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Cumulative Cost and Budget Spreadsheet Tool

As both a Project Management practitioner and a College Professor and University Instructor, I have found that there are very few simple-to-use templates for creating a time-based project schedule and budget. This package has a series of 4 Excel spreadsheets (but any standard spreadsheet program should also work) that allow a student or practitioner to build a time-based budget that shows unit activity (scope) planned period (time), and cumulative cost all on one page. It has been created to demonstrate a fictitious but realistic budget for the purchase, installation, and testing of a mid-size local area network of about 200 desktop and laptop computers and  5 servers. The project is expected to take 15 weeks from start to finish with a total budget of $402,200.

4 spreadsheets in total allow readers to copy and build their budget.

Sheet 1,2,3 shows the building blocks of creating a time phase schedule for buying and installing laptops, desktops, and servers. Unit activity and planned unit prices drive the planned equipment budget. Similarly, there are a few human resources planned with daily labour rates driving the total labour cost plan. The summary cost lines from the equipment and labour detail sections are then summed to yield the total planned cost for each week and cumulatively.

Sheet 1 shows the numeric data entry only. It was started at row 30 to leave space for a data-driven graphic table to be added later.

Download Sheet 1

 

Sheet 1 15-week budget before a graphic table with input cells yellow. This is the same as sheet one except for the user input cells for unit installations, unit prices, labour days, and labour rates have been shown on a yellow background to ease of use. The other cells are formula-driven.

Download Sheet 1 with Yellow Input Cells

Sheet 2 shows the addition of a data-driven graphic table inserted above the numeric spreadsheet. The instructions for creating the table are:

  1. Select (curser click on) rows 35 and 36 to include all cells from C35 to Q36
  2. Click on the Insert tab from the top of the spreadsheet
  3. Click on the Column Icon
  4. Select (Click on) the top left 2-D column icon

Download Sheet 2

 

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A two-column graphic showing the weekly planned cost and total cumulative will be superimposed on your spreadsheet. It will not likely be properly positioned or sized to line up with your numeric entries and weekly columns. You will need to use your cursor to grab the corners of the graphic table to stretch and position the table to line up with your numeric entries.

Sheet 3 is the same as spreadsheet 2 after the graphic column table has been stretched and positioned to fit above the numerical data it represents.

Download Sheet 3

 

Sheet 4 adds a Gantt chart showing key milestones and dates.

Download Sheet 4

7 Powerful Time Management Tips For 2024

Your greatest asset is your earning ability. Your greatest resource is your time. -Brian Tracy

 

Speaking of time, it is the only thing I suppose every professional can’t get enough of.

“I didn’t get time”, is the one thing that we have both used and heard a gazillion times in both our professional and personal lives. And with only 20% of people feeling their workload under control, the importance becomes even more pronounced.

However, I acknowledge that controlling every minute of your life is impossible for every individual. But for every leader in a position, the essence of effective time management remains unbeatable.

 

If you’re finding managing time hard, I’ve got the solution.

Just be with me in this whole journey and let me take you through the time management tips for getting work done smart and not hard.

But before delving straight into effective strategies for time management, let’s first understand what time management is.

 

What is Time Management?

Time management is the process of exercising ways to get supreme control over the time spent on specific tasks and activities. The basic goal is to get more done in less time without wasting any second.

Good time management is an act of increasing efficiency and productivity.  And that too, without undergoing an extensive ordeal of stress and overwhelmness. It is a strategic approach to getting tasks executed successfully while meeting deadlines.

 

7 Tips for Effective Time Management

1.    Stay Organized

Keeping both your physical and digital workspace organized is the most prominent factor that minimizes clutter and saves you an extra hour.

Piled-up papers, overloaded email boxes, and scattered files stretch the reins of time unnecessarily, costing you precious minutes. And the frustration that comes with it is another barrier that hinders you from focusing on what matters.

