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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More schedule tasks to do before you baseline

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More schedule tasks to do before you baseline

Last month, I wrote about 3 things to include in your schedule creation activity before you could say your schedule is ready for use, after you’ve created the work breakdown structure and added in dates, dependencies and task owners. Here are another 3 things you can build into your project planning tasks to polish your schedule.

tasks for schedule

1. Add in the costs

One thing we’re doing at work more and more is cost loading schedules. You don’t have to do this in your project scheduling software unless it makes sense to do it there. You could also create a phased version of your budget that shows when costs are going to hit.

Adding costs into the schedule to each individual task is a more accurate and detailed view, and then if work is rescheduled or delayed, the costs move too. However, you can get started with a simple spreadsheet where you phase the forecasted budget across the months of delivery and then record the actuals.

You can do this as a practice exercise if you want to give it a go, even if you don’t have external costs. Resource costs are normally a huge chunk of budget, so if you are tracking time, you can match up how many hours/days were worked against the forecasted effort in the week/month and use that to phase the costs by activity.

2. Look for float

Float is where a task has the ‘luxury’ of being able to start or finish later than the dates on the plan and not affect the critical path.

Look out for the tasks with wiggle room – where you could let them slip a day or so or start them early and overall it has no impact on your ability to deliver to the agreed end date. Personally, I like to get ahead with those tasks because you never know when the resources or work might change later and you need that time for something else, for example a team member going off sick.

However, some tasks are better done in a just-in-time way, so don’t bring forward those. You risk rework if you do something too early that might need to be changed later, even if there isn’t a formal task that would drive the change. For example, project communications can be drafted early but might need to change if the context changes, and if you are going through a transformation or strategic reset, the direction of travel might change mid-project causing you some more effort later.

3. Check in with stakeholders

It should go without saying, but given that I’ve reviewed project plans created by the project manager with no input from the team when I’m mentoring project managers, I feel it does warrant a note – check your schedule with the stakeholders.

I do create a high level overview with as much detail as I can before I share it with the rest of the team, because it saves time, and the alternative is having a giant workshop for planning. And frankly, we don’t have time for that (I know, I know…. The irony of not having the time to plan!). If we’ve had phone calls and conversations, there is probably enough I can glean from those to put together an outline and fit it to our project methodology.

But the plan is not workable and achievable unless the key members of staff doing the work have signed off on it.

A project schedule is a working document, so even when it has been around the team for discussion and refinement, it will need to be revised later on.

Posted on: April 10, 2024 02:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Evolving Landscape of Benefits Realisation

In December I wrote about benefits realisation and management, and how you get started in a simple way. That prompted a fantastic question from Markus:

 

Reflecting on your thoughts about the growing emphasis on benefits management in project management, it's clear that there's a real shift happening. It's fascinating to see this kind of evolution, where both big and small projects are being scrutinized not just for what they deliver but for the actual benefits they bring. This approach feels much more holistic, doesn't it? … What's your take on this evolving landscape? Do you feel that the focus on benefits management is changing how projects are approached in your organization?

 

So, let me dive into that a little today and reflect further on the shifting sands of benefits realisation.

benefits management


Change #1: Stakeholders

I think the first big change in the landscape of benefits management is that stakeholders are far more open to the idea that there are benefits.

In other words, they want to see benefits, they want to come along to workshops to define benefits and they want to get the credit for delivering benefits! People seem to realise that they can’t simply ask to do projects and someone on high say yes. It’s not that easy any longer.

I think part of this change has come about because there is not the funding sloshing around for pet projects any more. Going back a few years, we might have had funding for projects that didn’t really need to be justified beyond ‘sounding like a good idea’. These days, there is far more scrutiny on where the money is going, so it’s important that stakeholders are seen to be engaging with the process of benefits identification.

In real terms, that looks like a lot more commitment to the benefits identification and tracking process.

