Tips on Managing Project Budgets

Salesforce projects are no different than the majority of other IT projects as they contain a defined scope, expected delivery time and estimated resource cost. Despite the increased simplicity of Software as a Service (SaaS) software, Salesforce projects can get highly complex. In this article, we will uncover our insights about project budgeting that we’ve discovered in working through more than a thousand projects on the Salesforce platform.

#1 Scope definitionstarting from day zero.

Keeping on target is extremely challenging in any reasonably sized project. Scope management begins from early on – when the project is defined. Project estimations that are vague or high-level are ripe for mismatched expectations. There are, however, diminishing returns on putting together a scope. Sometimes you have neither the time to scope out every detail, nor the knowledge in the project to know what decisions are necessary to make. There is a tradeoff between detail and acceptable risk. Creating the detail has cost and at some point, getting too detailed may drastically increase the total cost of a project. Most opt for a balance — to be comfortable enough for all involved parties to feel that the project has been de-risked enough at a minimal cost. You can never get to 100% risk-free without actually doing the project.

Other considerations on scope is making sure that time is estimated for the these other critical parts of the project: decision-making time, review time, testing time, bug fixing time, meeting time and rollout time. These are all required and thus should be budgeted for (more on this later). In the Salesforce world, it is a misconception that you just have to log in as Admin and tweak a few dials and you are done. While that is true for the simplest of changes, the Salesforce platform can be complex and there are usually many ways to accomplish any requirement (some of which are not best practices) and put you in a position for success for future changes. Many people under-budget on the potential complexity of Salesforce.

#2 Scope creep

Keeping on track on a large project can be challenging. Customers get more exposure to the potential capabilities of the Salesforce platform as they progress through a project – particularly brand new customers to the platform. This inevitably creates the “kid in the candy store” effect where it would be great to add that one additional feature. For some feature additions, it is a no brainer and will cost nothing in terms of time, complexity and risk. In other cases, adding something that wasn’t originally scoped needs to be thought through, implemented and tested. This simply takes additional time and can affect your budget. One must also consider that additional complexity may be added with any feature/scope creep and that must be considered.

Of course scope creep happens and that needs to be handled in a responsible way. Squeezing more scope into an already tight budget is the same as saying that you will overrun on the project. The choices are often quite clear – either you take something out to make room for the new request or you simply add more hours to the project to handle the new request. Reprioritize and cut or issue a change order to add more hours.

#3 Contingency

Many people often compare IT projects to construction projects. They have some uncanny similarities and best practices that can be shared. Often, construction contractors will add a 15% contingency to a project as part of smart planning. This percentage is dependent upon an initial assessment – for instance, is the house very old? Is the project complex? One must simply account for the unknown – if you rip open the wall, will you find mold?   Is there wood rot from water damage? There are simply things that you will not know up front unless you put together a full assessment project up front which most businesses don’t have the budget or time for. In Salesforce, there are similar analogous situations to the contracting world. During the project you might uncover that the existing configuration was more complex than previously thought.   Data might be in worse shape than is the norm. The business owners might take more review cycles than expected. There are countless other ways that a project is more difficult than the expected norm.

#4 Demo – understand that tradeoffs must be made

Projects can balloon when the business owner has expectations that don’t match what the platform can deliver. Salesforce has a flexible, standard, web-based User Interface. To change the interface paradigm drastically, such as to make it more “Excel-like” or should behave like a highly interactive PC application, will significantly increase costs than using the standard Salesforce user interface. The most successful business owners understand business requirements and different ways to meet that business requirement. Some business users can get bogged down by having a specific vision on how the business requirement must be met which can significantly increase budgets. This is why it is important to understand how Salesforce works early on – to make sure there is alignment on how Salesforce is structured, how the user experience works and what options are available. We often recommend training for new Salesforce users at the beginning of the project and often show demo’s of the user interface and the data structures early on to make sure there is alignment.

#5 It’s software – there are bugs

Even aerospace and medical devices software have bugs. Complex IT products are rife with bugs – it’s the nature of software. Software systems are complex and there are literally millions of possible state situations that can happen – many of which are not and cannot be fully tested. Bugs will happen – they will happen during development and unit testing by the developer. They will happen during user acceptance testing. And, they will happen post launch as well. Encountering bugs and fixing them is a part of any software project and must be budgeted for. You may even encounter bugs in the Salesforce platform (not just a bug in the configuration) and the business owner must be in a position to potentially accept that a workaround must be created versus waiting for a bug fix.