 

2.    Understand Priorities

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities. – Stephen Covey

While allocating tasks or setting up a to-do list, make sure to do your priority evaluation based on importance and not urgency. This way you curate a schedule that aligns with your goals. However, I acknowledge the unpredictability of unforeseen instances. The moments where you’ll have to pay immediate attention to a task, ruling the urgency meter.

 

3.    Create an Effective Daily Plan

Plan it out. Be it your workflow or daily schedule, invest a good amount of time mapping it out. When you have a clear roadmap to your tasks, you do not waste a major chunk of your workday figuring out what to do next.

You will surely realize how creating a plan is more valuable than navigating cluelessly. This way you prop up your hold on productivity and let the show running in no time.

 

4.    Set Clear Goals

Concentrate all your thoughts on the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” – Alexander Graham Bell

Set for your team and yourself a clear set of goals – both short and long-term. Establishing a clear sense of purpose contributes to the probability of achieving the goals in a specific time frame. You can define your objectives using the SMART method –  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

 

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5.    Delegate Tasks

This is the most important and strategic part to be executed on a leader’s part. Delegating tasks without being mindful of the team’s strengths, capacities, and availability, results in counterproductivity.

While you may sometimes feel the urge to step into their shoes and get things done yourself, doing so may impede efficiency and stop you from leveraging the strength of your team members.

 

6.    Eliminate Distractions

From endless meetings and texting co-workers to browsing social media and web browsers, these distractions can significantly impact productivity at work. Identifying these time thieves is the first step to freeing your time from unnecessary interruptions and staying focused.

 

7.    Utilize Technology and Tools

Getting yourself familiar with the available technological advancements to ease out your load is the way to level up your time management game. These tools make things easy for you without requiring you to go through major training.

With a good time management tool like ProofHub, you are putting yourself and your team at great advantage. From staying on top of your task’s progress to streamlined communication and collaboration,  these tools bring everything to your radar.

 

How to Improve Time Management Skills?

Here are some brilliant ways of exercising good time management skills:

 

●     Practice the Pomodoro Technique

This method is ideal for avoiding burnout. It entails breaking your entire work into intervals, called Pomodoro. This means dedicating 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a short break of 5 minutes. After completing a set of intervals, you can take a longer break (20-30 minutes) to maintain your focus.

 

●     Use a Calendar

Calendars are no longer limited to marking the specialized dates with a pen. You can use modern digital calendars to schedule tasks and deadlines. You can even set reminders for important dates and events to stay on track.

 

●     Time Blocking

It is a time management method to divide your entire day into blocks. Where you dedicate a specific task or group of tasks to each block. This way you maintain focus on a concrete schedule, instead of keeping things open-ended.

 

●     Pareto Principle

The 80/20 rule or the Pareto principle aids in identifying the 20% impactful tasks that contribute to 80% of your goals or results. These tasks are the most impactful and effective and should be prioritized in your workflow.

 

●     Evaluate and Adjust

Never forget to reflect on your time management strategies and other business operations. Identify what works in your favour and what doesn’t for maintaining efficiency. After you have gathered all the insights, make the adjustments accordingly.

 

Good Time Management is a Gradual Process

There is no single hack or magic wand that can help you become a master in managing time overnight. Even if you are low-key at it right now, do not lose your hope. After all,  it is a continuous cycle of failing, learning, and executing.

By being aware of your shortcomings and adaptable to changes, you can develop these skills in yourself and optimize your productivity standards. Stay persistent and you will be successful in achieving excellence in your professional pursuit.

Working Hard, But Not Too Hard!

Working hard is applying a high level of effort, being consistently focused, productive and effective, applying emotional, physical, and intellectual energy. Working hard is rewarding, it leads to personal and organizational success.

Some people say, “Work smarter, not harder.” But working hard is not the opposite of working smart. The two go together. Working smart makes working hard more effective. Working hard without working smart leads to working too hard.

Working “too hard” causes fatigue and burn out, it reduces performance, challenges relationships, creates a cycle of emotional reactions like anger and depression. Challenging work becomes too hard when it can’t be sustained. Sustained challenging work, physical or mental, requires sufficient reward, rest, relaxation, and recovery.

