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Balancing Your Budget by Taking a Vacation
By Thomas Cutting

A word to the wise…do not go tent camping at Perris Lake, CA in August. You know you are in the wrong place when the locals say you are lucky the temperature dropped…to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius). As soon as the sun rises over the hills it immediately jumps to 85F (29C). As you can imagine, ground baked at those temperatures for extended periods of time tend to be hard. Not the best of sleeping conditions. There is a saying that goes “that which does not kill you makes you stronger.” In reality, it should probably say, “that which does not kill you makes you wish you were dead.” Fortunately this week we are headed to Palm Springs to stay at a resort with air conditioning and a big swimming pool.

It’s an odd segue but I was speaking with a Project Manager about taking vacation the other day. His small, four month project was running several thousand dollars over budget. I suggested that at his bill rate a couple of vacation days might bring the costs back into alignment. Here are a couple of other items that may help balance your budget.

Resource Rotation. Examine your resource allocations. Do you have senior people doing simple tasks or junior individuals struggling to perform in difficult areas? By moving less expensive resources to handle the simple things you can shave that added expense from the project. Conversely, where your junior team is struggling in deep waters, an expert may be able to blow through the issues in half the time, actually saving funds in the long term. Don’t get trapped in the mindset that cheaper is better. Each situation needs to be examined to determine the best option.

Of course this only works if you are tracking the true cost of your resources. I am surprised at how many companies do not distinguish between resources when counting the cost. Some only use the number of hours or a flat, blended rate to determine the cost. Using that method means your best players costs the same amount as your third string team. No one would consider fielding a professional sports team like that so why do we manage our teams that way?

Find Filler. Look to pull work from the future to fill in blank spots now. One project I managed involved testing multiple systems. Originally they were scheduled to be done sequentially but delays in the earlier ones were impacting the schedule. By pulling the analysis from future systems and performing it early we were able to fill in the gaps and keep the project from running long and over budget.

Consolidate Testing. Before I go any further, let me first say that I am not suggesting you cut corners for testing. What I am advocating is the consolidation of testing across multiple, interrelated projects and between common end users. Integrating the testing for projects that share resources (i.e. databases, common feeds, etc.) can save funds by using the same testing environments and testers. An added bonus is the assurance that the systems will function well together. Any problems caused by their interaction can be resolved prior to going to production.

Time Out for Training. Take advantage of projected down times to schedule training for your team. This is actually a multi-prong attack. First, the budget for training usually comes from outside of the project so the cost of those individuals can be offloaded during a time when their services aren’t vital. Second, if the training is specific to an upcoming aspect of the project your resources will be better equipped to perform, potentially increasing their productivity. Finally, investing in your team shows your commitment to them and will help keep them from seeking employment elsewhere.

Bottom line, if you need a vacation, tell your manager you are willing to take one for the team. Once he understands how it can help the budget he might just join you.

Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge (http://www.cuttingsedge.com/) and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (http://cuttingsedgepm.blogspot.com).

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