Accurately Estimating Overhead Tasks
One of the biggest killers of project budgets are the overhead tasks that seem to be harder to accurately quantify output for. Things such as team and client meetings, backlog management, dealing with client escalations can all put upward pressure on your project budget and may not have been accurately estimated from the outset of your project. This post will give you some tips on how to better forecast your effort for these ‘unseen’ tasks.
Determine Your Meeting Factors
Meetings are often times one of the most use time entry buckets on a project. Meetings are expensive, they need to be treated as such. When planning out your meetings budget for your project, plot out the recurrence, attendees and length of your planned meetings. Even something as small as a 15 minute check-in needs to be considered. Forecasting budget for the meetings that are not planned is the tricky part. Gauge your client and determine what level of involvement your team will need for client-initiated meetings (clients who are quick to escalate should be given a higher ‘factor’ when applying a contingency for your meetings budget). What is your team makeup like? Do you have an experienced team who have worked together before? Do you have a group of individuals who have never come together on a project? These are all factors to consider when building a meeting budget – consider the level of performance of your team when it’s assembled. If your team needs to go through the forming, storming and norming phases of team building, you will need the budget to sustain that.
Define a Reliable Escalation Path
Another source of unseen budget pressure is dealing with client escalations. Escalations are never planned, nor are they typically a positive experience (although the end result may be). When an escalation occurs, there is typically work that needs to be done (either by yourself as the project manager or the team, or both) to provide your sponsor or executive the level of information they need to help deal with the escalation. Depending on the nature of the escalation and the information that needs to be gathered and prepared, there can be an unplanned budget hit. While gauging your customer’s appetite for escalations is always a good exercise, looking inward at your organization and determining the readiness for dealing with escalations is even more important. Ensure that your executive/sponsorship understand their role for client escalations, have your systems in place to support the information needed to deal with escalations (as best as you can determine). Client escalations can take a large amount of time to deal with, and those are hard hours that are very difficult to bill for.
Overhead tasks can destroy project budgets if not managed effectively. Like any other task that your project has, these need to be planned and executed with the same diligence that your non-overhead work is done. When planned and executed well though, these can often times help ease budget pressure that your project may be facing from other areas (such as your build running over budget). Know your client, know your organization and methodology, plan thoughtfully and you will make sure your overhead is in line with your estimates.