January 21, 2018


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Basics – Cost Estimation and Budget Development

By Linky van der Merwe

Cost estimation and budget developmentDuring the Planning Phase of a project an important responsibility for a project manager is to plan cost management, to estimate costs and to determine the project budget. When I work with new project managers, budget development is an area where they need most help. This article aims to give standard practice guidance to project managers who have not done budgeting before.

Cost Management

Part of cost management is to establish the policies, procedures and documentation to be used for planning, managing, expending and controlling project costs. The PM needs to have the scope and schedule baseline and understand what financial controls the organization is using. The cost management plan is part of the project management plan and will describe how project costs are planned, structured and controlled.

Refer back to the article about the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) as a planning tool. Once you’ve defined all the lower level tasks and you allocated resources to the tasks, you are ready to develop the project schedule and project budget.

Time estimate

Normally you will work on deriving the work effort estimates for each of the tasks using various techniques like bottom-up estimating, top-down estimating, phased estimating and so forth. Then the duration of the tasks is dependent on factors like the assumptions made, availability of resources (are they full-time or shared between project and operational work), risks and historically how long the tasks would typically take to complete.

Cost estimates

Next you can estimate costs after you assigned your resources. There are different types of resources that will make up the costs of the projects. They include direct costs:

  • Labour (People)
  • Consultant fees
  • Equipment or hardware
  • Software licenses
  • Expenses like travel
  • Training, team building

Then there are indirect costs including:

  • Facilities
  • Materials
  • Overhead costs such as rent and phone bills

To estimate the labour costs you should know the resources and the cost of the resources. The non-labour expenses include all costs not directly related to salary and contractor costs.

Supporting data

It’s important to document supporting data for all the cost estimates. This includes a description of the scope of the work for which cost estimates were calculated. You need to describe how the estimates were calculated for each work package. Mention the techniques used to estimate the costs, for example expert judgement, if reference was made to any historical data to make the cost estimates and vendor/supplier proposals. Document all of the assumptions made when creating the estimates.

Contingency reserve

A contingency reserve or buffer is added to projects (usually a percentage of the total project cost and time) to cover risk. This fund is used when encountering unexpected events during the project. You should adjust your contingency reserve to the risk level identified for the project. If there are many risks or unknowns, the contingency fund will be higher.

Monitoring the budget

Once the budget is determined your project has a cost baseline.  The PM is responsible to monitor and control the project costs by regularly checking actual spending against budget estimates by using a spreadsheet. This will tell you whether the project is progressing as planned or if corrective action is needed.

Calculations/budget tracking

There are various calculations that need to be made through-out project execution. A sample of a Budget sheet can be seen below. To the left are the task descriptions, as per the WBS. Then you see a break-down of the budget and actual hours, then to the right is the break-down of the budget and actual costs. Using these numbers, calculations are made, including:

  • Estimate at completion (EAC)
  • Budget at completion (BAC)
  • Variance at completion (VAC)

Sample Budget Sheet

Source: Cioarchives.ca.gov

Budgeting is a team effort and cannot be done in isolation. It’s important to obtain buy-in on the budget from the people who will actually perform the work.  This participation gives people a stake in the success of the project and fosters accountability.

A project manager needs to monitor the budget and manage the expenses in order to finish the project under budget. This will reflect well on your ability to create an accurate budget and stick to it. Therefore, it’s important to review it often and make sure that you stay on track.

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Best Practice: Project Governance Framework

By Linky van der Merwe

This article will focus specifically on Project Governance that determines the effectiveness of the project manager (PM). You will find an explanation of what Project Governance is, why you need it, who is responsible for it and how to use it, with principles and examples to make it clear.

Project Governance Framework

Source: princetonprinciples.org

What is Project Governance?

Project Governance is an oversight function that is aligned with an organisation’s governance model and that encompasses the project life cycle.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide (PMBOK) definition is:

“The alignment of project objectives with the strategy of the larger organisation by the project sponsor and project team. A project’s governance is defined by and required to fit within the larger context of the program or organisation sponsoring it, but is separate from organisational governance.”

Click here for PMI’s Practice Guide on Governance of Portfolios, Programs and Projects.

Projects are undertaken to achieve strategic business outcomes. Many organisations adopt formal organisational governance processes and procedures. Organisational governance criteria can impose constraints on projects especially if projects are for new products or services.

A project manager needs to be knowledgeable about corporate governance policies and procedures pertaining to the product/services in question; this tends to be very industry related.

Why Project Governance?

A project governance framework provides the project manager and team with structured processes, decision-making models and tools for managing the project while supporting and controlling the project for successful delivery. Governance is critical for any project, especially on complex and risky projects.

The governance framework provides a comprehensive, consistent method of controlling the projects. Governance will ensure success by defining, documenting and communicating reliable and repeatable project practices.

Governance provides important deliverable acceptance criteria and success measures to measure the benefits and success of your projects.

Who is responsible for Project Governance?

In many organisations a Project Management Office (PMO) exists. The PMO is responsible for  defining and owning the project governance framework.

