One statistic in the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) that has always stuck with me is that project managers should spend roughly 80% of their time communicating. That’s six and a half hours a day, 32 hours a week, 1,664 hours a year, making sure everyone is on the same page. From scheduling the team, to managing complex requirements, to preparing for launch, there is a lot to stay on the same page about. Perhaps the most important of these is the project’s budget.
As a project manager, managing budgets is one of the most important parts of my job. Clear, frequent communication is a big part of how it’s done.
All About the Hours
We’re a time-and-materials company, which simply means we bill for our time. The basic mechanics of managing budgets relies on two numbers: the amount of time we’ve already used, and the amount of time estimated to finish. We use Harvest for reporting on time spent, and Jira for planning tasks and estimating the amount of time needed.
It’s not enough just to have the numbers. We need to be able to make decisions about each project in real time based on said numbers. Things get complicated because the data changes frequently. Some things take longer than expected, others go faster. Some features are critical, others are just nice-to-have. As requirements evolve, things become more complex. Which brings me back to that 80% number: I spend a lot of my time communicating and helping make key decisions based on actual data to keep the project on track.
Beyond Harvest and Jira, we use customized budget trackers to forecast where each project is headed. (Learn more and download a sample budget tracker in this related post: Advanced Digital Project Management with Harvest Data.) Our budget trackers provide a clear indication of how much time has gone into a project, how much time is remaining, and the allocation of time for specific features. Most importantly, budget trackers aid in providing the necessary data for making informed decisions. Do we simplify some features, or eliminate a nice-to-have to make room for something critical? Can we add additional requirements? Do we need to add funds to do more? Actionable data from budget trackers helps answer these important questions throughout the lifespan of the project.
Staying on the Same Page
Back to that 80% again. To make decisions based on data, the data has to be shared. Here at Aten, we’re huge proponents of being transparent and direct. The way we manage budgets is no different. We share budget trackers with our clients, update the numbers frequently, and are transparent about the details.
Shared Budget Trackers
I’m not gonna lie: when I first started working at Aten, this felt a little uncomfortable. It’s impossible to sugarcoat the situation when clients have full access to the same information. However (and I can’t stress this enough), being extremely transparent has proven to be incredibly effective for managing projects successfully.
Being transparent with budget realities keeps teams accountable, fosters collaboration, and builds trust. We share budget trackers with our clients, giving them access to real-time data throughout the lifespan of every project.
While clients have constant access to budget information through shared information, we know they’re busy with their day jobs and aren’t necessarily watching the data unfold. That’s why we send customized reports every week, either during our Zoom Project Management Check-In or through a weekly status update via Basecamp. Each report details the hours estimated, actual hours spent, and the reason behind any difference, as well as top-line figures for the total remaining budget and level of effort. This guarantees everyone sees and hears the current status of the budget at regular weekly intervals, and provides an avenue for raising questions or concerns throughout the process.
We Share it All: the Good, Bad and Ugly.
Here at Aten, we believe in being proactive with the details. Similar to sharing budget trackers, this felt a little uncomfortable at first—but it's proven invaluable for building trust and collaboration in projects.
We know clients love good news (don’t we all?) but even more, they genuinely appreciate an honest, transparent appraisal of where things stand. Only when we’re clear and forthcoming with the details, and stay committed to solution-focused problem solving and collaboration, can we find win-win solutions to the inevitable challenges in complex projects.
Wrapping it Up
Managing budgets isn't easy. But with the right tools, frequent updates, and transparent communication, budget conversations can build trust and set the stage for a successful digital project. If you have a success story to share from a recent project, or want to talk more about tools, drop me a line in the comments section below!