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12 Project Planning Tips To Stay On Budget And Schedule


You can hardly believe it. Your dream project has just landed on your desk. You’ve been chasing this client for years, and know the work will perfectly complement your portfolio. Plus it’s high-profile too, which means lots of press and free publicity for your business.

But it’s bigger than anything you’ve done before. You cannot afford to drop the ball.

Excited to begin, you launch into the project, guns blazing. But halfway through you experience a sinking feeling. You’re not going to make it. The allocated budget for the next two months is over three-quarters used up and suddenly your reputation (and visions of glory) hang on the line.

Unfortunately this scenario happens extremely frequently. Every day, high-potential projects are cast to the wayside, featuring pissed-off clients, blown-out budgets and worn-out staff. But it doesn’t have to be that way! With a little bit of planning, you can stay on budget and schedule.

Tip 1 – Appoint a project manager


The clue is in the name. For your project to get off to a rocking start, you need a fearless leader. Someone who is “laser focused on the details” (via TeamGantt) and can lead the project direction and align the team while dealing with multiple stakeholders, agendas, budgets – not to mention the client!

Fancy yourself as the right person for the job? Check out this post for some critical advice: So you want to be a project manager? Here’s everything you need to know.

Tip 2 – Define the project scope

Think of the project scope as your bible. It outlines the project parameters, timelines and deliverables. When you deviate from it, it can cause huge problems for a project. In fact, scope creep is one of the most common causes of project cost overruns.

Focus on creating a comprehensive, detailed project scope document that is reviewed and approved by all stakeholders. Don’t be a victim of scope creep! Check out this guide on how to beat it forever.

Tip 3 – Choose the right team


Understanding the project scope will help determine what skillsets you need in your team. If you’re responsible for assembling the A-team, be cognisant of things like: Are there going to be clashing personalities? Is there likely to be drama worthy of reality TV?

Here at Xero we use DISC profiles to understand how various team members work and while personality tests have their limitations, they certainly are helpful in illustrating differences in work preferences. Drift classifies people into “makers” or perfectionists – an interesting way to look at it too!

Tip 4 – Set project goals and objectives

“Goal setting can get out of hand, and fast” – Trello

From the macro goal you want to achieve to micro goals and milestones along the way, it’s important to set specific objectives to keep your project and team on track.

  • Make sure your team is aligned on the goals, so they’re working towards a common purpose.
  • Find a way to match personal and professional goals, so that you can better tap into every individual’s motivation. The good news is you don’t need to do this alone – catch up with the team and ask them what’s important to them!

Tip 5 – Hold a kickoff meeting

You’ve probably heard the word “kickoff meeting” being bandied about. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a meeting that’s held before the project “kicks off” or starts, an opportunity to bring all the project stakeholders together and brief them about what’s going to do down.

Typically in the kickoff meeting you will go through the project brief, discuss the goals, roadmap, timelines, deliverables, assign roles and responsibilities, budgets and optimal ways of working. It’s a good habit to follow up with a summary or meeting minutes and any additional notes which came out of the meeting.

Tip 6 – Design a project roadmap

The project roadmap is a high-level representation of your project goals against a timeline. While the scope provides the granular detail, the roadmap should provide an overview of the entire project from start to finish.

It’s helpful to make it as visual as possible and keep it somewhere that’s visible to your team so it stays top of mind.

Tip 7 – Use an integrated workflow management software

A whiteboard and post-it notes have their time and place, but when you’re dealing with a project of tremendous scale and complexity, having an end to end project management software is going to be a lifesaver.

Back in my agency days we had a “piling system” – an inefficient way of storing all paperwork at the end of a project in giant folders. Needless to say no one would look through those archives, like ever.

So do yourself a favour and start using an all-in-one online job management system! Some of the many benefits you’ll enjoy include:

  • Easily keep track of project status, track job milestones and view what’s in the project pipeline.

Tip 8 – Empower your team

For a project to be successful, your team needs to genuinely believe in their work. Some ways to empower your team might include:

  • Giving them a degree of autonomy and making sure they aren’t being micro-managed.
  • Asking for their input so they know they’re an integral part of the decision making process.
  • Encouraging them to experiment, reinforcing their effort with positive feedback.

Tip 9 – Be big on communication


Poor communication can cause project delays, frustration, and all-round bad mojo. Make sure you avoid the above by creating an environment that’s open – where people know they can ask questions, share ideas, voice concerns. What are the communication tools or apps you’re using? How often are you checking in with the team and/or the client? Are you, as a manager, always available?

Status meetings, communication plan - always know what’s happening

A shared project board – trello,

Tip 10 – Manage expectations

“The best way to set expectations is early and often” – Guide to Project Management, Managing Expectations

Hand in hand with Tip 10, managing expectations is a big part of successful projects. Instead of dropping a bombshell at the last minute, if you have good communication processes in place and are focused on keeping stakeholders in the loop throughout the project, you’ll be able to manage expectations. For more information, check out this nifty guide on managing expectations.


Tip 11 – Analyse similar projects

It’s easy to forget this one – after all, once a project is done, the temptation is to shelve it away and make room for the next one. But learning from the past is incredibly valuable. Again, if you’re using a system to manage your projects, you’ll be able to dig out job templates and previous reports and repurpose them – saving time and effort.


Tip 12 – Celebrate successes along the way


While ticking off the big milestones feels awesome, it’s just as important to stop and acknowledge the little successes along the way. This might be a weekly shout-out to that week’s high performers, team lunches or pats on the back. Celebrating success is a tangible way of marking progress, creates confidence and positive, feel-good vibes that will only set you and your team up for the next challenge in the best possible way.

Read more here: Why you should celebrate your wins.


Follow these 12 tips to nail your dream project. Do you have any other tips for staying on budget and schedule?

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Mallika Goel
Mallika Goel is the communications manager at WorkflowMax, fresh from the agency world. She brings with her four years of experience working with some of New Zealand’s largest brands as well as more boutique ones. She thinks life’s too short to do one thing, so she keeps herself busy pursuing her many interests: an obsessive love of writing/blogging, fitness, travelling and design.

Mallika Goel