Transparent Digital Project Budget Management

The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) holds a statistic that has stayed with me since I was studying for my PMP: project managers spend approximately 80% of their time communicating. That translates to six and a half hours a day, 32 hours a week, and a whopping 1,664 hours a year spent ensuring everyone is well-informed and aligned. In the world of digital project management, staying on the same page with Aten’s production team and clients is crucial, especially when it comes to managing budgets. In our work creating beautiful websites and digital applications for mission-driven organizations, efficiently utilizing project budget is a top priority.

As a project manager, budget management is one of the most important aspects of my role, and effective communication plays a central role in achieving it.

All About the Hours

The foundation of our budget management lies in the fact that we are a time-and-materials digital agency, meaning we bill for the time we invest in moving our clients’ initiatives forward. The basic mechanics of managing budgets relies on two numbers:

  • The amount of time we’ve already used
  • The amount of time estimated to finish

Harvest serves as our tool for time reporting, while Jira aids in task planning and time estimation.

Data-Driven Decisions

It’s not enough just to have the numbers. The nature of our projects means we need to be able to make real-time decisions based on the evolving data. As project requirements evolve, sometimes complexities arise and we encounter unexpected shifts in timing. This brings me back to the 80% number: engaging in constant communication allows us to make crucial decisions based on up-to-date data with the intent that we keep the project on track.

Budget Tracking

Beyond Harvest and Jira, we use customized budget trackers to forecast where each project is headed. 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 website or application 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

Shared Budget Trackers

To ensure transparency and accountability, we share access to these budget trackers with our clients. This is something that has proven to be effective in our ability to manage projects as transparency fosters collaboration and trust, allowing for a shared understanding of budget realities.

Weekly Reports

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, any discrepancies, and top-line figures for the 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 digital projects.

Wrapping it Up

Managing budgets isn’t easy. But with the right tools, frequent updates, and transparent communication, we can 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!

Digital Project Management

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