money boat txtWhile most of the projects that we read about in the press have huge budgets, there are a lot of projects at the other end of the scale. The majority of small projects are run without a specific budget, around the edges of a manager’s day job. Any costs have to come out of the business-as-usual provision which means there is no allocated project budget.

Another scenario where you may not end up with your hands on the cash to manage your project is when you are assigned the work, but the budget is still held by the business department – most likely because there is no set amount to spend and again it has to come from business-as-usual spending.

Projects with no specific financial amount attached to them are normally expected to be delivered using just the resources available as part of a day job. That basically means drawing on the people around you to do whatever it is that needs to be done. Having a project with no budget takes away some of the financial headaches but doesn’t mean you are in for an easy ride. You will still have deadlines to meet and requirements to deliver. And, in some respects, no-budget projects are harder to deliver as you cannot throw money at a problem to make it go away nor will your team have access to overtime payments if things start to slip.

So when your project has no budget – or at least not one you have authority to spend – how can you keep the costs on track?

Talk to your project sponsor

If your sponsor or manager hands you a project and then says, ‘There’s no money available to do this,’ count to ten and try to avoid spitting out, ‘You must be joking!’ Ask them how they expect it to be achieved. An executive who is serious about a project will already have thought about what they consider to be a reasonable investment for a successful delivery. Take them through the following questions and start to work out where your boundaries are, particularly in relation to the people you have access to and the amount of time you and they can be expected to spend working on the project.

  • Am I full-time on this project? If not, what percentage of my time do you expect me to spend on this?
  • Do I have any full-time resources? If not, what percentage of their time do you expect them to spend on this project?
  • For any resources not under your control, has their manager agreed that they will be working on this project?
  • Can any costs come out of the business-as-usual budget?
  • To what limit?
  • Who will authorise this?
  • If the business-as-usual budget is not available, how do you want me to deal with unforeseen actual expenditure?
  • At what point does the project become unfeasible?
  • When does the resource investment become too much for your intended deliverables?

Set boundaries

Once you have a clear idea of where your sponsor believes your boundaries are in terms of consumable resources, both business-as-usual budget expenditure and time, you can begin to work on the project within those constraints.

Make sure any assumptions or constraints are written in your project initiation document. Not sure what to include? Here are some examples:

  • the business-as-usual sales budget will cover the cost of reprinting a new edition of our catalogue;
  • the schedule has been produced assuming that no overtime is available;
  • all resources will be available as necessary;
  • the system changes can be achieved using the maintenance budget.

Tackle problems early

When you are not ‘buying’ your resources formally, and they work for someone else, there is a risk that their own day job will take priority over the project. Despite good intentions, there will be times when staff shortages, increased workloads or other short-term crises drive your team back to their normal activity. If you can, schedule contingency time to keep your resource planning flexible and always include an item in your risk log about the possibility of resources being pulled off the project. As a minimum, each time you review the log it will prompt you to look at the current situation and see if you need to take any action.

If at any time the project looks like it will have to spend real, tangible money and you don’t know where it will come from, raise this immediately with your sponsor as an urgent issue.

Overall, what you need to remember is that even if there is no specific budget is available for the project, you can clarify what your project sponsor considers to be a reasonable ‘investment’ in terms of time and once you know what they are thinking, you can manage your project work within those documented constraints. Good luck!

 

This is an edited extract from my book, Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World which is also available on Amazon.com.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham

This is a guest post by Bruce Harpham.

In the project management world, people come and go. In a matter of a few weeks, you can become close with your project team. In some cases, you may see more of your project team than your family on particularly demanding projects.

But what happens when the project is over? Do you see those people any longer? If you are a project consultant, it could be months or years before you run into those people again. Relationships are like a garden – they blossom with care and attention and die when neglected. It’s up to you to maintain your professional network.

4 Reasons to maintain your project network

It is a cliché to observe that modern life is very busy. Here are four reasons why you need to take the time to maintain your professional network. Any one of these reasons ought to be enough on its own. Added up together, you simply have no excuse for ignoring the care and feeding of your professional relationships.

