Delivering my project within the predetermined planning, budget, and quality norms - that is the natural responsibility of a project manager. But that kind of project-based steering doesn't always align with the annual budget cycle of a city. Maarten Wilschut, head of department of infrastructure projects at the municipalities of Amstelveen and Aalsmeer, tells us about his most important challenges - and the effective approach he's selected to meet them.
“Our annual financial administration is in order, but it's primarily designed to look back: how much have we spent? It's very difficult to prepare next year's budget solely on that information. We currently maintain a sizeable buffer in our budget to manage uncertainties. Sometimes it takes up to six weeks for everything to be processed. What I really want is to be able to look ahead: what financial commitments do we have? I should have access to those numbers in order to build a clear overview of the costs. Without that information, I'm not fully in control. But it takes a lot of time to gather it: many hours of calling and e-mailing in order to collect all the puzzle pieces.
It can be very tricky when project leaders make decisions on their own account, which may seem very logical from their perspective, but which may have counterproductive effects on the entire portfolio of infrastructure projects. Maybe there is no winter frost and a project leader decides to go ahead and accelerate a project. But that could result in much higher costs in this calendar year than budgeted, and that could get me in trouble."
“For planning, the situation is similar to budgets. I don't just want to know whether a project phase has been delivered according to planning, looking back, but I'm primarily interested in the information that is now often stuck in the heads of project managers: when do they expect to start and finish their project phases? What are the latest insights? If we have all that information in one place, we can make better decisions, for example to combine certain projects."
“The more accurate and recent the information is that I have access to, the better the decisions are that I make as a head of department. If a project leader expects that their project will not be realized within the original budget or planning estimates, I want to know that as soon as possible. Then I can make an early decision to postpone another project or shift some budgets around - take some money here and add some money there. That's why it's so important that project managers know exactly how much budget they have, and that we keep communicating and sharing information year-round.
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