In 2015, KPMG reported that 31% of construction projects come within 10% of the budget. And it seems the bigger the project, the worse the financial uncertainty. In 2016, McKinsey reported that 80% of large projects go over budget. The research shows that contractors and owners are struggling to maintain their budgets throughout their projects. Forecasting costs has only become even more difficult in the last couple of years, due to the global pandemic and supply chain issues.
Knowing how to build a project budget and manage it over the life of a project is a skill that can be learned.
Here are some tips we have gathered to help.
Developing a project budget
Developing a project budget begins with a clear and complete scope of work. You must have a clear picture of what needs to be done and when it needs to be done before you can price the work. Talk to the owner about their project and get as many details as possible about the work and their schedule.
Using the description gathered from the project owner, develop a breakdown of the work that needs to be completed, also called a work breakdown structure or WBS. A WBS breaks the work down into small, manageable, quantifiable scopes of work. For example, installing drywall. A WBS helps in both budgeting and scheduling work because each task and can be quantified for cost and time.
Based on your conversations with the project owner, you should be able to establish milestones in the schedule that have to be met. These may include equipment delivery dates or occupancy. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that let you know if you are meeting both the owner’s and your own milestones. For example, you may have profit goals or productivity targets that you must meet for the project to be successful. Defining these ahead of time will help you assess the project’s success as it progresses, not just at the end.
When developing the project schedule and budget, provide an optimistic view, a pessimistic view, and a most likely scenario. Leave some room for changes and added work. By analyzing these three schedules and budgets, you can assess the probability that you will meet your goals ahead of time and start to plan for potential issues before they come up.
Maintaining the project budget
A project budget should be a living document that changes as the project progresses. Added work, scope changes, and schedule delays often affect the schedule as a project moves on. Project managers can use several methods to forecast costs to complete the work. They include using a work breakdown structure, using Excel formats, third-party templates, and construction software.
Some contractors use the list or work breakdown structure method to estimate their projects and forecast future costs. This technique involves listing all the work that needs to be performed and breaking it down into manageable tasks, like WBS. Then each of these tasks is budgeted, scheduled, and tracked throughout the project. While this technique may work for smaller simpler projects, it can easily get unmanageable on larger construction projects.
The next step up from a written list is using Excel templates to manage costs, schedules, and other information. Excel spreadsheets have been used to track costs, schedules, daily reports, budgets, and much more. If you have not developed your own forms, many are available on the internet. The problem with excel spreadsheets is that they are not connected, and not tailored to construction.
Some companies rely on templates and use them to track all correspondence and data for their projects. These templates are created by third-party companies and not customized for a specific project or scope. Again, they are not connected, and the data is not centrally located.
The most modern way to track and maintain a project budget is using construction software. Today’s software is available in ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and all-in-one solutions that combine project management, actual costs, commitments, unanticipated costs, budgets, and communication together, where everything is in one place. They tie together estimating, job costing, timekeeping, communication, and financials. Using this information, project managers can more effectively forecast productivity and costs, providing a more accurate picture of where they will finish on the job and ensuring they are not caught with any surprises. They can review historical information and easily dive into the month-to-month variances to better understand the current budget and estimate at completion.
Keys to better forecasting
Get real-time data
When project managers try to forecast monthly, they often make mistakes if the accounting and job costing is not integrated into one software solution. Working with multiple software applications makes it difficult to compile the data taking several days or even weeks, leaving the Project Manager no choice but to base their forecasts on lagging information. Worst of all, they cannot trust the data to make accurate and informed decisions.
Today’s financial construction software offers real-time data that automatically calculates the estimate at completion. This way you can easily compare your original estimate, current estimate, and estimate at completion. Software solutions offer great lock features allowing you to freeze the original estimate and forecasting period, forcing your team to properly enter any change orders in the correct period to record any movement on the job. This way, each month you can easily review the variances and see why the budget has moved.
There is no substitute for continuous communication between contractors, owners, and design team members. When everyone is on the same page there are fewer hidden costs. Software solutions offer simple, integrated ways for team members to communicate in real-time about issues, change orders, and any concerns. With software introducing new and faster ways to approve and electronically sign off on commitments, ap invoices, and change orders, it ensures the estimate at completion is up to date and accurate. Members can easily approve, mark-up, decline, or reject key documents instantly. The ability to see what is outstanding and ensure you have your internal processes optimized to provide open, instant feedback, makes forecasting much simpler and more accurate.
It’s time to say goodbye to disconnected excel spreadsheets. With real-time data, it makes it easy for a project manager to easily adjust the EAC using anticipated costs and make more informed decisions as to where the budget will end up.
When systems are separated from each other due to the lack of software integration, time can be lost spent pulling information from multiple sources and compiling it into comprehensive reports. Teams need integrated data at their fingertips so they can act proactively view actual costs, commitments, change orders, pending items, etc. Using an ERP or all-in-one software financial construction solution provides project managers a macro and micro-overview of the budget as they can easily drill down into all the details waiting for other departments to provide information or for spreadsheets to be updated.
Saving time saves money. The more teams can automate daily data-entry tasks, the more time they can spend actively managing the work and proactively reviewing the high-risk items. So much time is being wasted on chasing down subcontractors, manually approving AP invoices, trying to collect signatures, and rekeying data from emails. An inefficient system makes it difficult for PMs to find the time to properly forecast. With proper construction financial software, the most time-consuming and complex tasks can be automated to save you valuable time and ensure you can scale the business without having to add more overhead. Best of all, you can start trusting your data and gain better financial control of your jobs and business.
If you are ready to step up your forecasting game, look no further than Premier Construction Software. We have an easy-to-use financial construction software solution that will help manage your project from beginning to completion. Get in touch with our team to schedule a demo today!Author Biography:
Dawn Killough is a construction writer with over 20 years of experience with construction payments, from the perspectives of subcontractors and general contractors. Dawn has held roles such as a staff accountant, green building advisor, project assistant, and contract administrator. Her work for general contractors, design firms, and subcontractors has even led to the publication of blogs on several construction tech websites and her book, Green Building Design 101.