25 tips for a more timely and accurate budget
The budget for a new software project is a key component in the ROI calculations. Here are 25 tips for obtaining a more timely and accurate budget:
Project budget process
- Determine your budget process eg
- the steps required to gather the information
- the time scales for your budget process and key dates
- the deliverable(s) required
- who is involved and what resources are available
- the formal review stages
- the number of project budget iterations and re-workings
- how any budgetary disagreements should be resolved
- Is one person to be in overall charge of calculating the project budget? Or will various sections of the budget be allocated to team members to complete and then be consolidated together?
- Ideally there should be input from a number of people associated with the software project. So arrange for contributions from the project manager, project leader, information systems manager, key users, steering group members, vendors (for software quotes) and procurement.
- Remember, your first calculation of the budget is just that – your best estimates and (educated) guesses at the time. Treat the budget calculations as ongoing ‘work-in-progress’ and continually refine and revise, until the budget is approved / finalised. But even after approval, unforeseen events and project changes can force a budget to be revised or reforecast.
- Determine what you are including within your project budget. Include only in-scope items. Exclude all non-scope items. But keep a list of excluded items, so they may be included or budgeted for at a later stage, if required.
- Identify and itemise all project costs
- Determine if you are working on an incremental cost basis (ie only including new or additional costs for your organisation). Or whether you are working on a full costing basis (ie including the project’s share of allocated costs incurred within the organisation). If including allocated costs, do so, on a consistent and agreed basis.
- For purchases, include shipping and sales taxes (eg VAT) if unable to reclaim them.
- Cost all tasks within the project plan. Initially labour costs can be estimated as the number of days x their estimated cost. Later on, more accuracy may be achieved by working in hours and an hourly rate.
- Ensure daily or hourly labour rates include: salary + benefits + pension + social security costs ie the total labour costs.
- Review other software projects / staff performance to get an idea of how long people take to complete specific tasks.
- State your budget assumptions – so if these change, the budget can easily be changed.
- The total project budget is the sum of the itemised estimated costs plus contingency for project risk. Typically, contingency (for project risk) can range from 5% of costs for a small quick project, to 30% or more for a large, complex or long project.
- One option for calculating contingency is to simply add a percentage to the total costs, based on your best estimate. However, for more accuracy, you could identify the known and potential risks and then estimate a contingency for each project cost item. Risks can include: the number of software modules, the number and experience / skills of resources, project dependencies, critical dates, time shortages, implementing over multiple locations, new technology and costs yet to be negotiated.
- Regularly review the budget, both on an informal and formal basis. Whilst the total project budget cost is important, are there any components which look high, low or unusual? What is the budgeted project cost per user (total project budget costs divided by number of users)?
- Look out for obvious over or under budgetary estimates – attempt to be as realistic as possible.
- Compare your calculations with those from the software vendor. What is their estimated total cost for your project / organisation? What is their typical total project cost and typical cost per user, for projects that they have undertaken elsewhere?
- Compare with other projects within your organisation and their deliverables, original budgets, actual costs, over / under budget analyses.
- Is your budget broadly ½ software and ½ labour (ie excluding hardware expenditure within the project)? Or is it roughly one third each for software, hardware and labour (if replacing hardware)? If not, re-examine your costs.
- Are the budgetary items and their costs included in the correct year? Is the budgetary phasing / timing accurate? Have any warranty periods been included, prior to the commencement of annual (maintenance) costs? Would greater accuracy be achieved by phasing costs over months or quarters, rather than in years?
- Are there any budgetary disagreements awaiting resolution? If so, are there project cost implications and have these been included within the budget?
- Is the contingency for project risk large enough? What is used for other similar projects within your organisation? Can an increase be justified?
- Have the budgetary calculations been checked for any spreadsheet errors? If not, double check.
- Have all budget amendments been documented and reviewed? If not, add amendments into the budget and review accordingly.
- Has the budget been independently reviewed eg by another project team member or by a member of the finance department?