 

Subjectivity

What does it mean to work “too hard”? With two people doing the same work, one might find it too hard and the other too easy.

Some years ago, I managed a project that had a tight time deadline (don’t they all?). We were a core team of six people including myself, all in our late 20’s to early 30’s. For the last month of the project, we were working late into the night, coming in early in the morning, and occasionally doing all night work sessions. We had pretty much cut off our social and family connections for the duration. The work was engaging, state of the art, and creative. The reward was both financially, emotionally, and intellectually rewarding. Team members had bonded, and it often felt as if we were reading one another’s thoughts. We were in Flow. When the project ended, we were both ready for a rest and sad that it was over.

Some family members and friends thought we were working too hard. For us it was a thrilling ride. It’s very subjective. Observers may or may not have an accurate perception of how hard a worker is working in any role as a performer, manager, or executive.

 

Objective Criteria

We can bring some useful objectivity to the question of what working too hard means by defining the characteristic conditions of “too hard”, to overwork, really means.

Working too hard means there is imbalance among the factors – hours worked, rest and recovery, task complexity, competency, work environment, relationships, mental attitude, and physical condition.

 

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Symptoms

Overwork is a principal cause of burnout. In my article Burnout: What It Is and How to Avoid it,[1] I identified the symptoms of – “exhaustion, disengagement, and reduced effectiveness.

  • Exhaustion is loss of energy and fatigue. It occurs when there is too much stress caused by unhealthy performance demands (chronic overwork). It can be a short-term experience following an intensive physical, emotional, or mental activity. Short-term exhaustion can be treated by moderating performance demands and taking rest and recovery time. If it goes untreated and becomes chronic, burnout follows.
  • Disengagement is affected by a sense of not being cared for by leadership and of the futility of the work. People lose a psychological connection to their work. Involvement and enthusiasm suffer. Performers, whether executives, managers, or staff, just put in their time instead of being actively engaged in their work. self-worth suffers. They become cynical and either engage in unnecessary conflict or withdraw to avoid engaging in meaningful debates.
  • Reduced effectiveness is tied to both exhaustion and lack of engagement. With tiredness, less involvement and enthusiasm, performers become less productive and less effective. That results in greater stress as performance goals become more difficult to achieve. Greater stress feeds exhaustion and lack of engagement.”

For observers, becoming disengaged with friends and family is perceived as a symptom of overwork. It may be, depending on how persistent it is, and whether overwork is the cause or work is being used as an escape from challenging relationships.

Symptoms are the most objective criteria available. It is up to each of us to be aware of our feelings and energy levels to decide if we are experiencing the symptoms of overwork.

 

Self-awareness

“Self-awareness is the ability to “step back” and observe yourself objectively to know your behavior, motivations, feelings, values, and desires. It is knowing your personality and the way you display it in your life.”[2]

Your self-awareness enables you to see whether you are working too hard and if you are, why you are doing it.

 

Doing Something About It

You can do three things about working too hard. 1) You can avoid it, 2) you can correct the imbalance among hours worked, rest and recovery, task complexity, competency, work environment, relationships, mental attitude, and physical condition to stop doing it, or 3) you can continue and suffer the consequences.

You avoid it by establishing a healthy work-life balance. You stop it by identifying the imbalance and correcting it by adjusting your attitude and behavior.

 

For example, you can balance rest and recovery with working on challenging work for long hours, and intensively. That kind of work is often necessary and can be sustained if there is time for rest and recovery.

A supportive work environment, with space for quiet time, and workspaces designed for the kind of work being performed to provide comfort and ease enables breaks and eliminates unnecessary stress.

Healthy relationships, including the ability to manage conflict and expectations, remove unnecessary stress and enable intensive effort.

 

Mental attitude is a key factor. If you believe you are working to hard, you will act as if you were. If you believe that you are working hard and are ok with it, you will be most effective.