  1. Contribution. A network gives you the opportunity to help your friends and colleagues when they face difficulties. A 2013 University of Exeter study found that volunteers tend to live longer than non-volunteers.
  1. New Information. Some of the best project management tips and skills can only be found through your network. Your network can also provide you with valuable skills.
  1. Job Security. Did you lose your job? Did your project management contract end? You can also ask your network for employment opportunities (assuming you have contributed to your network first). According to Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers by Mark Granovetter, over 50% of jobs are located through personal contacts.
  1. Leadership. Serving as a leader is one of the most rewarding activities I’ve ever pursued. Whether you are seeking political office, gathering donations for a favorite charity or pursing another goal, your network can support your goals.

Building your profession-based network

My Golden Rule of networking: find a way to contribute first.
Bruce Harpham

How many project professionals do you know outside of your organization? That is a key measure of the strength of your network. Here are five ideas to start building your professional network. Remember: look for ways to add value before you seek favours. That’s my Golden Rule of networking: find a way to contribute first.

If you don’t know where to start, here are five ways you can contribute to the project management profession.

  1. Visit your local PMI Chapter. In my region, there are regular presentations you attend (and earn PDUs). You may find volunteer opportunities to speak, organize an event or work on a website.
  1. Ask colleagues. Ask your colleagues to introduce you to project managers at other firms because you’re interested in growing your network.
  1. Attend a project management conference. In the UK, you can attend the APM Conference. (Hint: read Elizabeth’s article on how to attend a conference to get ready.)
  1. Contact project management authors. When you read an interesting article about project management in the press (or a project management publication), send them an email to thank them for their article (or ask a question).
  1. Enroll in a course. One of my favourite reasons to take courses in person is meeting classmates (and chatting with the instructor). Don’t limit yourself to traditional project management courses either. Consider taking a technical course to strength your Microsoft Excel and Access skills.

Serving Your Community Network

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Mead, American anthropologist

Diversity is an important aspect of a strong network. When you mix with solicitors, activists, accountants and other people, you hear new perspectives and ideas. In addition to new information and opportunities, serving your community is one way to make the world a better place. It can be difficult to know where to start networking in the community. Consider these three options and choose one to focus your energy on at a time.

  1. Education and Teaching. My passion is higher education so I am active in my university’s alumni association. Look for opportunities to support students, serve as a guest speaker at a college or teach literacy skills at your public library.
  1. Business Associations. Many cities have chambers of commerce and business clubs where people from many industries gather to meet. You can apply your project management skills to help the organization with an event or improve their technology.
  1. Participate In A Charitable Fundraiser. Does your city have runs to raise funds for cancer research or other causes? That’s a great opportunity to make a contribution and meet people who care about the world.

You already know that networking is important. It’s time to put these ideas into action! Get out of the office and start meeting people.

About the author: Bruce Harpham is the author of Project Management Hacks, a resource dedicated to improving personal productivity. Bruce’s project management experience includes implementing cost reduction projects at a major Canadian bank. Bruce is a bibliophile, world traveler and science fiction enthusiast.

4 brilliant comments, add yours

5 steps dependencies constraints copy

Earlier this week I looked briefly at an introduction to dependencies and constraints on project and why they matter. Today I’m going to share a 5-step approach to identifying and reviewing all the dependencies and constraints on your project. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry. It’s a much faster task than you think.

Step 1: Create a log of all the project dependencies

Now you understand what a dependency is, you can brainstorm and document all the dependencies that have an impact on your project. Set up a dependency/constraint log using an existing template from your PMO or by designing your own.

Remember to include who is responsible for managing the dependency and all the other pertinent information including whether it is an internal or external dependency. If it is an external dependency, you can add a link to where you can find out more information. This is particularly relevant if the external dependency is another project and you need to remember to regularly catch up with the other project manager to assess the impact on your project.

Step 2: Create a log of all the project constraints

Brainstorm and document all the constraints that have an impact on your project. You can use the same document as you used to record the dependencies, although if you feel it is more appropriate to create a separate log – for example, if you have a lot of constraints – then feel free to create another document.

Step 3: Ensure the major dependencies and constraints are in your Project Initiation Document

Transfer the major dependencies and constraints to your Project Initiation Document (PID). The purpose of doing this is to have all the key information about the project in one place – the PID (or Project Charter).

