How to manage project costs in 4 easy steps is what I will explain in this article.
Controlling costs surely is a very important process in project management and one of the first responses when asking people’s opinions about a project manager’s role. While cost control certainly indeed is very important, it is only a part of the managing project cost. Without other management areas not equally taken care of, project cost management will never succeed.
What does a Project Manager actually do
The image shows the knowledge areas covered by Project Managers. The percentages are a result of a small survey among website visitors. It presents their opinion about the daily activities carried out by project managers. It is difficult to classify whether cost management is the most important part of project management. This entirely depends on individual projects and their objectives. Further are the different processes across all knowledge areas linked too close to make such a differentiation.
Planning Project Cost Management
Many project managers create a schedule and look at it as "the planning". That is of course insufficient. A project manager covers 10+ management areas, depending on the industry. Each area requires thorough planning, of course also applies to cost management.
Planning cost management is mainly concerned with
- Setting the framework for each of the cost management processes so that performance of the processes will be efficient and coordinated, and
- Describing the cost management processes in the project cost management plan, which becomes a component of the overall project management plan.
Management plans and other documents are reusable with some adaptation for several projects. Therefore, I cannot accept a common project manager’s answer, that there would be more important things to do, and that there is no time for plan preparation. So, use your plan from your last project as a template, or wasn’t there enough time either?
Estimating Project Cost
Many organizations bid on a project without adequately addressing the following important considerations:
- Collecting and understanding stakeholder requirements,
- Decomposing scope into manageable packages, breaking packages into tasks, dividing tasks into activities,
- Estimating resources,
- Estimating durations, and
- Evaluating risks.
How can you get the cost estimate right, if you miss out on these important inputs? If you get this wrong, there is little to control later. Maybe only frustration…
Something that you may hear over and over again on construction projects is statements like "The crazy HSE officers hinder us from doing our work and cost us too much time and money with their overblown requirements." Well, probably most of these requirements were even documented before bid submission and should have been considered in calculations.
Another common mistake is the inadequate consideration of time and resources. Jobs are often priced without considering relevant details:
Finish concrete wall = #m3 reinforced concrete + #m2 plaster + #m2 wall paint.
This initially looks about right, though I didn't include formworks. However, it must be remembered that between concreting and plastering, as well as between plastering and painting up to 28 days have to pass to allow for curing. Curing by the way is an activity and requires resources. But if you price a bill of quantities (BoQ) you will usually not find this. In other words, without decomposing the scope into manageable packages, estimating resources for each activity and task, and estimating their duration, there is a great possibility of overlooking it.
I hope that sounds logical, right? I can tell you, the reality is often different.
Determine the Budget
The sequence in many organiztions is as follows:
- Offer submission and re-negotiation,
- Contract award,
- Projecxt Manager hired.
Budget preparation is a project manager's task. To perform this task he or she must be involved early enough in the process. If the PM gets engaged after the contractor signed a contract and consequently committed himself to a price and duration, it is very difficult to get this project back on track.
That means in summary the PM's starting position is as follows:
- Weeks time delay at the time of engagement,
- Scope and requirements possibly not evaluated thoroughly,
- Time and resources possibly estimated wrongly or incomplete,
- A so-called budget is grabbed out of thin air and is a “done deal”.
What could be the likelihood that this project will finally become a success? I'm looking forward to your comments.
The more correct and far more promising way would be:
- Estimate thoroughly the cost per each activity bottom-up including resource and duration estimates,
- Aggregate the activity costs to figure out the cost per work package and consequently for each deliverable,
- Add the risk contingency.
Control Project Cost
As long as the above processes are not performed correctly, beside frustration not much is left to control.
Otherwise controlling cost is about:
- Ensuring that no money is expensed without the budget owner's approval,
- Preventing that expenditure exceeds the individual budget per activity, work package, and deliverable without authorization,
- Monitoring cost and work performance and analyzing variances,
- Managing overruns and ensuring that the overall project budget is maintained,
- Influencing factors (such as scope changes etc.) that may result in a change to approved baselines,
- Updating the budget to accommodate approved changes and keep budget changes within acceptable limits.
Please feel free to share your opinion with me. I would be very happy if you prove me wrong.
Manage Project Cost - Common Problems
One problem seems to be that many companies are getting the project manager on board too late. I assert this based on the observation that construction companies often tender for a job and usually do not take any further action, including the engagement of a project manager, until contract award. The almost immediate start of construction activities is expected often directly after contract award. Consequently, the planning phase comes up short. Especially since the project manager and his team are often still not on board at this time. Construction companies that quote for certain projects are very much focused on making offers and securing a contract. Such offers are often based on:
- Mountains of undocumented assumptions,
- Historical and/or unverified data from previous projects, and
- Missing project detail knowledge.
In this way, an offer and the underlying cost estimate don't come close to the later actual costs.
If you have any questions about how to manage project cost, or if you need custom-made templates, just contact me.
- Manage Project Cost in only 4 Steps by Marc Arnecke, PMP
- Project Management Plan Writing Easy by Marc Arnecke, PMP
- Project Planning with Confidence by Marc Arnecke, PMP
- How to write a Project Management Plan? by Marc Arnecke, PMP
- How to write a PMBOK® aligned Project Management Plan by Marc Arnecke, PMP