Projects Managers: Hidden Traps

Sigma Software

Would you feel enthusiastic if it turned out that you had underspent budget on your project? Would you be excited if your customer asked to scale up a team because you were doing an excellent job and they wanted to extend the working relationship? It’s safe to guess for most managers the answer would be “yes” to both. Alas, the joy of such news is often replaced with disappointment and problems, leading to dissatisfaction, and even possible loss of a client. Why does this happen?

It seems there are hidden traps that many PMs fall into. We asked our certified Project Managers and they advised what to focus on in order to safely navigate through the reefs and lead the project to success.

Budget Savings – an occasion to celebrate or a reason to think?

Denis Nerushev, a Senior Project Manager who leads critical projects for world-known enterprises, says:

“An important part of a PM’s work is budget tracking. It`s a known fact of course, and you could think of me as “Captain Obvious”, but don`t be hasty.

Project Managers on Budget Savings

 

Confess, how often do you check the budget completion? Do you think it is enough to look through it in the middle and at the end of the project? Do you consider it a good sign when you see budget underutilization? I`d like to warn you against bringing “good news” to your client without double checking if it is really so. It may happen (and it is quite a common thing) that you just underperform the project scope as a whole. It may also turn out that the client expects a wider scope of work.

So, if you find yourself with more money than you are supposed to have left, it should be a wake-up call for you to revise your approach and attitude. First of all, such a thing should never happen as a surprise to you since a good PM tracks the project budget regularly, and not just once or twice during the project lifespan. You should always know what portion of the project scope you have used and how much money you have left. And one of your main tasks is to regularly, clearly, and accurately inform all the interested parties – your team, your stakeholders, and your client – about the budget status.

Here is a simple, though efficient table I personally use to understand the real project standing in terms of the budget.

Estimated effort

Optimistic / Most Likely / Pessimistic / PERT

Baseline selected

Could be any figure within the estimated range used for planning the project timeline, deliveries, etc. Usually it is in line with the Most Likely estimation or PERT figure.

Project budget

This is the number of hours, which correspond to the sum the client defined for the project as a budget. In an ideal world to cover all known risks the budget usually should be equal to the Pessimistic estimation or even a bit more to cover things known and unknown. In a real life scenario, the budget usually is less than Pessimistic due to the customer limitations.

Spent

The sum you have spent on your project so far.

Remaining hours

The work you have left to be performed. It is important that this figure includes not just a calculated number (Budget Estimation minus Spent), but you need to also include developers’ re-estimatinons for the remaining effort for the tasks in progress.

EAC (Estimation At Completion)

This is a sum of Spent and Remaining.

 

A yellow or red flag would be the EAC moving beyond the Baseline selected, depending how far it is moving. This is when you need to take actions: understand the root causes and possible ways to resolve them in order to get back on track, and to implement that; also it might be needed to show and discuss all that with the customer. It often happens that even if the client approves all change requests, they may not see the full picture or fail to understand the consequences. Your aim is to make the real budget clear to yourself and your customer, as it may change from time to time.

Team Growth: Feel the Balance or Feel Frustration

It is always good news when a customer wants to extend a team, isn’t it? However, you should beware of losing a smart balance, a mistake that many PMs make. Rita Strelnitskaya, a Project Manager with almost 10 years of experience, tells a story about a balance loss that could have easily led to a project failure and serious consequences for the company.

“Once we were running quite an interesting and long-term project with a big client. We started well, and within a year-long plan we had gathered a balanced team of developers, testers, designers, UI/UX engineers, BA, and a PM. Everything seemed to be going fine and we were glad to receive a request for a team extension one day. On the customer`s request, we added several software engineers to the project to streamline the IT product development. Guess what happened next? Instead of speeding up we lost quality, since – surprise, surprise – we faced problems with testing.

Project Managers on Balanced IT TeamsWhat actually happened is that we forgot about keeping the balance. After expanding the software development part of the team, we did not strengthen the testing part proportionally. So it turned out that testers work fell behind the developers, and at the end of the phase before the release, we had a written but not completely tested solution. We had to pay for this mistake with unnecessary delays and to deal with the functional testing debt that had accrued.

The lesson learned from this story - when making changes in one part of the team, think how these changes would affect the load of other team members. In addition, it is your job to explain to your client that time to market doesn’t only depend on the number of developers on the project and strengthening the team means extending all functions proportionally.

It sometimes happens that specialists on the client’s side think about software creation in terms of developers. Moreover, they base their expectations and estimations for software development costs and terms on this idea. It is important to note that a development team also includes, for example, a test engineer, a business analyst, a project manager, a graphic and UI/UX designer, and so forth, depending on a project`s specifics. Don`t be shy to explain to your client that an efficient team does not consist of developers only.

So keep the balance in order to save yourself frustration when dealing with the consequences of mistakes.”

Bottom Line: Project Managers Think Deeply

If you have read this article up to this point, you have probably learned that a PMs life is not all beer and skittles. PMs need to be in control of everything and think deeply about the consequences of their actions. Moreover, they should also consider what their clients think and what they expect of the project and to manage their expectations. Sounds like a Superhero, doesn’t it? However, even a Superhero manager can’t succeed without a team.

As Walt Disney once said: “Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating the talents of those who work for us and pointing them toward a certain goal.” Is this the most important part of your work too?

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