Learning Project Reporting on the Fly

I recently became the project manager for a project that was started this past August. The project contributes to a strategic corporate initiative and has high visibility. Given the project had already been in progress for 2 months, I assumed that much of project plan and reporting structure was already in place. This was not the case!

There was progress being made. However, there was no formal communication/reporting protocol with upper management and the various project stakeholders were not working to an aligned plan. Before I formally took over the program, my manager and I reviewed the overall status and decided we needed to hold a workshop to bring all team members/stakeholders together.

We held a two-day workshop with the goal of formalizing the project plan and WBS to meet the target launch date and shipment quantity. The workshop was very successful and the team left feeling aligned and empowered. However, there was also a feeling of uncertainty.

As project manager I was given the task of developing a dashboard to communicate the project status on a weekly basis: project timeline with key milestones, materials procurement, CAPEX (capital expenditure), and hiring. Being new to dashboard development, I embraced the challenge and compiled the required data.

Much like the examples found in the textbook, my dashboard includes a Gantt chart for project milestones. Within the Gantt chart I also included initial production quantities, weekly spend requirements for materials purchases and CAPEX expenditures, and weekly hiring requirements. Additional tables were included to better quantify the information in the Gantt chart. I was amazed at how much information could be displayed on a single chart!

Once the dashboard was complete, the reason for the team’s uncertainty at the workshop’s conclusion was clear: the project was significantly behind schedule and under-staffed.

How could such a discrepancy exist? No detailed planning was conducted at the beginning of the project. Yes, key milestones were defined along with primary deliverable, but the detailed investments required to support the project were not effectively communicated until the workshop. At this point, the only way to refine the project plan was to proceed like Dilbert:


After working backwards and compiling a daunting list of overdue expenditures, the team leveraged the dashboard to inform upper management of the current project status. Naturally they were not impressed and requested the team to drive improvement. We are now in catch-up mode and working to fulfill the initial plan as much as possible. The team is in a difficult situation as product performance has been agreed to with the customer, and senior management has mandated that all costs be minimized while fulfilling the target launch date and quantity.

We are committing to the realistic schedule/quantity and reporting this as baseline during our weekly meetings. Now we just need to get senior management on board.

Have you ever worked on similar projects that were behind schedule, over budget, and under-staffed? Please share your experience!


Balling without a Budget

My company is notorious for running almost all small and some medium size projects without an “official” budget or with no mention of budget at all.  Many of these projects are either product developments or internal process improvements.  Upper management believes that these types of projects shouldn’t be limited to the constraints of a budget primarily because a successful new product or major process overhaul is invaluable to the company and they want our Engineers to have freedom when doing their “thing”, whatever that may be.  Major costs are approved/denied by the management team and these costs are recorded throughout the project but no one sets a limit.  Management also believes, rightfully so in some cases, that the team will eat up a project for a budget even if it doesn’t add any saleable value to the end result.

I’ve seen this work exceptionally well in some cases.  The most prominent was the recent development of a new product for the automotive market.  The project team successfully completed the development with total hard costs of ~$150k.  By the end of this year we should accumulate ~$100M in cumulative revenue from this product.  Winning!  If we had set a budget for this development my guess is that it would have been in the $2-3 million range given the scope.  This project was particularly interesting because the development team took “no budget” as a challenge to keep the project costs as low as possible.  This allowed the team to come up with some really creative solutions to the more challenging aspects of the development.  There was a very respectable amount of reuse of existing automation equipment, never before seen manufacturing processes, and they leveraged a significant amount of existing raw materials.  Give these guys a raise!

On the other hand I’ve also seen this philosophy blow up in our happy little budgetless faces.  We had a team start developing software for order entry, marketing, and other internal processes.  Here we are many millions of dollars later and we have nothing usable to show for the development.  This team took the “no budget” philosophy as an opportunity to try and reinvent the wheel despite the fact that we’re not in the business of selling wheels.  Plus, square wheels don’t have much use in the world we live in.

I have a couple of questions that I’m hoping my top notch MBA classmates and friends may be able to help me address.

Can you think of situations where budgets may be detrimental to a project development?  Are there, or can there be, guidelines established on which types of projects require firm budgets and which can be looser from a cost standpoint?  Or, in your opinion, do all projects need a firm budget, period?

Can you determine during your hiring process which PMs are “budget eaters” and which ones would take the “no budget” project plan as a challenge to keep costs low?  How can we go about identifying these distinctly different personalities during the interview process?

Rob Peter to pay yourself?

Fraud, embezzlement, and misuse of funds are some terms that the politically correct like to use. To others its stealing and theft.  One of the most important aspects of running a business or corporation is ethics.  From the CEO’s, CFO’s and other leadership positions to the lowest ranking employees and customers you serve people have been stealing for ages.

I believe that an honest corporation will draw the interest of honest employees.  With a more open and honest culture, management can create a more honest workplace.  Now I understand that sometimes no matter how hard a company tries some people will still take what’s not theirs.  With the integrity and trust of many corporations in question it’s no wonder so many people steal from companies.

Leading from the front is the first step in preventing a large loss for businesses.  With some corporations making an effort of supporting the claim of, “the customer is always right” many companies have to remain vigilant when exchanging checks, money, or merchandise.  Scammers have evolved into creative ways of getting away with stealing from businesses.  Although I enjoy not having a hassle when correcting an issue businesses must be aware of these scams and check for these fraudulent acts.

By separating a businesses account from an account used only for wire transfers a business can minimize the risk and hassle of being robbed via wire transfers.  The extra step of creating more accounts can be a pain in the neck, but minimizing the risk could potentially save the corporation not only peace of mind, but anywhere upwards of millions of dollars.  When starting or growing a business startup funds are essential.

A very common practice by scammers these days is phishing.  You could only imagine how many people are desperate for startup funds and are more than willing to exchange their information.  Once a phisher has their information they can gain access to that business’s accounts and open up other fraudulent accounts and company credit cards in that business’s name.  At the end of the day companies should be more cautious when giving out information regardless to how bad they want the funds.

If you’re looking to start a small business it appears it’s not a simple task, and there’s more involved than just simply coming up with a catchy name, selling some product or service, and getting money from the bank.  These scammers are pitfalls and must be paid close attention to.  Do you think that with all the scams going on in today’s world that small lenders trying to enter a market thrived on by scammers can be successful?  Should small businesses stick to the big name lenders to be on the “safe side?”  What percentage of businesses costs should be appropriated towards theft and fraud prevention?



Simonds, Lauren. “Arresting Small Business Fraud.” Business Money Arresting Small Business Fraud Comments. Time.com, 17 May 2013. Web. 17 May 2013.