Project Management

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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

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More schedule tasks to do before you baseline

Quarterly review time: How was your Q1?

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Finished your schedule? Here’s what to do next


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Finished your schedule? Here’s what to do next

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Tasks and dependencies? Check.

Dates? Check.

Owners? Check.

But creating a schedule doesn’t stop when your Gantt chart has those elements in place. Even if it looks like it’s finished enough, you can go further to make your schedule really robust and useful for the project team.

Here are 3 things to consider when you’ve got the bones of your project schedule together.

1. Find the critical path

I’m surprised at the number of project managers I work with who don’t use a critical path, but then, sometimes I don’t work it out either.

The critical path isn’t helpful when there are lots of knowledge-based tasks with unknown durations and plenty of float. If most of your tasks can happen in parallel, or you have no fixed end date to aim for, then you could argue that it’s not super important to mark the critical path on the schedule.

I think that the more experience a project manager has, the easier it is for us to spot the tasks that are critical or potential blockers to progress without having to highlight each one in red on a Gantt chart, but that also depends on the complexity of your plan. It’s easy enough to spot the path on a 3-month software development project, but I couldn’t work it out in my head on a 600-line ERP implementation plan.

If hitting your dates is essential, and staying at the budgeted amount of resource is essential, and your plan is complex, then spend a bit of time working out the critical path. Normally you just have to hit a button to highlight it and then sense check what your software is telling you. Worth doing.

2. Work out the schedule risk

Look at your schedule and risk assess it. Your software tool might have features to do this for you, or make some smart decisions about the kinds of risk your schedule presents and add them to your risk log. Estimate uncertainty and factor that in, especially if you are working with individual dates instead of ranges.

3. Level your resources

A schedule is an academic exercise until you add in some people to do the work. And naming people against the tasks isn’t the same as working out if they have the capacity to actually do the work.

The challenge with a lot of schedules in my experience is that they are not backed by a resource management tool, so it’s very easy to overload someone with activity across multiple projects. You don’t have visibility of what else they are working on, so you assign them to a task. When the time comes, they are fully occupied on a higher priority project, or they have to split their time.

Resource allocation and levelling is tricky without resource management tools and when using duration-based planning. It might take me three weeks to get a new policy clause drafted and approved, but the actual effort involved is someone to write the clause (30 minutes) and then lots of time getting it through the approval cycles which involves small amounts of time from lots of different people.

That scenario is hard to level and factor into a plan – especially when your subject matter experts can’t tell you which half a day they’ve got allocated to doing their work.

However, give it a go. Sense check what you’ve got in the plan, look at how many tasks each individual has got allocated to them. Talk to them about their workloads and what else they are working on around the same time as this task is scheduled. As a minimum, factor in annual leave and vacation time!

When you’ve got a rounded out schedule, you can baseline it and start working through the work. What else have I forgotten? Let me know what you do to keep your schedule a useful, working document, leave a comment below!

Posted on: March 04, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Testing ChatGPT!

I was inspired to do the Generative AI for Project Managers course (which is currently free, and definitely worth looking at on the PMI website) and from there, to sign up for a ChatGPT account. In parallel to that, I was asked to deliver a webinar on AI-proofing your career (spoiler alert: AI takes away the parts of the job that I didn’t like so much anyway, and frees up more time for you to shine in human relationships), so I seem to have embedded myself in the world of AI recently!

I thought I would put ChatGPT to the test by asking it a question I get asked frequently:

What are the top 5 challenges affecting project managers in the world today?

This is an edited version of what it said. It gave me 246 words, and I’ve added my own thoughts after each point to add a human-in-loop spin on the feedback. The GenAI course explains human-in-loop if you have not come across this term before.

(Sidenote: I feel weird calling it ‘it’ when you can have a conversation with it. I think I would like to give my ChatGPT bot a name, I just don’t know what!)

As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, the following were some of the top challenges affecting project managers worldwide:

  1. Resource Constraints:
    • Limited availability of skilled resources, both in terms of human capital and specialized tools or technologies, can significantly impact project timelines and deliverables.

