How Project Management Can Make & Save Money

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Pssst …

Come close. Would you like to make some money?

Good. I have a secret to share: Get up at six in the morning, every morning, for the next 10 or 20 years. Get to work early and leave late. Suffer the Sturm und Drang of clients with a smile (the larger the better). Spend and save your pennies wisely. Put in some elbow grease. Market like hell. With luck, you’ll be able to retire by 40.

Or would you like to retire by 30? Or simply 10 years from now, no matter how old you are? Fine. As soon as you say it, you’ve got a project, a finite, definite thing to get done, and one that takes more than one task. Hence you need to put them in order, plan them and execute with efficiency, which means you need to know the basics of project management. And the truth is, they can make—and save—you money.

An Unlikely Source
How can you make money with project management? Simple: Charge for it.

When I began to build Web sites for clients—back when raptors walked the earth—I began by jumping right in: writing scripts, making graphics and turning out copy. I did only the planning I needed to write the contract and invent, often from thin air, an estimate for billable hours.

As my practice grew and I began to do bigger and better sites, I came into contact with project managers, most of whom are MBAs with a special certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). They’re trained in advanced methods of planning, scheduling and using scarce resources—like time and talent—to maximum benefit. And the first time I met them, I realized they could teach me to earn some pennies.

How? When project managers start a project, they have a kickoff meeting—a meeting of the major stakeholders to share ideas, vet plans and so on—and often prepare several documents. These include a statement of scope, a project schedule, a change request form and others, all of which, if done carefully and formatted professionally, are fine work products to present to clients. Translation: You can charge for the time you take to put them together. And it’s right to do so: As we’ll see below, these documents help to ensure the smooth flow of a project from start to finish, and more than anything else, that’s why clients hire you.

The Change Request
Let’s start with the change-request form. First, how many times has this happened to you: It’s six o’clock and you’ve been fighting with a glitchy server for hours (or a SAN, a NAS or a network plan—choose your poison). Just when you get it to work, your client calls and asks for two more hours of time. Tonight.

Or this: You’ve built a Web site, only to have the client ask you to add a product catalog (complete with shopping cart and dynamic tunnels, naturally) a week before you send the final bill. You’d love to—providing you can charge him, but the final bill is a week away, and since you’re 5 percent over budget, you’re scared of the extra work and the client’s temper.

Hence the change-request form, an adjunct to the statement of scope. A statement of scope is simply a document that spells out, in some detail, what you will and won’t do for the project at hand. (What you won’t do, of course, is just as vital—and just as important to the bill—as what you will.) When you write the statement of scope, you have the client sign and date a copy and attach it to the contract itself, which does little or nothing to describe the project, but refers to the statement of scope. (This way you can use a boilerplate contract for most of your projects.)

Part of that boilerplate is the inclusion of a change-request clause, a line or two that states that any change from the statement of scope must be agreed to by each party in the contract and written in a change-request form. It also states that any change, small or large, can force you to alter the fee at your discretion.

The net result? When clients ask for a change—and they always do, and it always costs time and money—you write a change request form and submit it for signature. Hence, they’ve got tangible proof of their request and the money it will part from their wallets.

Not Only Make, But Save
As a consultant, the best way to save money is to be efficient. Do your work quickly—as quickly as possible—to make your margins as big as possible. How? Write and use a careful schedule.

It’s harder than you think. Making a schedule is more an art than a science, one that project managers study and practice for years. But there are points to consider that can help you out. First, don’t rush yourself. Take all the time you need to note each and every task you’ll do, or need to do, for the project at hand. Then order them in sequence and assign to each the number of hours it will take (man hours if you work in teams).

Now double that.

If you doubt me, triple it. The barest sliver of doubt is proof that you’re a novice at schedules. Everything, and I mean everything, takes longer than you think. Chalk it up to bad luck, bad timing, Chaos Theory or Providence. No matter your reasons, the best-laid plans of mice and men, as they say, tend to go wrong.

Software to the Rescue
If you need help, try a project management program. The market is littered with them, though quality varies by vendor, and some are quite expensive. The ubiquitous choice, of course, is Microsoft’s powerful Project, a costly, muscular thing that can help you plan all kinds of projects, from SOHO networks to large-scale deployments. Perhaps the main benison of Project is the automatic, nearly seamless integration with Microsoft Office, notably contact- and task-manager Outlook.

If Project is out of your price range (it runs more than $500, new), try Turbo Project, now in its fourth version, by IMSI (www.imsisoft.com). The Express version is $49.95; the Standard version, with complete project management tools, is $99.95; but the Pro version, designed to rival Microsoft’s offer, also rivals its price at $349.95. Either way, you’ll have a program that churns out schedules and Gantt charts—both of which can be sold to clients at markup and improve your efficiency to boot—like gangbusters.

Another boon of project software is the precision it lends to estimating time and constraints. Let’s say, for example, that your project will take 40 hours. You double that for safety and arrive at 80. As a one-man shop, you’re the only person assigned to the project, and owing to current duties, you can only spend four hours a day on the job. How long will it take to finish? The answer is simple: 80 (the number of man hours) divided by four (the number of man hours you can work on the project per day), divided by five (the number of days in the work week). The answer is four weeks. Of course, it’s not so easy when you have a team of 12, a project with 1,200 hours that vary by resource or person and the ability to work more on Tuesdays than Wednesdays. But a good project management program (and a good project manager, for that matter) can make light of it in minutes.

Last, try a novel program I adore: MindManager X5 by MindJet (www.mindjet.com). It builds mind maps, or circular graphs of tasks and plans that help you think in visual, not linear, terms. The bonus? It lets you assign times, durations and dates to tasks, which it integrates with Outlook and Project.

Last, Make Friends
There’s one more thing you can do to make some money from project management: Make friends with a project manager. They’re a wild group apt to dance on tables.

Well, not really. But they’re a smart bunch of people who can offer you insight into the most valuable—and costly—resource you have: your time.

And that can be worth a fortune.

David Garrett is the former director of Information Technology for GMP Companies Inc., a biotech with global

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