#6 Don’t take the “Happy Path”

When projects are structured, you should always avoid estimating with the “best case scenario” in mind. Naturally as budgets are being scrutinized, a low budget number will help “sell” the project internally. This is a common mistake that will only create resource constraints later down the line. Savvy managers know to take any initial estimate with a grain of salt and to add an internal buffer to ensure you minimize the need for “going back to the well” to get more budget. Other examples of “Happy Path” planning is the approval process. As part of any project, various things have to be approved – it may be a requirements document, a design document or a feedback session on a UI prototype. Getting approvals can be a logistical difficulty if many groups and many levels are involved. More time may be required than expected in order to address getting project deliverables approved so that progress can be made. Another area of “Happy Path” planning is expecting that the project timing will work in lockstep. Vacations, unavailability in schedule, and others all will add time.

#7 Change management always takes longer

Effecting change in an already existing process is almost always a significant effort. The inertia of an organization requires special action to be taken on people, process and technology. Many project planners severely underestimate the time required to get to launch and to full adoption.   Inexperienced planners might think you just need a one-hour training session, the logins and you are done. On the contrary, it often requires executive buy-in, extensive communication, training, certification in some cases, one-on-one monitoring/follow through, process changes and support. For instance, one might have a check in with each participant within one week after the training. Homework assignments provide direction to make sure each individual has a path to success and to recognize that most of the learning occurs by doing and not by listening. Time needs to be allocated to ensure that the change management process is adequately supported.

#8 Project Management is essential

Projects don’t run by themselves. A project manager is a key driver to making sure a project is delivered on time, on budget and on scope. They hold the key information that is needed and drive the process towards a successful outcome. They keep the “trains running on time” and are a critical part of any project. We suggest a minimum of 15% of project time as a placeholder. Other projects require 25% or even higher. Very rarely can you over-invest in good planning and management.   Under investing can result in late projects, a major problem if time to market is key. It can also result in cost overruns (in the worst case, potentially many more times than the original project) and delivering something that missed expectations.

#9 Meetings, meetings and more meetings

Nearly every job these days require wearing multiple hats.   Having multiple, diverse responsibilities often means having competing priorities some of which take precedence at critical times during any given project. To keep things on track, project managers must allocate people’s time to ensure that the critical path is always addressed. This takes time. Meetings with multiple participants also takes up precious but necessary time. For instance, a meeting with two VP’s, two directors a project manager and a few consultants burns time (7 x 1 hour = 7 hours). However, it is often a best practice to at least have a 15-minute daily standup.   But note that on a 6-week project, a single participant will have seven and a half hours in meeting time. With another 7 participants multiply that by 7 — that is not an insignificant amount of time that needs to be budgeted.   Again, daily meetings are often extremely necessary in order to keep the project front and center. In the fast paced world of SaaS and Agile development, it is essential to make sure the process keeps up.

#10 Lack of milestones / checkpoints

Good project budgeting ensures that the process is well funded. This means also investing in milestone management and frequent checkpoints. A daily stand-up (see #8) is a great way to keep the daily tempo. Milestones are a great way to keep scope, time and resource cost in check. If not daily, a weekly update on progress and budget is a great idea to keep revisiting the budget. A design document is a great checkpoint to ensure that there is alignment between business owner and implementation team. The process of creating a design document and getting it signed off helps reduce a significant project risk early in the process and helps the business owner prioritize the available budget to the most impactful work. Other useful checkpoints are during the various iterative development feedback sessions where functionality is signed-off by the business owner, particularly a member of the executive team. In addition, user acceptance testing is critical to maintaining alignment and as well, helps with the change management process. With Salesforce, the great thing is that you can perform iterative development and get feedback throughout the development process.

#11 Ongoing support

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is that they assume their job is done once the training is complete and the logins are distributed. That is actually where the real work begins. It is a given that the system will need to be changed once the system is launched. There is no doubt that there will be additional feedback once the system is released. All of the “nice to have’s” that were discussed during the project and prioritized for later will arise. Bugs will inevitably pop up in specific scenarios that were not tested for.   In addition, the business will continue to evolve (what thriving business doesn’t) which will introduce new priorities.  Salesforce is a great platform that encourages that further tweaking. The system will change from day one and the time and expertise needed to handle post launch activities should be planned.

Of course, there are a million and one ways that a budget can go awry, but these are some of the most common issues MondayCall has come across. With smart investment in planning and a strong understanding of how projects are managed, you can ensure that your next project can run smoothly and on target scope, time and budget-wise.