Elizabeth says: So far so good. This seems to be a perennial problem across the ages. It’s not particularly new, but I’m sure it is true. Every project manager I speak to seems to have issues with resourcing and capacity planning.

  1. Scope Creep and Change Management:
    • Managing changes to project scope and requirements can be a major challenge.

Elizabeth says: Again, this is not new news. It’s not the modern, fresh take I was hoping for. Perhaps there isn’t one: we’re stuck with the challenge we’ve always had, which is reassuring and disappointing at the same time!

  1. Remote and Distributed Teams:
    • The shift to remote work, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has posed challenges in team collaboration, communication, and ensuring productivity across geographically dispersed team members.

Elizabeth says: I’m sensing a theme here. These are all true, but as project managers, we’ve been overcoming the challenge of remote and distributed teams for years, even before the pandemic.

  1. Risk Management and Uncertainty:
    • Identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks is critical to project success.

Elizabeth says: I agree that risk management and working in uncertainty is a challenge, but we have whole project approaches designed to minimise the impact of that and maximise user engagement through short deliverable sprints. Yes, the world is an uncertain place, but again, project managers have been looking out for the things that will bite us in the backside for years. That’s the job!

  1. Stakeholder Management:
    • Balancing the needs and expectations of various stakeholders, including clients, sponsors, team members, and end-users, is crucial.

Elizabeth says: I would not have put stakeholder management as one of the challenges for project managers. In fact, it’s one of the fun parts! I do understand that it is challenging to manage competing priorities, but again, our processes are set up to identify those and work through them.

Then ChatGPT goes on to add:

Please note that the landscape of project management may have evolved since my last knowledge update. Factors like emerging technologies, evolving business models, and global events (such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic) can introduce new challenges or shift the emphasis on existing ones. It's recommended to stay updated with current industry reports, trends, and insights to understand the most pressing challenges faced by project managers in 2023.

Elizabeth says: I agree that it is important to stay up to date with the pressing challenges, and the best way to do that is to stay connected to the industry. Conferences like the PMI Summit and publications like project management magazines provide timely insights into what is important. For example, sustainability isn’t on the ChatGPT list and I would have thought that would have been a concern back in 2021.

I haven’t yet paid for an upgraded account, so perhaps a paid account would have better outcomes and give me a different take on what the current challenges are, so there’s that to consider.

Meanwhile, I’m curious! Do you agree with these challenges? Do you think there are others more pressing for us as project managers? And what do you think of the output of ChatGPT if you’ve used it? Let me know in the comments below!

Posted on: November 14, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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)

5 Reasons to Crash Your Schedule [Video]

Your sponsor has asked you to get the work done faster… who hasn’t been in that situation?! That’s one reason why you may want to crash your project schedule, but there are others. In the past, I’ve written about 7 reasons to crash the schedule, and in this video, I pick out my top 5 to discuss in more detail. I talk about schedule compression (obviously), when part of the project has the potential to put the overall project at risk, when you’ve got a fixed deadline, when the team is needed for other work and when there’s a general delay which affects your ability to hit your expected deadlines. Crashing can help in all of those situations, used sensibly. Engage professional judgement before you go for it!

What are your thoughts on crashing? Personally, I try not to do it too often because it’s a lot of effort and it doesn’t always give you the results you were expecting, but it is a useful skill in the toolbox for predictive project managers, so it’s worth knowing when you would consider to use the technique.

Posted on: February 01, 2022 04:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

How to ask for more project managers [Video]

Categories: budget, resources

Do you work in a PMO and desperately need extra project managers? I’ve got some tips in this video that should help you make a pitch for the resources you need.

You’ll need to put together a proposal that explains what the person (or people) will do, when you need them, what they will be doing, and what kind of level you are anticipating recruiting at. It also helps if you can make the case for their work being directly linked to a faster delivery of business strategy – in other words, you can help the organisation meet its goals more effectively if you have the bodies on the ground to support the delivery.

There are more tips in the video.

Let me know in the comments: have you been successful in leading the charge to secure more PM resources for your delivery teams? I’d love to hear more tips about how to make the case and get the funding to grow the team!

Pin for later reading

Posted on: October 05, 2021 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something."

- Plato