Embracing Client Budgets in Meaningful Ways

Setting the “Fixed Bid” model of funding projects completely aside for a moment, let’s talk about the “Time and Materials” model of project funding in relation to project management…

In these difficult economic times, the realities are that budgets for funding projects, particularly new implementations of technology, have become more scarce. When they are available, they are often smaller than what might have typically been allocated for a given organization even 2 or 3 years ago. Many clients that might have historically embraced a fixed bid model for project funding are considering the time and materials model as an alternative for any number of reasons. Again, setting aside the wisdom of those choices, it is a reality that we are seeing more frequently.

Another important dynamic in this equation as partners and project managers is that even in a T&M engagement, there is often a cap on the funding for the project, which may or may not be sufficient to do the project properly from a consulting vendor or a “best practices” perspective.

The unspoken choice that we have as project managers for these types of projects is whether or not we truly embrace the client’s budget in a meaningful way. The short, easy path is to simply carry on with planning and executing the project the way we would normally in a well funded fixed bid effort, and when problems do occur, to simply blame it on the fact that the client doesn’t have the funding to ‘complete’ the project properly. While this may be an accurate statement, and you may have performed due diligence in planning and execution (up to that point), in the end it serves neither yourself or the client. If your project is not completed, or is completed in haphazard manner, the benefit sought by the project is lost, the relationship with the client is damaged and no one wins.

We have to understand that our clients constraints and limitations are our own by virtue of our current relationship, and our desired long term relationship with them. Once we are truly reconciled to that fact, we should seek ways to meaningfully embrace the budget to accomplish the overall goals and objectives of the project. Consider the following possibilities:

  1. Have open and honest dialogues with the project sponsor and key stakeholders about the potential shortfalls in the budget. The message that you want to communicate should be clear. You both need to have a realistic understanding of the limitations of the budget. That being said, they should know that you are conciously and proactively working with them to find creative ways to make it work for both parties within those limitations. By setting these expectations properly, everyone will be more engaged in the process.
  2. Fully assess the internal resources that your client can make available for the project. Be creative in how you engage these resources. Be willing to stretch their normal experience boundaries and give them a growth opportunity on the project. Their growth opportunity if properly managed can be an effective way to complete necessary tasks and to take vital project dollars for your teams and use them more strategically in areas of the project (e.g. development) that are more important to the end game.
  3. Work with your end users to figure out creative ways to address training. Be open to models other than conventional classroom training which might require significant time (and expense) to develop courseware and curriculum. Consider rapid development of “Cheat Sheets” focused only on the specfic tasks that users will need to complete their jobs. Consider incorporating ‘train-the-trainer’ models into the customers Change Management plan.
  4. Be thoughtul when developing your QA\Test plans. Be open and flexible as you work closely with the stakeholders and end users to determine what the true success and acceptance criteria should be. It’s easy, particularly with software development projects, to spend a large amount of time and budget on properly performing Quality Assurance, System Integration Testing and User Acceptance Testing. Seek to find the balance between the overall budget of the project, the anticipated ROI for the customer, and what is reasonable and prudent given the technical complexity of the software that is being developed. This is also an area where the first item comes into play. If you are proactive in engaging client resources early on in the project, you may be able to turn a large part of this effort over to them, and help to reduce the budget.
  5. Be diligent in recognizing the difference between genuinely flushing issues out in discovery, and eating up project dollars while your team sits and watches clients sort out their internal decisions and differences. Don’t get caught up in internal politics that can consume large amounts of time and budget with meetings that don’t necessarily require your attendance or participation.

Again, it’s easy to say, “The client didn’t have enough money to do it properly”, particularly if you have done ‘good work’ on the project. The scenario where everybody wins is when you creatively work together and find ways to complete the project successfully, and meet the budgetary constraints of the project by thoughtful planning, management and leveraging the client staff and end users in a manner that gives them opportunities for growth and a deeper sense of ownership of the solution.

Gene Eckhart
Program Manager
ImageSource, Inc.

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