Project Management

The Money Files

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

About this Blog


Recent Posts

The Psychology of Estimating

3 Skills Areas To Help Your Team With

Closing out a Programme

3 Ways To Be More Strategic As a Project Manager

Introducing The Public Sector Advisory Community for Estimating

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 (4)

Who gets involved in project contracts? [Infographic]

Q1 tends to be a time when new budgets are approved and that means we’re starting to see requests for contracts with suppliers trickle through the PMO. It always takes a few weeks for budgets to get released, even if the intention is to start the work in January. By February, project teams are ready to get started, knowing that any further delay in the admin is going to put pressure on their ability to deliver by the dates from the business case. And that’s why all the supplier agreements seem to be floating around at the moment.

The infographic below talks about the major groups/people involved in putting together and approving supplier contracts for new third parties, but it’s the same people involved in renewing deals and reviewing an existing supplier to see if we want to give them more work.

 As with any internal process, this is probably a bit specific to certain environments and types of contract, and you might not see all of these roles in your business.

Equally, there might be some other key positions that have a part to play – I know that in one set of contract negotiations for a multi-million software project, my project sponsor attended every conversation, along with the technical architect. And just as well they did too: it created a great sense of common purpose and everyone was on the same page from the beginning.

Take the suggestions below as a starting point for opening up the conversation with your colleagues if you are creating new supplier agreements, so you can make sure the right people are involved from the start.

Read more about who gets involved in contracts.

Posted on: February 08, 2022 04:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

5 Red Flags for Business Cases [Video]

Categories: business case

Let’s say you’ve been asked to look over a business case, or your sponsor has drafted a basic business case and has asked you to get it ready for the next review.

In this video, I’ll give you 5 things to look out for: 5 red flags that are worth spotting before your business case gets too far through the process of project acceptance, because if you don’t resolve them, the project will be really hard to manage and you’ll have all kinds of expectation management issues.

Enjoy the video!

Pin for later reading

Posted on: April 02, 2021 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

What is Payback Period?

payback period

Payback period is a term that you’ll seen on business cases and in other project selection documentation. It’s a criteria that helps organisations decide if they want to go ahead with a project or not.

But what is it? And how can we use it to our advantage?

Payback period refers to the amount of time required for your investment to pay back. In other words, it’s the time taken to ‘earn’ the amount of the original investment.

Let’s say you own a hotel. You build a penthouse room on the top. It costs £100,000 to build (you get the materials very cheaply! Go with me, this amount makes the maths easier).

The price for one night’s accommodation in the penthouse is £100.

Therefore, you need to sell 1,000 nights of accommodation to break even.

 100,000 / 100 = 1,000.

The payback period for this room is 1,000 nights.

That example is SO simplistic but hopefully you get the idea. Payback period measures how long something takes to pay for itself.

What kind of payback period is best?

The best kind of payback period is the shortest!

The faster something can pay back, and start bringing in profit, the better in business terms. Once you have broken even, payback period has been completed and any money earned after that is extra – the benefits you were hoping to see.

I love using payback period because it’s easy to understand and easy to work out. If you are comparing projects, when everything else is equal, the project with the shortest payback period should be the one you do first.

Of course, in real life projects aren’t equal in all other respects. You will be juggling a range of other selection criteria, of which, payback period is only one. However, it is a useful measure to look at first, to give you an idea of the effort involved in earning anything from this project. Something that has a payback period of over 10 years might not be worth doing at all and can be eliminated from project selection.

Depending on your industry, payback periods could be short or long. Any type of large-scale construction project will necessarily have a longer payback period than launching a fast-to-market consumer app. Some projects may not pay back for years, and still be worth doing. You know your industry and projects better than I ever will, so apply your professional judgement and consider what the ‘appropriate’ kind of payback period is for your organisation.

Pin for later reading:

payback period

Posted on: March 11, 2020 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

5 Non-Financial Benefits for Your Business Case

Categories: business case

When your project is making a tangible financial contribution to the company’s profit or revenue, then putting your business case together is pretty easy. If the financial case stands up, many execs will put a tick in the box. But when you can’t demonstrate that there are financial reasons to do your project, should you put the business case in the bin?

No, of course not. There are lots of non-financial reasons to invest money in a project. And some of them might even pay back in cash! It’s just that measuring them and attributing the benefit specifically to your project could be difficult to do.

Here are 5 common non-financial benefits that you could consider adding into your business case, even if there are plenty of cash benefits too.

non-financial benefits for your business case infographic

There’s more information about the concepts of non-financial benefits in this article.

Posted on: October 22, 2019 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

I was going to have cosmetic surgery until I noticed that the doctor's office was full of portraits by Picasso.

- Rita Rudner