If your personal situation is creating the imbalance because of workaholism or anxiety about not working hard enough, you are faced with the task of addressing these causes.

 

If your work situation does not give you the ability to improve imbalance, you are faced with the challenge of making the changes that will protect your health and effectiveness. That may mean taking the risks of standing up to your boss and changing jobs.

[1] https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/burnout-what-it-is-and-how-to-avoid-it/

[2] Pitagorsky, George, “Self-Awareness a Critical Capability for Project Managers”, https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/self-awareness-a-critical-capability-for-project-managers-d23/

Eliminate All Meetings? Not So Fast.

Everyone loves to hate meetings. I’ve seen so many opinion pieces on eliminating meetings, all met with cheers from people who are tired of sitting through meetings they don’t find valuable. I think it’s worth a deeper dive into meeting types so we can be deliberate about which meetings to eliminate.

 

There are three primary categories of meetings:

 

Problem solving – these are your brainstorming or whiteboarding sessions. I think most people agree that these can’t be replaced with emails and Slack messages. When the creative juices need to be flowing and it needs to be collaborative, it needs to be a meeting.

 

Decision making – this is a grey area. If the decision involves a complex scenario or significant consequences, I think it needs to be a meeting since it will likely require discussion. In these cases, my personal approach is to send a pre-read to the decision maker and all key stakeholders, which I develop in partnership with the key stakeholders. My template is this:

 

Background – this explains the broader context of the decision. The decision maker is most likely an executive with many other problems and decisions on their mind, so this helps center them on the situation.

 

Decision point – explain the exact decision needed. Is it strategic direction where multiple approaches have merit? Is it a vendor choice for software that will have a major impact on daily operations? The more specific, the better.

 

Options – Write a summary of each option. Work with the stakeholder(s) who prefers this option and include both the benefits and the drawbacks.

 

Recommendation – Tell the decision maker which option you recommend and why. You know the situation in greater detail than they do, so your recommendation based on detailed consideration is valuable. They may not take your recommendation, but you will have made yourself a resource and thought partner for them.

 

Having this pre-read ensures everyone is on the same page about what the decision point is and what the options are. This will minimize surprises in the meeting, which in turn will minimize unproductive swirl. This preparation will enable the key stakeholders to argue their point, engage in productive debate, and allow the decision maker to hear and consider options before deciding.

 

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Status – this is the infamous “around the room” where everyone says what they’re working on and everyone else multitasks or dozes off. I believe these are the meetings people are thinking about when they write about how to eliminate meetings. The core of their reasoning is that this information can be shared just as effectively by other means, which is often true. I would break this group into two sub-categories:

 

Type 1: Small projects with a few primary workstreams. In these cases, I agree status information can be shared just as effectively by other means. The team can collaborate in a project management tool such as Asana or Smartsheet so anyone at any time can pop in and see where things are. Simple automations can remind team members to make their updates, and dashboards can be automatically shared. The technology exists to make asynchronous status updates possible. In an ideal world, everyone makes their updates on time, everyone checks in on status, and meetings only happen when the project requires discussion. In reality though, project teams often don’t take advantage of these options, so we find ourselves in meetings that shouldn’t need to happen.

 

Type 2: Major projects with many workstreams. In these cases, there are usually clusters of workstreams where people are working together and depend on each other’s work. There are likely also workstreams that seldom interact but will eventually need to interact. In these cases, I’m a believer in live status meetings. Asynchronous updates can work for more regular updates, but I think there’s value in less frequent live status syncs. This gives everyone the opportunity to learn about what’s going on with the more distant workstreams, allows an opportunity for questions and live discussions, and lets people know in advance how something is progressing that might matter to their workstream.

 

With these meeting categories in mind, how can we avoid unnecessary meetings? Regardless of category, there are some best practices for all meetings. If those can’t be followed for a particular meeting, then that meeting can be cancelled.