Change #2: Accountability

Having willing stakeholders prepared to go through the hassle of setting up benefits trackers is really only the start. They have to be held accountable and those tracked benefits need to be reported. And if the benefits aren’t there, that should be challenged. Perhaps there are good reasons why the benefits are delayed, and that can be factored into financial plans going forward.

Change #3: Over-reliance on benefits for funding

I don’t see this often, but there have been cases where some very good project idea has not been funded with ‘real’ money because the plan is that it will self-fund from the benefits. In reality, funding something with money that you save is really hard because you don’t get the savings until after you’ve done the work. So you either have to commit to doing the work and be really sure that the benefits will materialise, or don’t do the work because you can’t pay for it before any benefits are realised… it’s a bit chicken and egg.

I hope this doesn’t become a new benefits trend: yes, do any project you want as long as it’s self-funding! Even a bad idea could get the go ahead if that was the attitude.

Change #4: Identifying benefits

When I first started out as a project manager, we often talked about benefits, but only really listed intangible things like improved customer satisfaction generally (which we could have actually tracked, if we’d bothered enough) or staff morale, or brand reputation avoidance. Things like that.

Benefits are often a bit abstract or not immediately obvious, or you can’t take a baseline because you’re developing something new so there is no current baseline that’s easy to grab to track the difference.

I think part of the evolution is coming up with better ways to track benefits and identify them, and to be honest, I think large data sets, online tools, big data analytics and company’s interests in understanding everything in lots of detail paved the way for us to have the right approach to do this, and the data sources to back it up.

Markus went on to write:

The whole process of setting up models for benefit calculations can be quite a maze. You've got to bring in experts, wrangle with finance teams, and then there's the task of gathering all that baseline data. It's like piecing together a puzzle without having the picture on the box. Getting everyone on the same page, ensuring they understand and agree on the calculations, is a Herculean task in itself.

I certainly agree. It’s not about setting it up once and forgetting about it. It’s an ongoing effort that only starts with identification. However, the signs are there that more and more organisations are caring about benefits – probably because they have to, and that’s not a bad thing.

What does the landscape look like with you?

Posted on: February 19, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

5 Challenges of Integrating Sustainability into Project Plans

Back in December I wrote about how to reduce your project’s carbon footprint by taking sustainability into account during the management of the work.

There were some really interesting comments on the article, and one of the questions was:

What challenges might project managers face in integrating sustainability into their project plans, and how can these be overcome?

Let me spend some time today talking about 5 of the challenges I think are top of mind when it comes to managing sustainability in a project environment.

sustainable working

Challenge #1: Stakeholder buy in

The first thing I think you need to overcome is the challenge of stakeholder buy in. Are your project stakeholders as committed as you to putting sustainable working practices at the heart of this project? And what do they mean, really?

I’d tackle this by including a sustainability management plan as part of the project artifacts, making sure that we all agreed what measures we are prepared to take.

Challenge #2: Supplier buy in

Next, suppliers. It’s fine having the support of your internal team, but if you are bound to use certain suppliers who are not aligned to your value, a big part of your sustainability effort could be undone.

It’s great to think you might have the freedom to select the partner who delivers all their supplies in electric vehicles powered by green energy, wrapped in recycled paper packaging, but honestly, not all suppliers are able to meet those, nor may it be practical or desirable for them to do so.

Yes, think about which suppliers you contract with, and talk to them about their sustainability plans and approaches, but sometimes you’ll have to accept that the preferred supplier and the best fit for your project is not the greenest option. Perhaps tackle this by looking at carbon offset schemes?

Challenge #3: Team collaboration

One of the things you can easily to do reduce the carbon footprint is to travel less and reduce the overhead related to driving or flying to work-related meetings. But what is the impact on productivity and collaboration for the team?

We all know of the advantages of collocated teams, and while many of us are reading this article while working from home or not in the same location as our colleagues, it is still lovely to meet up with the team from time to time.

Think about what travel is possible for the team to do, and how you can build informal networking and team events into your remote working schedule.

