The accuracy of your individual project planning and budgeting has company-wide implications, your sales teams targeting new projects in line with the gaps set out in the agenda. Picking the right projects for the time and resources you have available will underpin your success. With that in mind, we discuss three key ideas to help you map out the future as accurately as possible.

Get everyone on the same page
A crystal clear set of priorities for new work is a good first step. If everyone involved understands the project background, the operational team will be empowered to make the same decisions on the ground as the management layer would in their place.

Classic project management describes three core issues – time, money and scope. It needs to be clear what order they operate in. If scope is the main priority, and the end result needs to be reached regardless, there has to be a play off between how long it’s going to take to do it, and how much it will cost. Pay more to get the best people in and complete it quicker? Or work with the cheaper alternative and take longer to deliver? Make sure everyone understands the right way to go. The choices you make will dramatically affect your planning and eventual outcome.

Let the experts do the estimates
Effective plans are executable. It sounds painfully obvious, but it’s even more staggering how many projects are destined to fail before the proposal ink is even dry. Don’t fall into the trap of making plans that look attractively profitable but are impossible to realize. If an organization has finite resources and time for a project, it’s not just about crow-barring the work in regardless. If there isn’t enough capacity or time, the project needs to be moved, re-scoped or dropped.

Once the priorities are clear to everyone, make sure that the estimates are then actually created by the people with the know how to do it properly. The graveyard of broken promises is filled with projects budgeted by people without the relevant operational background. Forcing teams to deliver against management’s expectations, and not those created by the people with the hands-on experience to budget accurately, will not work. The team will be demotivated and feel undermined, probably leading to the project taking even longer or failing completely.

Make use of the work breakdown structure (WBS)
In addition to making sure the right people say how long tasks take to do, be determined to dive into the details. In terms of project planning tools, the WBS is about as useful as they come. It splits up the entire project into individual deliverables, portions of the project that can be accurately estimated and budgeted by the people involved. This can then be transformed into an activity list, subsequently double checked to review the time and cost accuracy.

The system works best if the people involved work with a range of scenarios – best, likely and worst cases – especially if any tasks are being examined that are new(ish) to the team. An average of the three provides a useful comparison to the ‘likely’ estimates, in addition to tabling useful discussions around potential risk and managing it. The project manager can look at the entire schedule, reviewing the impact certain activities can have on the whole plan if worst case scenarios unfold. Changes to macro project planning can be implemented according to risk appetite, as can decisions relating to other projects running in parallel. If there’s a realistic chance that a certain aspect may overrun, it’s important that it’s flagged for other people scheduling work.

Realism is worth its weight in gold
So, three things to keep in mind when aiming for time and cost budgets that can actually be realized. Make sure everyone knows what’s going on, that the people with the right knowledge and experience make the decisions, and that you break up the project into small enough chunks to chew over properly. If you can do this successfully, there’s a good chance that sales will continue to deliver work that fits capacity and allows you all to shine.