  1. Make sure the purpose of the meeting is clear.
  2. Write and share the agenda in advance.
  3. Make sure the right people are in attendance.
  4. Send any relevant information in advance.

If you can’t follow these, for example if your meeting doesn’t have a clear purpose or agenda, then it should be cancelled. To make the most of meetings that do happen, end them with a verbal recap of action items, owners, and timelines, and send a written recap of the same.

 

The highest potential category to eliminate is the recurring status meeting for small or simple projects. Eliminating these without negative impact to the project will require a team effort. Everyone needs to do their part to update and check in on the project tracker. The leader can set conditions for success by ensuring the project tracker is established and expectations are clear. However, if the team doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain then the leader will have no choice but to schedule recurring status syncs. I’ve found that credibility and trust can be established by following standard meeting best practices, and especially by cancelling meetings when there is no clear purpose or agenda.

With this trust, it’s a little easier to convince the team to contribute by making their updates asynchronously. Little by little, we can move toward that ideal world where we’re only in meetings that truly need to be meetings.

7 Effective Strategies to Reduce Attrition in Professional Services Organizations

“According to LinkedIn, the professional services sector has the highest attrition rate among all industries.”

In recent years, the professional services industry has seen a significant rise in employee attrition rates. This is due to several factors, such as sub-optimal utilization, high levels of stress and burnout, lack of proper compensation, poor career growth opportunities, and more.

Failure to address these issues can hinder the PSO’s ability to deliver projects on time and meet client expectations, thereby negatively impacting the firm’s top and bottom lines.

Therefore, it is the need of the hour for professional services firms to create a well-defined retention strategy that will help them maintain a robust talent pool.

This article elucidates the best techniques to reduce PSO attrition and how an efficient ERM tool like SAVIOM can help combat it.

Let’s begin!

 

Consequences of attrition in professional services firms

Employee attrition refers to the exit of resources from the organization for various reasons, such as resignations, retirements, transfers, etc. Frequent resource exits from a PSO can deplete the internal talent pool and have severe consequences on operational workflow.

When experienced consultants leave the PSO suddenly, it results in a loss of institutional knowledge. This also leads to increased training costs and project delays as new substitutes need time to gain proficiency in their roles.

In addition, unplanned attrition leads to last-minute firefighting of resources. It usually results in high-cost recruitments or the selection of inadequately skilled personnel, leading to budget/schedule overruns and substandard quality of deliverables.

Moreover, it adversely affects the team dynamics. The sudden departure of consultants can increase the workload of existing resources, hampering their productivity and leading to high burnout.

Knowing the repercussions of attrition, let’s learn the best methods to overcome them.

 

7 effective strategies to manage attrition in professional service firms

Professional services organizations need to take the following measures to minimize unplanned attrition:

1. Create a robust onboarding strategy for new hires

According to Glassdoor, organizations with effective employee onboarding can increase retention by 82%.

Robust onboarding processes can help new joiners in PSOs acclimatize to team dynamics, roles & responsibilities, and company culture. Therefore, managers must take them through the organizational structure and introduce them to team members. Moreover, the firms can assign mentors who can offer continuous support and guidance to the new hires throughout their journey.

In addition, PSOS can provide induction training to familiarize them with standard operating procedures and performance metrics. Besides, they can offer on-the-job learning opportunities where new employees can shadow their seniors to understand their roles better. This will help them build the necessary skills and knowledge, boost engagement, and lower the churn rate.

 

2. Assign professionals to suitable projects based on skills & interest

It is important to align the resources’ skills with suitable work as it increases productivity and engagement. Therefore, before assigning consultants to projects, managers must gain comprehensive visibility of their attributes, such as skills, qualifications, availability, experience, etc.

Moreover, managers must also consider the consultants’ interests when assigning them to projects. It improves their motivation and overall job satisfaction, making them less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. Thus, competent allocation can minimize the risk of disengagement, burnout, and turnover significantly.

 

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3. Offer compensation packages as per market standards

“According to a Qualtrics survey, employees who are satisfied with their pay and benefits are 13% more likely to continue working for their current employer.”