The PMO also plays a decisive role for project governance that involves:

  • Documented policies, procedures and standards
  • Health Checks – Are we doing right things? Are we using right process? Do we conform to standards?
  • Stakeholders

Where to document Project Governance

The project governance approach should be described in the project management plan, which is the planning document compiled by the PM to describe how a project will be executed, monitored and controlled.

The PM is responsible and accountable for setting realistic and achievable boundaries for the project and to accomplish the project within the approved baselines.

How to use Project Governance

Use project governance to ensure that Project Portfolios are aligned to corporate goals. It will then form the basis to see that projects are delivered efficiently and that the interests of project staff and other stakeholders are aligned.

Governance will also ensure that the Project Board/Steering Committee and major stakeholders are provided with timely, relevant, and accurate information.

Principles of Project Governance

Here are a few key principles for project governance:

  • Projects should be clearly linked to key business objectives.
  • There should be clear senior management ownership of projects.
  • There should be effective engagement with Stakeholders.
  • Projects should be driven by long-term value, rather than short-term costs.
  • Projects should be broken down into manageable steps.

Examples of Project Governance Framework elements

Here are examples of elements included in a project governance framework:

  • Guidelines for aligning project governance and organisational strategy
  • A process to identify, escalate, resolve issues that arise during the project
  • Relationship among project teams, organisational groups and external stakeholders
  • Project organisational chart that identifies project roles
  • Processes and procedures for communication of information
  • Project decision-making processes
  • Project life-cycle approach including the transfer to Operations and readiness of business
  • Process for stage gate or phase reviews – Authorise to proceed. Approval of process/documents.
  • Process for review and approval for changes to budget, scope, quality, schedule which are beyond the authority of the PM

Operate within the Project Governance Framework

You can see that Project Governance is an oversight function that is applicable throughout the life cycle of a project.

Project governance determines the effectiveness of the project manager, because governance gives a framework for making project decisions, defines roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for the success of the project.

It’s important that you as project managers, understand project governance, that you document it on your projects, that you apply it as a consistent method of controlling your projects, and by doing this you will hugely improve your chances for successful project delivery.

Every successful project you complete, will bring you closer to being recognised as a competent, efficient and professional project manager who can be followed as a leader and entrusted with strategic projects and programmes.

How can I use this information as a Project Manager or PMO?

I’ve created a free Project Governance Framework Reference Guide to remind you of the What, Why, Who, When and How of Project Governance.

Click below to download the Free Reference Guide today!
Download a free Project Governance Framework Reference Guide


Governance is one of the 6 pillars of the Growth Framework that I have developed to help you remember the essential elements of running projects successfully. Visit Project Manager Growth to subscribe for more information and a free Growth Framework Infographic.

Challenges faced by new Project Managers and how to overcome them

By Liz Dewing

pm challengesLooking back at being a “new” Project Manager (about 27 years ago!!), what I’m most conscious of, is that back then there was very little available to me in the way of established wisdom about how to BE a Project Manager. It was something I needed to work out as I went along.

In some respects that was useful: it certainly meant I learned an awful lot the hard way – by getting it wrong – and believe me, that kind of learning sticks!! On the other hand, it was a very inefficient way of operating because it took me longer than necessary to acquire a well-rounded toolkit.

Guides and Best Practices

Nowadays we are almost at the opposite extreme – where there is very little opportunity for the school of hard knocks, and almost every aspect has an associated operating manual or set of best practices. The challenge now is to filter, out of the plethora of guides and documented frameworks, that which is most relevant to your situation.

The reality is that having too much at your disposal is almost as bad as having too little!

One of the worst mistakes a new Project Manager can make in my opinion is to fall in love with theory and to try to impose the “ideal model” on real world projects without the filter of pragmatism and context.  There is nothing guaranteed to create frustration and animosity between PM and Stakeholders faster than a situation where the PM is trying to impose an inappropriate level of control or making excessive demands for governance.


If there is no Project Office in place, providing a rational set of guidelines about governance relative to the project, then the next best way to tackle this as a new PM, is to make sure that you take the time to sit down with your Sponsor / Key Stakeholders. You need to negotiate and agree on the project approach, including which processes will be applied to what level of detail, and what management documentation is to be produced. Raise your concerns and express your wishes – but let them determine the level of governance that they believe is best suited to what is, after all, their delivery.

I have found that creating a Sign-off Matrix (click for sample) which details who will be required to approve what artefact or deliverable, in what capacity, is a really useful way of sensitizing people to what is coming, helping them ensure that they:

  1. Understand the process to create artefacts
  2. Make time for the necessary reading and reviews
  3. Understand what their signature actually means when they are asked to approve something (i.e. correctness of content / correctness of process / ownership etc.

I also find that getting the main decisions forums established quickly, with clarity about mandate, frequency and agenda, really helps a new PM because it creates an “advisory panel” that is intrinsically balanced by the presence of both high-control stakeholders and those who are comfortable with higher levels of risk.  Taking governance decisions to these panels can help a new PM navigate and acquire an understanding as to the organisation’s culture and appetite for controls.