If you don’t have very many dependencies or constraints you could include them all in the PID. If your log has lots of entries, consider which ones are the highest priority and only include them. The audience for your PID is your Project Sponsor, and it is unlikely that he or she would want to read every single low-level dependency. However, this does not excuse you, as the project manager, from monitoring them all.

Have a discussion with your Sponsor and ensure that they understand the dependencies and constraints and what could happen if a dependency cannot be met or a constraint turns out to be too restrictive. You need to ensure they have a full understanding of the project environment, and dependencies and constraints are two key elements of that.

Step 4: Ensure the major dependencies and constraints are in your risk log

Read through your lists. Do any of these dependencies sound like project risks to you? Outside-the-project dependencies are often contenders for being transferred to the risk log, especially if you are reliant on third parties to deliver certain items.

Constraints such as limited access to people for user testing are also potential risks, so make sure they are recorded as well. In fact, if you know already that the constraint is going to be a problem, record it on your issue log.

Step 5: Agree how you are going to monitor the dependencies and constraints

Having a log and an up-to-date PID or Project Charter is great, but your project will not be better just through doing that. You have to work out a way to regularly assess the dependencies and constraints so that you can manage their impact on the successful delivery of your project.

If you have external dependencies on other projects, talk to the project managers concerned and agree how to let each other know when things change. Reporting by exception is a solid principle that you can use here: only report to the other person when something is not going to plan. So, if your project is reliant on another project to complete a certain task by a certain date and it looks as if that will be achieved, the other project manager will only report to you if it now looks like it will not be achieved.

For extra comfort, you may want to schedule regular meetings with the project managers concerned to ensure that you understand how their projects are progressing and any changes this has for the way in which your project will be delivered.

A simple way to manage internal dependencies is to remember to discuss them in your project team meetings. The more aware the project team members are about the impact of their tasks on other people’s work, the more likely they are to flag when there is going to be a problem. But if in doubt, ask them, and make this is standing agenda item in your regular meetings. During these meetings you can also update the log to include any new dependencies or constraints that emerge as the project progresses.

Of course, for those dependencies and constraints that have made it on to the risk log, your risk management processes from the basis of how you will review and manage them.

Easy enough, isn’t it? If you have any tips of your own about managing dependencies or constraints, let us know in the comments.

1 brilliant comment, add yours

No project happens in a vacuum. Projects are influenced by and are dependent on the environment in which they are taking place – both the corporate environment and the wider environment outside the company.

Definitions

Dependency: The relationship that defines the order in which tasks are carried out. Task B is dependent on Task A if the start or finish date of Task A must be reached before Task B can be started.

Constraint: Something that limits your options.

Categorising dependencies

Dependencies can occur inside and outside the project, and inside and outside the company. The following table shows the four different types of dependency and some examples.

 

Different types of project dependencies

Different types of project dependencies

 

Another way of defining dependencies

Dependencies can also be ‘upstream’ or ‘downstream’. An upstream dependency is one where something else must happen before your project can start something i.e. you are waiting for a task to complete before starting work. A downstream dependency is something your project must deliver before something else can start i.e. someone else is waiting for you to complete tasks before they can begin work.

Constraints

Constraints are similar to dependencies: they also impact how you can deliver the project. However, constraints are restrictions.

Project constraints could be factors that limit the time, resources or budget available to the project. Despite these, you still have to get the job done. Your challenge as a project manager is to find ways to deliver the project successfully within the constraints of your environment.

Identifying and assessing dependencies and constraints is a useful activity because many of your project decisions will be based on this information. If a dependency cannot be met, or if a constraint turns out to be too restrictive, this impacts your ability to deliver the project to the original plan.

Discussions around dependencies and constraints form a key part of your stakeholder engagement plans. You can use these discussions to set expectations about what your project can realistically achieve.

As project managers it’s often tempting to spend a lot more time on managing risks and issues than dependencies and constraints, but they are just as important and can have a massive impact on your project if you don’t manage them effectively. So how do you identify the dependencies and constraints for your project? We’ll be looking at a 5-step approach for doing that later this week.

2 brilliant comments, add yours

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