Compensation is one of the most influential factors that shape the consultants’ decision to remain with the existing firm or seek new opportunities. Moreover, adequate compensation establishes a compelling proposition for consultants to be more productive and efficient.

Consequently, PSOs must offer competitive remuneration packages aligned with market standards to retain top-tier talent. In addition, they must consider providing performance-based variable pay and benefits such as health insurance, paid time off, incentives, etc. Incentivizing employees signals the company’s appreciation for their contributions, fostering prolonged tenure.

 

4. Provide stretch assignments to junior consultants periodically

Stretch assignments are a common practice in the professional services industry. These assignments are designed to test and upskill the capabilities of the consultants. Therefore, allocating junior and intermediate associates to such exercises helps them prepare for new challenges and grow professionally.

For example, a financial firm can assign junior auditors to specialized assignments focused on data analytics. This initiative enhances the auditors’ proficiency in this field and helps them streamline financial analysis processes. Thus, stretch assignments accelerate employees’ career trajectories, keep them engaged, and curb attrition.

 

5. Leverage senior consultants for strategic and leadership roles

Senior consultants often experience job monotony over time, which can lead to disengagement and, eventually, unplanned attrition. Therefore, managers must deploy them to strategic or leadership roles beyond their day-to-day activities that help them showcase their learnings and contribute to bigger organizational goals. For instance, an IT firm focuses on upskilling its team with emerging technologies like Generative AI and Datafication.

For this, the firm can assign senior consultants to conduct training sessions, mentoring programs, and workshops. Moreover, they can identify senior consultants who can utilize their skills and expertise to drive strategic initiatives such as building a robust talent pipeline. As a result, it improves their engagement and curbs attrition.

 

6. Formulate individual development plans for each employee

One of the primary reasons for high attrition rates in PSOs is the lack of career development opportunities. Therefore, to retain top talent, managers can create IDPs (Individual development plans) to help consultants pursue their career aspirations and enhance their professional attributes.

For example, in an IT consultancy firm, a software developer wants to improve proficiency in Django. So, managers can enroll them in an online course or facilitate in-house training sessions by experienced developers. This personalized training module increases engagement and lowers their likelihood of leaving the organization.

 

7. Develop a 360-degree holistic feedback system

Implementing an efficient feedback mechanism helps PSOs analyze each consultant’s performance and identify areas of improvement. It also allows resources to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, it serves as an opportunity for managers to show appreciation for consultants’ hard work.

A holistic system provides a two-way communication channel that helps PSOs eliminate workplace bias and quickly resolve internal conflicts based on employee feedback. This enhances transparency and fosters mutual trust between employers and employees. As a result, it enhances consultants’ work performance and job satisfaction, reducing the chances of unplanned attrition.

Next, let’s explore how resource management software can help.

 

How does advanced ERM help professional services firms reduce attrition?

Adopting futuristic resource management software like Saviom can empower service firms to devise a well-structured retention strategy to retain top talent.

  • The 360-degree visibility into consultants’ attributes enables competent allocation. When employees leverage their skills, it enhances their performance and motivation, thereby reducing attrition.
  • Forecasting and capacity planning features enable managers to forward plan future resource requirements and prevent excesses/shortages of consultants.
  • The competency matrix allows supervisors to identify professionals to be considered for stretch assignments and helps facilitate training programs.
  • Real-time BI reports like utilization, forecast vs. actual, etc., enable identifying and rectifying over/underutilization, lowering burnout and unplanned attrition.
  • The open seat feature helps consultants to apply for project vacancies. When they work on projects of their interest, it improves their engagement and minimizes turnover.

 

Wrapping up

Skilled consultants are the backbone of every PSO. Consequently, it is imperative for firms to cultivate a positive work environment that enhances job satisfaction and contributes to the retention of skilled professionals. By integrating the aforementioned best practices with ERM software, PSOs can effectively manage unplanned attrition and ensure sustained profitability.