Challenge #4: Tracking

Let’s say you’ve got agreement to work in green ways or to consider sustainability seriously as part of your project management approach. How are you going to track this?

One of the challenges is identifying meaningful measures. For every car journey avoided, what does that mean? Look for your company’s standard measures for calculating carbon by weight, and think about how that translates from what you are doing.

Alternatively, you might decide that you’re going to be as green as possible without tracking (which might defeat the purpose if part of your goal is to contribute to targets like net zero) but at least that would be something. Deal with this challenge by talking to your sustainability manager or finance team, or the department responsible for looking at energy saving and carbon tracking.

Challenge #5: Consistency

It’s fine starting out thinking you are going to be all green on this project, but it’s often hard to keep the momentum, especially if there is no corporate mandate or wider sustainability plan, and you are up against stakeholders who don’t attribute the same level of importance to this as you do.

Overall, building in sustainable working practices and choosing to manage the project and the deliverables in a sustainable way shouldn’t be hard, but in practice I’m sure you’ll face these challenges.

What else did I forget? Have you tried green ways of working or deliverables and found them easy to build into the way you work? Let us know in the comments below!

Posted on: February 13, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Stakeholders: how to improve engagement

Every stakeholder on your project is going to come to the work with a different level of engagement. That level of engagement is going to depend on lots of things, like:

  • How busy they are
  • What other projects they are working on and the priorities of those projects
  • Their level of understanding for the project’s goals and objectives
  • What is expected of them (and whether they perceive those tasks to be easy, hard, pointless or worth their time).

Often stakeholders don’t exhibit the levels of engagement that we might feel we need from them to get the best results for the project. Here are some thoughts and simple ideas for how to move people into a place where they are prepared to engage a bit more with the project.

stakeholder analysis

Blocker to indifferent

Projects struggle when the wrong stakeholders are blocking the change. In fact, when any stakeholder is resistant to change, that can cause problems.

Blockers are possibly people who don’t see the problem that the project is trying to fix. They might be keen to defend the status quo, whatever that is.

Talk to them about why they appear to be resistant, or what they are worried might happen as part of this project. Try to share the reasons for the project and the ‘why’ behind the change, even if it doesn’t directly affect their team. They might be more open to engaging with the project if they know the reasons driving the change.

There are various things to try here, but it starts with trying to understand their position and probably ends with escalating to their line manager or your project sponsor.

Indifferent to keen

These are stakeholders who are a bit ‘meh’ about the project and you’d like them to be supportive.

Indifferent stakeholders may think the project isn’t relevant to them. Perhaps they don’t see the point of it. The project just doesn’t seem important. You can see this in their reaction to the work, their slow response in getting back to your messages and calls, and their general attitude to the project.

There is also a chance that you’ve asked them to be involved and haven’t been clear enough with the ask. Talk to them about their priorities and those of their team. Share the successes and if necessary, try to get some of their time ringfenced to complete their project work.

Keen to champion

Supportive stakeholders are keen about the project, but they wouldn’t necessarily be a champion – those super proactive stakeholders who really understand and make progress on the work. Some of your stakeholders probably need to be in the ‘champion’ category.

Think about how you best use their time so they don’t sit in meetings and hear updates that they already know about. Ask for some small commitments and see how they get on completing those before you ask for larger tasks.

Not everyone needs to be a champion

You don’t need everyone to be a champion. Some stakeholders are probably OK to simply be indifferent: as long as they aren’t resisting the change that could be good enough.

The idea of looking at stakeholders in this way and seeing where they are on a scale is to understand better about the kinds of engagement – and specifically the time commitment – required for each stakeholder or group. Those that have the furthest to go on the scale are going to need more time and more focused action to move them into the zone where you want them to be.

Does anyone have an example of a stakeholder who has moved into the ‘more engaged’ category that they’d be prepared to share in the comments? I’d love to hear your stories of successful stakeholder engagement 😊

Posted on: January 29, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)
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