Having strong project budget management skills is crucial to the success of any agency. Subsequently, it’s something that keeps a lot of project managers up at night. Whether you’re a new project coordinator first flexing your project budget muscles or a seasoned project management professional looking to further hone your talents, these easy tips can help you improve your project budget methods.
1. Understand Your Stakeholders
Getting to know your project stakeholders’ needs and goals is the foundation for strong budget management. Ultimately everything, including your budget, relies on your understanding of your stakeholders’ expectations. Carefully document your client’s goals, understand their budgetary requirements and identify the key differences between their needs, and their wants. This is the gray area where budget overruns most frequently occur. Finally, review your end results with the client and ensure you have their complete buy-in.
2. Invest Time in Your Creative Briefs
After you’ve reviewed the project goals with your client, it’s time to bring in your creatives with a solid creative brief. The more effort you invest into setting your creatives up for success from the start, the less likely they’ll end up burning time with miscommunication and confusion down the line.
Having a strong foundation to build on gives your creatives the answers and tools they need to tackle a project head-on. Looking for a quick way to improve your creative briefs? Check out our tips for killer creative briefs and download our free template that you can modify to fit your agency.
3. Break Down Projects Into Individual Tasks
It’s tempting to assume that similar projects take approximately the same amount of time (ie. building a 20-page website takes X hours). Unfortunately, every project you tackle will come with its own unique challenges and deliverables, meaning your project timelines can differ dramatically.
To improve your time estimates, break projects down into individual tasks (ie. wireframing the website, content mapping the website, copywriting the website, and so on), and estimate the time needed for each item. You’ll begin to notice how easy it is for the scope to vary significantly from project to project.
4. Ensure your Creatives Track Time
Once you’ve locked in an accurate project estimate, you’ll need to ensure your creatives are tracking time accurately to stay on top of your budget progress. You can’t know if your project is starting to go over-budget if your creatives are tracking inaccurately, or worse – suddenly dumping in their hours at the end of a 2-week cycle. Collaborate with your creatives and agency management to make time tracking a part of your agency’s day to day operations.
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5. Schedule Budget Check-Ins Throughout the Project
Even when you feel you’ve perfected your project budget methods, it’s important to remember that a budget can be a living part of every project. Schedule frequent check-ins to ensure your project is still within your allocated hours, and you’re hitting your targets. It’s much easier to redirect a project or renegotiate a budget with clients when it’s 10% over budget, rather than 50% over budget.
6. Know When to Say No
Project managers are known people-pleasers: it’s often what makes them so great at their jobs. But when it comes to budget management, you’ll need to learn how to say no sometimes. Most clients won’t realize that what they’re asking for is unreasonable, but it’s all too common for them to begin pushing the scope of the project without wanting to renegotiate the budget. Work on overcoming your fear of the hardest two-letter word with our tips for saying no to clients.
7. Always Have a Contingency Budget
Whether it’s a project that is running over budget on hours or a surprise fee-increase from one of your vendors, most projects have the potential to slip past their initial budget. Always include a percentage of your budget to account for any surprises that pop up along the way.
Finding that your projects are consistently running into your contingency budget? Consider reviewing our tips for stopping scope creep in its tracks.
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Author: Brittany Coulter
Finance & Business Operations Manager
Brittany keeps the inner workings of Function Point ticking in her role in Finance and Operations. A BA grad from UCSB, Brittany has worked in Finance with non-profits, international tourism, and government agencies. When she's not tweaking excel sheets, she'll be busy adjusting and finding her focus on the yoga mat.