Managing and monitoring project finances are usually critical to determine, whether the project was a success. In this article, we will discuss how Jira and BigPicture features can be used, help you plan, monitor, and manage costs associated with Projects. In short, let’s learn about budgeting in BigPicture!
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With all the features that Jira and BigPicture offer, users might expect that basic budgeting will be covered. And although dedicated features do not address it directly, there are ways to use existing features for that purpose.
The project’s planned and actual expenses are usually managed with greater granularity than just on the project level (and this is the main problem). Keeping track of planned and spent money just on the project level would be pretty simple with even the crudest tools.
For a waterfall project, there might be separate pools dedicated for each phase, sub-phase, and in some cases – even for a task. What is more, expenses can be planned on a different level than they are tracked. It is common to have expenditures planned for phases, but tracked on the level of specific tasks. These two values have to be easily accessible and comparable.
To meet all these criteria, creating a sound hierarchy of boxes and of issues within the box is crucial – they need to represent structure based on which you want to manage budgets. We will not be going into details on how to create these, but two things that are worth following are:
- Use structure builders to create a hierarchy of issues within the box, as manually created hierarchies are prone to human error and might mess up your expenditure tracking.
- Try to keep the scope of all boxes, in which you are tracking expenditures, separate. Overlapping scopes (with some issues being in multiple boxes) might result in having expenditure allocated to the issue, that is in multiple boxes, counted multiple times.
The solution in action
For the purpose example, let us consider the case where we have the following setup in BigPicture:
- There are boxes representing portfolios, with boxes representing projects in these portfolios
- Each project box has a defined scope with issues representing project phases, tasks, and sub-tasks in it
- Expenditures are planned on Portfolio and Project level but tracked on issue level within each box.
How that kind of approach could be addressed in Big Picture? Let us look at the box level first.
In the overview module (that includes Home view) BigPicture allows adding columns with additional information. By default, BigPicture has some possibilities predefined – among others Budget, Estimated Cost, and Actual Cost can be added. Information entered in these fields will be stored on the Box level.
After these are added, they can be in-line edited, and aggregated (in the example below, the budget is set on the project level, and aggregated on the Portfolio level):
What is even more interesting, these columns can be added multiple times, so we can have one budget column with no aggregation, where we set the budget for the portfolio, and a second column that sums all values from children on the parent level – to see if budgets assigned to the projects do not exceed the budget of portfolio:
We could add and also handle actual costs on the box level, but in our example data from the issue, the level will be the source for that information.
You can see how simple that setup is. Of course, things may be different based on how budgets are handled by your organization – depending on that slightly different column setup and aggregations may be required.
Tracking actual costs
Let’s now have a look at how to track actual costs in our example – on the issue level.
The approach is similar to what we did on the Box level. Within the box, there are predefined fields that can be added as columns in issue views. It can be the default Actual cost field predefined by BigPicture (in this case information will be stored only in BigPicture), or a custom field on the issue level. In our example will be adding the Actual cost field. This field will be set on task level and summed up at phase level so that we have a good overview of costs in each area of our project.
Now, when a new cost appears, we can edit the field, by either adding a new cost to the value stored on the issue or just setting the value on the issue that had no cost to date.
After we have some values stored, let’s look at how we can display this data. Looking at it from a hierarchical perspective, where costs are summed up at phase level so that we can see how much costs are associated with each phase is one way to look at the information. But thanks to the grouping feature, we can add the interesting columns, group issues by it, and see e.g. how much costs are associated with each component (example below), fix version, reporter, etc. It is also possible to group by multiple values! It gives vast possibilities to adjust data displayed to your needs.
TIP: In both the overview module and in Gantt/Scope module it is good to define dedicated views showing budget information. This will allow easier access to needed budget information, and help avoid having too much data on a single screen.
Costs based on time spent
It is time to address elephant in the room – cost based on time spent. Sadly, at the moment BigPicture does not offer automatic calculation of cost based on time spent and some kind of rates defined for user or role. It has to be calculated and entered manually. We suggest doing this periodically (e.g. once a week) to decrease the amount of additional work required by that.
We now have a defined planned budget on the box level and actual costs on the Issue level. But how to compare the two? There seems that there is a disconnect, as one information is available in the Overview module, and the other in Gantt or Scope modules.
Fortunately, it is possible to add information from the tasks level in the Overview module!
Lats add the column Actual Costs (Tasks) to our view, as it displays information aggregated from all issues within the box:
Now we have an overview of budgets planned on portfolio and project level, and costs tracked on issues level. We can check how our actual costs look in the context of the budget, and, by adding other columns, compare this information with other things, like project (or portfolio) progress, based on time tracking.
Agile vs. Waterfall
The example that was used uses mostly terms used in waterfall approaches. For Agile solution to the problem stated at the beginning of the article would use the same features, with some minor configuration changes.
Depending on the Agile approach used, more can be handled on the Box level (e.g There might be separate boxes for sprints in the case of Scrum, or Program Increments and iterations in the case of SAFe). We can track costs on this level, as usually tracking costs on Sprint/Iteration level is sufficient (unless you want to have e.g. costs per Component also available – then costs have to be tracked on the issue level).
The major difference between Agile and Waterfall is that in Agile scope of work is more flexible – the exact work to be performed is not planned far into the future, but from e.g.sprint to sprint. We can assign a budget on this level for future sprints, without assigning exact tasks to be done within the sprint. Of course, we should accept, that these budget values can change if needed, to keep being “flexible”. For that summing sprint level budgets to project level, and comparing them with the overall project budget (two budget column examples shown above) is crucial.
Overall BigPicture, despite not being a dedicated tool for budgeting, has features that allow to quite flexibly plan, manage and monitor budgets. There are some drawbacks, but considering that dedicated budgeting tools are often prohibitively expensive, BigPicture can be an alternative worth considering.
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