Liz Dewing-Magnetic NorthAbout the Author: Liz Dewing has an extensive career in IT, Project and Project Office Management with various organisations, including 13 years with Old Mutual South Africa. After 8 years running a Strategy Delivery Project Office, Liz left to focus on Magnetic North – a Consultancy through which she helps people to use their powers of speech more effectively in business and career.

6 Winning Practices for Effective Programme Management

Today we will look at managing a programme and which recommended practices you want to consider when managing a programme.

If we look at a simple definition of a Programme, it is that a Programme is a group of projects, which are grouped together because they contribute to the same objectives in the business strategy.

Here are 6 recommendations for managing a programme:

1. Review the Strategy

When kicking off your programme, the first step is to review your business case and agree on the objectives that your programme is responsible for delivering. This is important, as the objectives are what you use to peg your projects to. If you end up creating new projects that don’t contribute your specified objectives, then they should be excluded from your programme!

2. Line up management support

It is of utmost importance to gain the support of your executive team through the Business Case. This will help you to identify the benefits and costs of running the programme, the risks you foresee and what it is that you need to make it a success. It will also help you get the funding you require, as your Business Case will justify the funding needed, by stating the benefits to be realized.

3. Start carefully

Now that you have the funding and support from management, you’re ready to kick-off. Before launching into scoping your projects—instead define your overall programme of work in depth first. Create a Program Charter setting out your vision, objectives, roadmap and deliverables. Then set up a Program Office and appoint the key members of your administration team.

4. Project selection is critical

You’re now ready to define your projects and other related work. Scope out each project carefully and make sure that the benefits delivered from all of your projects combined, deliver the goals stated in your Business Case. Selecting the right projects to deliver the right benefits is critical. Make sure you categorize, evaluate, select and prioritize your projects carefully.

5. It’s all down to execution

Now kick off your projects in a logical order. Spread your programme resources (people, time and money) evenly so you don’t have resource constraints. Never schedule critical projects to take place at the end. To retain the buy-in of your Sponsor, make sure your projects deliver value early.

6. Control chaos

After your projects kick off, changes in the business often cause a level of chaos. Your projects change in scope, their budgets get constrained and resource shortages start occurring. How you react to these changes will determine your level of success as a Program Manager.

When this happens, step back and re-assess your programme. Outside influences are often the cause and these are things that you alone can fix. Only in exceptional circumstances should you dive into the depths of the program itself and work alongside project managers and teams at the micro level. A good Program Manager will instead step back and make macro level changes to influence the success of the programme.

For more project related resources like training, software and products, please visit the Resources page.

Project Management Closure: Best Practice for Project Learning

The challenges of project learning

Project Management Closure: Best Practice for Project Learning Audio

Stakeholder Management Best Practices Learning from project experience is an essential function that the project manager needs to facilitate during project management closure.

The philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

This is sometimes referred to as Santayana’s Law of Repetitive Consequences; and is nowhere more evident than in project based work.   The increasing pace of change in the workplace often makes it difficult to learn from experience as processes and personnel are constantly changing.

I have experienced this fast paced phenomenon while doing project management work for a corporate client recently. Following standard best practice in project management closure, I always schedule a proper project closure workshop at the end of projects. For many of my project teams this was their first experience of doing project reviews of any kind. Yet they derived so much value from revisiting the original project goal and objectives, the scope, milestones and deliverables that were achieved. By the time we discussed Lessons Learned, all team members were actively participating.

Project Reviews

I enjoy these project reviews as it confirms a sense of achievement, pride and satisfaction from project completion for all team members. The lessons learned are then logged and archived with other project documentation for future reference. I usually distribute the project close-out reports with the lessons learned to the wider departmental teams in recognition of the project team’s efforts and to make their colleagues aware of their project achievements.

In my opinion, to successfully learn from project experience requires a regular and consistent approach that can be incorporated into any project management methodology.  Here are a few suggestions to help any project team learn from experience:

  1. Establish a venue for sharing lessons-learned: It doesn’t matter whether you call it a post-mortem, a project review, or a project closure workshop, most organizations don’t do them—but they should.
  2. Share what has been learned: Although most organizations don’t bother with a project review, those that do don’t always create an environment that encourages real learning—and even fewer share what was learned.
  3. Don’t make learning the next corporate initiative: It’s natural for organizations to try to formalize the learning process into the next corporate project.  The natural learning process should be encouraged and lessons learned can and should even be part of project progress discussions.

Don’t make learning from projects a one-time activity or something to be done when time permits: Project learning should be ongoing and interactive—with all project team members actively participating.

Every organization has different needs.  Some rely on their project software and methodology to help facilitate the learning process.  I think that’s good, but even organizations that don’t use any specific project management tools need to create an environment where project learning can regularly take place.

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About the author: Linky Van Der Merwe is a Microsoft Project Management Consultant and an IT Project Manager with 15 years IT industry experience and 12 years Project Management experience. She consults with small-medium business owners and service professionals about project management processes and tools, best practices and successful delivery through projects. She can be reached at linky@virtualprojectconsulting.com
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