Plug a common project management money drain


‘Over-servicing’ – ever hear that term at work?

If you work at a professional service firm, trading time (and a fair amount of skill + expertise, but let’s keep it simple) for money, over-servicing can be your biggest profit drain. Bang goes your bonus. And yet, it’s often also the case that ‘going the extra mile’ is part of the organisation’s lingo. Which is simply another way of saying ‘over-servicing is OK’. So it can quite literally pay to get clear on what the scope of a job is – and isn’t.


1. Break the task down

This step is crucial – and yet often overlooked. Getting to a precise work breakdown structure (WBS to use the jargon) means getting down with the detail. Typically those who airily wave away your concerns about over-servicing won’t be great at detail. But those who look at productivity and profitability will be great at detail – and they’re often the people who make financial decisions (about your job security, salary, bonus, fees charged etc). So learn to do detail or at least collaborate well with those who do.

A WBS will show – ideally in a clear visual – exactly what each stage or phase of the project entails. So first map out the key stages to getting the job done – lay them out horizontally. Then under each one add in the specific steps to be taken. Tip: use verbs. If you can’t use verbs you’re probably not being specific enough. Something needs to get done, so a verb is the grammatical form to say what that is. You can find a few examples on Project Management Docs – scroll down for the Tree structure, which is the most visual, yet detailed and clear.

Why bother doing all this? Because:

  • We can gloss over essential steps unless we break things right down
  • We can quickly see cause / effect impact if a step is missed or messed up
  • The project team has a shared visual to work to, rather than disparate individual ideas in people’s heads
  • You’d be amazed how many people don’t actually know what’s really involved and this will save them the embarrassment of asking, or worse, bluffing
  • The client can more easily be shown the impact of their demands
  • Procurement people like to see exactly what’s being done for the money.


2. Get clear on what you will and won’t do – the scope

Once you’ve broken down the work, you can then have open and honest conversations about which elements will get done by whom. Some steps will be done by the client, some by your team and others by suppliers. Make sure the key stakeholders agree on what is and isn’t in the scope of work.

When the inevitable request for something that’s not in the agreed scope comes in, you’ll be on much stronger ground to meet the request with a few of your own – for more time or money, or both.

You may find this post useful:

Who and what are ‘stakeholders’?

Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.

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