budget at the end of every month. It was part of the cost of doing business and keeping the project going.

These days, we travel less for work and do a lot more remotely, but you may still have to factor in days out of the office and on the road for some team members.

In addition, your in-house guidelines might allow for per diems or expense allowances for colleagues out and about. Be clear on whether you have your own internal rates or are using industry published guidance for these so you don’t have any queries when people submit their expenses.

5. Tech

Technology costs crop up even in projects that are not tech-led.

For example, you might need to access webinar tech to deliver training, or buy an online learning package. Even loading training videos to your existing online learning platform might incur a fee.

Most of the tech costs I have been involved with on projects come from having to buy hardware items or software licences. Those items rack up the cost, but they are often clearly known and factored into the budget from the start.

In addition to those items above, you might also have these on your projects:

  • Other materials
  • Utilities if these are costed to your project or required specially.
  • Printing and binding (less used now with the focus on sustainable project management and green delivery, but there might be some things you have to create as hard copies)
  • Web page and creative supportive
  • Subscriptions
  • Photography or photocopying
  • Subcontracts – again, normally clear and well-known at the outset.

Link these costs to the person who is incurring them in the work package so they can be accounted for appropriately in the budget.

Have you ever been caught out with a project cost (and was it on the list above)? Share your non-labour common expense items in the comments below!

Posted on: August 08, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

How much does it cost to change?

We talk about the cost of change often on projects. If you’ve been in a delivery role for a while, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the idea that if you find something you want to change later on in the project, it costs more to make that change than if you identified it at the beginning.

That’s typically because there are fewer things to unpick and less rework required because you haven’t got as far yet. You can change the buttons on the widget if you haven’t manufactured any buttons yet. Just change the drawings or spec and you’re done. But if you have a factory stacked with boxes of buttons, then there’s a bigger cost involved – all the pre-made buttons need to be scrapped and you have to manufacturer a bunch of new ones.

Understanding how much wiggle room there is for change is important in understanding how easy it will be to make change later, and how agile (with a small A) you can be during the project when it comes to addressing defects or changing your mind.

Bridge building, button making, house construction: all these are hard to change later. But business process change, website design, or software writing probably have a different result. You can tweak a process later on, and while a group of different stakeholders will be affected, it is certainly possible (and cheaper) to do in a way that changing the foundations of a building once half the building is built is not – it’s a different kind of conversation, and a different kind of cost involved.

How easy it is to make the change, and the cost of change, play alongside each other throughout the project.

The PMBOK® Guide 7th Edition talks about Boehm’s cost of change curve. It sounds like common sense, but it is also important to challenge our assumptions and what we think we know. There is also a difference between bugs and changes that arise through active decision making. Is the cost of change the same for each on your project?

It might be possible to add a financial amount to each change and each defect so as to work out the potential cost of defects or changes addressed later in the lifecycle, but that’s probably overkill for most small and medium-sized companies, and organisations that are not software houses with plenty of data to analyse for this. Unless you’ve been through many product recalls or can model what it would look like to address a component failure, you might not have the data or time to create any meaningful cost models.

Instead, bear in mind the general principle: what is it going to mean to make a change on your project, for your decision makers, in your environment, for the development and delivery methodologies that you are using? Are there cutoff points? Points of no return?

Really?

Generally, as project managers we can make anything happen with enough money, time and resources – whether it’s the right decision to do ‘anything’ though is a completely different conversation.

It is sensible to think about the cost of change before you need to make any changes, and to consider how you’re going to avoid too many potentially costly changes. For example:

  • Decent requirements
  • Good quality stakeholder engagement so everyone is on board with the deliverables and no stakeholders are left out (as ignored stakeholders tend to want to insert  their requirements on to the project later when they do find out about it.
  • A good change control process
  • Robust attitudes to quality deliverables, quality control and assurance.

How do you think about the cost of change in your projects? Is it a discussion you have with the team? I’d love to know how you work to minimise it – or if you embrace it and go with the changes! Let us know in the comments below.

Posted on: August 02, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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