While any quick Google search will yield an array of tips and tricks to keep a project on time and on budget, the tools you really need are likely already in your toolbox. Gantt charts, project management software, task management platforms, etc., are all great devices to aid in an efficacious project, but a few foundational practices that extend beyond these features can make or break any project.
Though these practices may seem obvious, perhaps even rudimentary, mastering the fundamentals can oftentimes be the greatest payout to success. Below are our recommendations for the essential ways teams can reach design and development goals on time and on budget using a few core skills wisely.
Communicate, communicate, & communicate some more
As is the case for any healthy relationship, communication is key. Specifically, proactive communication and keeping everyone on the team well-informed can be the clearest path to a successful project. The more upfront and early the transparency, the quicker we establish long-term trust—which leads to better communication and collaboration throughout the project’s lifecycle, increasing the likelihood that design and project goals will be met on time and on budget.
The foundation for this communication generally begins in the sales cycle but really flourishes with a solid kickoff meeting. This can establish the tone for the duration of a project and is a unique opportunity to set expectations in the working relationship. Understanding the project’s scope and how each partner’s engagement and skill set fits into the overall goals is integral to keeping everyone accountable and on track. A well-run, comprehensive kickoff will facilitate an in-depth review of scope, deliverables, goals, alignment on key milestones, and the opportunity to establish status and budget report cadence and format. The kickoff is step one in the overall life cycle of engagement and is the first real impression for establishing a true partnership.
Throughout the project, frequent and informative communication will help avoid pitfalls and aid in navigating the tricky waters of budget management. Coupled with the right tools, this strong communication will help arm the team with what we need to keep the ship moving forward!
Make budget oversight your best friend
Budget oversight may seem like an obvious practice but it’s one that bears repeating. When you have a long-term project it can feel like there is an endless budget at the start—but without proper attention and allocation, this perception is quickly diminished by scope creep, unexpected delays, or poor estimation of time.
So how does one facilitate a healthy level of budget oversight without over-analyzing every penny and every second spent designing and developing?
The most critical part of budget oversight is knowing and understanding the established scope. The initial project kickoff is the best time to dive in on this, but routine check-ins act as a touchpoint to ensure partners and stakeholders are on the same page. Establishing a means of communication that works best for all parties involved, which may take the form of weekly phone calls, in-person meetings, or daily email correspondence—all to hold each other accountable—can help curb potential budget issues. Whatever the method you and your team decide, be sure to agree to a frequent cadence and keep checking in with both teams.
Another budget-healthy practice is requesting easy-to-digest budget reports. Organizational leaders often do not have the time to pour over lengthy reports, but asking for and reviewing up-to-date budget reports on a weekly basis can help course correct earlier.
For example, when sending these reports, we typically float the most important details to the top of the pile to not bury potential issues in an array of numbers or an innocuous Excel row. Ask your project team to be upfront with the facts, and if everything is looking good and on track, ask them to share that news as well!
We don’t wait for the hard conversations to come to us, as this can erode trust, compound issues and derail a project to a potential point of no return.
Create a plan & be willing to refine it
“You may be wondering to yourself, if we have a plan, shouldn’t we stick with it?” While this advice may seem counterintuitive, the truth is good plans and collaboration require constant refinement. It has been said that perfection is the enemy of progress. At times, sticking closely to one’s original plan without a willingness to adjust to the environment can be detrimental to design or development goals, and ultimately timelines and budget. We clearly align with stakeholders during the planning process as your input is a valuable part of the journey. The whole team should make sure that the agreed upon plan is documented and realistic based on engagement from everyone.
If something is going to derail the project timelines and budget (for example, scope creep), we come prepared with alternative solutions and discuss and explain the potential impacts—as these consequences may not be obvious to everyone. We’ll refine the plan accordingly, note the issue and the solution for a future retrospective, and keep moving.
Building trust through the proactive, two-way communication that has been established can help alleviate the potential discomfort of these conversations. With budgetary concerns generally being top of mind for all parties, keeping an organized, watchful eye over resources should be a top objective.
Did we mention you should keep communicating?
As with any project, there will inevitably be pain points, unknowns, and difficult conversations, but it’s how and when you communicate that will allow your project to stay on time and on budget. Every project has different goals and ways of achieving them, but focusing on clarity, budget details, and being willing to pivot when necessary can be the difference between a project floundering and a project flourishing. Maybe the budget and timeline cannot change, but how we get there can.
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