Author: Colin McNally
Over the past decade or so we have been constantly bombarded with news about private and public projects that have either delivered scope at well over the expected budget or had to reduce scope to even come near to the original budget. Current thinking within project management methodologies only discuss the financial aspects of a project at a high level, leaving the "student" without any real way of working to greater understand the impact of their decisions on the financial results of the programme. In turn, the business case development is usually given minimal time and is a rushed job in the end. Investing in the correct people and time up front to review feasibility and secondly the business case is a must to ensure the total on target delivery of a project.
In the financial climate we are in, where budgets and costs are being cut, the time is now to ensure that whatever funding a company has available, that they invest it wisely - to do that you need to ensure that the project in the end - budget, costs and benefits are comprehensively reviewed.
With this in mind - using the Pathfinder Project Management Methodology as a basis, below are the 10 key steps to successful project financial management
(1) On new projects - invest time creating accurate feasibility studies and business cases, if this is a rushed job - in the end the results will deliver overspends.
(2) Review your project portfolio - are you carrying out the correct projects, are they nice to haves, are they being done for internal political gain - ensure each business case is robust and adds value to the future of the firm - spend time using previous experienced individuals to review and re-review the business case.
(3) Concentrate reviews just as hard on the benefits as the cost. In 80% of projects, once they are in, nobody wants to go back and review if they delivered as promised. So ensure from the start of the project you continuously check that as well as costs being on budget, that changes to your project have not altered your benefits.
(4) Cost cutting is not always the answer - allocate resource to "added value" projects - in today's world cutting heads is a an easy short term fix, do not throw out the baby with the bath water and leave the firm with projects in-flight with no experience to deliver them. Instead review your project spend and as in (2) concentrate on adding value.
(5) Workforce development - up-skill their financial management knowledge, develop staff in leadership, health and safety, motivation etc - so when you put a non-finance manager in charge of a large project, is it not about time they were given the financial know-how. Don't leave financial management to chance - develop your workforce.
(6) Break down the project into financially manageable sections. Too many projects work on the basis of a "pot of cash" - spend it as per the budget and if luck is with them, great! Instead take the "pot" and break it down into manageable sections - mapped to your project structure, that way you can see where budgets are by "workstream" and what ones are over/underspending.
(7) "one point of contact accounting" - too many managers will lead to budget overspend - following on from (6) above - The overall programme manager is responsible for the budget in total, at the same time each head of the projects parts should then be responsible for managing their part of the budget. This leads to one finance manager dealing with one project manager, ensuring a consistent relationship.
(8) Deliver focused and meaningful financial reporting to enable accurate decision-making. More is less - agree on what reporting is required from the project at the start and continuously improve until it is what the project needs to manage the programme of work. Because an accountant can deliver 20 pages of analysis a month to each project manager it does not mean that it's correct - save the trees - minimise the reporting and improve the decision making.
(9) Communication - have a strong relationship between your project and finance manager. Finance cannot be back office, they need to be part of the project team and be seen to be so, and therefore open and honest communication channels lead to no surprises.
(10) Finance should be made aware of all potential risks / issues and a probable cost - if a problem has or may arise warn finance early, finance will be limited to what they can do to assist "after the event".
About the Author
Colin McNally is F.C.M.A with over 13 years experience in Blue Chip companies. He has now founded CJM Project Financial Management Ltd, and copyrighted the Pathfinder Project Management Methodology. Pathfinder is a methodology which advances the current thinking on project financial management. You can read more at CJM Project Financial Management Ltd.