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Budgets are a Guess
By Demian Entrekin

We were down inside the nitty-gritty of a requirements definition. The white board was covered with all the colors we had available. Like most people, we had to squint to read the yellow. There were lines and numbers and letters, including the more popular Greek symbols. The standard assembly of scrawl and question marks. It was the all too familiar scene where you have identified a problem, and you gather three bodies in a room and tell them to “solve it.”

During this session, we came up with the phrase “Projects are a mess and budgets are a guess.” Now, all mockery aside, I though it might be worth discussing how we got there. You see, we were working on understand the needs for PPM budgeting components.

The problem looks something like this:

  • You have a bunch of projects in flight right now, and they are consuming resources as we speak; these live projects are dynamic, shifting and undergoing change from the outside and from the inside, but they are committed and folks are awaiting outcomes and deliverables. They are in different stages, but they are all past what we might call the “actual start date.”
  • On top of that, you have projects that have been approved or at least given the approval to creat a plan, and those project plans are either fully fleshed out or on their way to having the details filled in. Budgets are getting lined up. Who will be on it, what are the fundamental time frames? You may even have a “committed start date.” But scope is probably still a question, and those final negotiations are in full swing.

  • Then you have the requested projects. Aka the backlog. Aka the queue. These projects are still in the “what is it and what will it do for us” stage. For these projects, you have only a vague sense of what will be required, and you probably have no idea of who will actually work on it. You need to know role demand, at least so you can forecast the overall demand on roles across the board, but even that gets tricky since people can play more than one role.

  • There is a fourth category, which is really just the idea. It is a long way from a project stage, but it is out there, and it may be gathering steam inside the fulminating mind of some change agent in the organization. You may have a request started, but in many cases these are invisible, even though they may change everything.

So here we are, in the room, staring at the white board, trying to come up with ideas to simplify this process. How can we make it easier to grasp? Easier to plan? Easier to prevent confusion and collision? This is when the phrase “projects are a mess and budgets are a guess” pops out.

The point is simply this: PPM systems cannot succeed if they apply a complex solution to a complex problem. With all the moving parts in a project portfolio, PPM solutions need to simplify the problem rather than complicate it.

Demian is the CTO of Innotas. As founder and CEO, Entrekin oversaw marketing, product development, sales and services for the company. Today, he focuses on strategic product direction. Prior to Innotas, Entrekin co-founded Convoy Corporation and was Chief Architect of its initial products. In that role, Entrekin helped the company lead the middleware market with an annual growth rate of 670 percent and played an instrumental role in Convoy’s subsequent acquisition by New Era Networks in 1999. A recognized thought leader in Project Portfolio Management, Entrekin has published numerous papers on PPM and his blog (PPM Today) explores current issues related to successful PPM implementation. During his 18 year career, Demian has assumed leadership roles as a consultant and as an entrepreneur, delivering commercial and corporate database applications. Demian holds a B.A. in English from UCLA and an M.A. in English from San Francisco State University.

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