How to Finish Projects
On-Time and On-Budget

How to Finish Projects On-Time and On-Budget

All projects start out with a plan and a budget. But sticking to either is usually one of the biggest challenges and the cause of most failed projects. But, that doesn't mean it's impossible. We just have to go about it the right way. Here are the key items that you need to keep a close eye on to be able to detect problems early.

Keep in Mind:
A project has a beginning and an end

That means month end processing could be a project, but sales wouldn’t be one. Another example is marketing campaigns, they are often seen as projects, but selling the products is not.

Earned Value Analysis (EVA) is a "technique for measuring project performance and progress in an objective manner", as defined by Wikipedia. What this means is that through EVA, you can integrate the project scope, schedule and cost into your evaluation of the project performance, and accurately forecast project performance issues so that they can be dealt with in a timely manner.

EVA deals with a project's estimated cost, estimated time of completion, as well as the actualized cost and completion rate as the project progresses.

Learn how to calculate EVA:

Now as a busy project manager, you might not have the time to manually go through these lengthy and involved calculations (especially when you consider the fact that you will have to do these for not only each project, but potentially for each task as well). This is not only a time-intensive process, but also one that is prone to calculation errors due to the sheer number of figures involved. This is where Easy Projects' automated EVA suite may come in handy.

Since Easy Projects calculates SPI and CPI at the task level, it can show you the EVA figures for each individual task, as well as each project. You do not need to lift a finger to be always on top of the performance of your projects. As long as you estimate your hours at the beginning of a project and stay on top of updating your actual time spent, you will have an accurate measure of the health of your projects.

Resource Capacity Planning

Every delay in a project is unfortunate and also has a cost attached to it. However, not every delay is created equal. Some delays are more equal than others. This is where critical path planning comes into play.

Critical path is a concept in project management and planning where the sequence of project activities add up to the longest overall duration. This path determines the shortest time possible to complete the project, as all of the activities on this path are necessary for successful completion. Any delay of an activity on the critical path directly impacts the planned project completion date, and therefore costs the project previous resources. This is why the tasks in the critical path need to be monitored very closely for any signs of a problem.

How do you know which activities are part of this all-important group? Despite its power as a project management tool, the critical path is relatively simple to calculate: as a rule of thumb, if a delay in a task is going to cause the whole project to be delayed, it is said to be on the critical path of the project. This is determined by the established dependencies in a project, namely, the relationships that exist between task that affect whether a task can be started (or completed) before the previous task is done.

Easy Projects incorporates the critical path methodology to its project management toolset and allows you to set any task as critical within its Interactive Gantt Chart. This way, you will easily visualize which tasks are critical for your all-important deadline, and never be caught off-guard with unexpected delays due to forgotten dependencies.

Everything we have discussed in the previous section, and everything we will discuss in the coming paragraphs, will center around one key rule: you have to keep track of your hours accurately, and in a timely manner. We mean "your hours" in the broadest possible sense: if you are a team member, this means the hours you personally work. If you are a project manager, it means the aggregate hours of your project, which involves making sure your team members accurately input their hours as well. If you are an executive, this encompasses your time (if it factors into cost calculations), the time of your project managers, and each and every project they have under them. Time is the one unifying metric in project management, and if you slack off in tracking it, or if there are some small errors along the way, it can compound into a large problem that derails your whole budget.

The best thing you can do for your time tracking efforts is to enforce a strict "daily submission" rule for time logs. This not only helps your time tracking to be up to date, but it also increases accuracy as team members will be filling in the time sheets when the hours worked are still fresh in mind, rather than on Friday afternoon, when the details of Monday might be fading away to mist.

Once you have the accurate time logs under your belt, your first reaction should be to compare it to the estimated hours for that time frame (be it the day, week, or month) and see how much you have deviated from it (and trust me, you will have deviation, either over or under budgeted hours, because no one gets estimation 100% right, especially for lengthier projects). This timely check-ins with the project estimates will give you the data you need to action on to either push your team harder, or to use the extra hours (if you are under the budgeted hours) to pay close attention to parts you feel might be currently lacking.

One of Easy Projects' most lauded features is its time tracking module. Not only can your team easily input time and get hours spent reports, you can even use the built-in timer to track your hours in real-time. This way, you click one button when you start working on a task to start the timer, click it again when you are done, and never worry about having to go back and remember the exact hours you spent for any given task.

As your project progresses, depending on the time-frame, you’ll find that it may become difficult to keep everything on track. When a project begins to morph into something else, it’s called scope creep. It often occurs when your stakeholders begin to add more tasks, components etc that were not originally agreed upon. Scope creep happens for many reasons, but there are ways to prevent it.

Learn more:

Track original scope and estimates separate from new scope

Nothing makes a client angrier than when they ask for something and don't get it. But to the defense of every project team, sometimes we just miss the memo! And sometimes the memo wasn't even sent: a client thinks they asked for one thing, but formally requested another.

In order to protect the sanity of both your client and project team make sure to track scope changes separate from the original scope. This eliminates confusion regarding the most current tasks. Additionally, ask for all new scope requests to be formalized in writing-get a copy of the new project plan for yourself, your team, and your client. All too often, verbal requests turn into a game of telephone, where the original gets so twisted by the time the last person hears it, it doesn't even resemble what the client requested.

Easy Projects project tracking feature automatically organizes new change requests separate from a project's original scope. clients can submit change requests directly in the database, and your company can track it separate from the original scope. Win-win! This leads to happiness for everyone, as the client is assured that their request is being submitted directly as they envision it, and the project team keeps all changes separate from the original so there's no confusion.

If you are an agency or work in an environment where hourly billing is your organizations’ life-blood, there is really no room for error when it comes to getting it right. Accurate billing and budgeting is key to making your project a success.

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