3 Million Pound Budget Cut! Don’t Panic and Go Look for Help

When dealing with major crisis, like the 3 million pound budget cut I faced once, the first you have you have to remember is: Don’t panic, you are not alone.

Scenario

I was Agile Programme Manager on the high priority programme for the division I was working in. Things were going well. I was ramping up my team and starting to churn stuff out. Everybody was happy.

The trouble was, although most the money was coming from the part of the business I was working within, half of the development cost was coming from the Technology division. And Technology did not see this initiative as high priority, so they axed their part of the budget. £3 million pounds worth, including much of the current year’s money. It was eight months into the first financial year, I’d already spent a fair chunk of the year’s budget, and my total development budget was only £6 million. This was bad. Potentially fatal for the programme.

Action

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has some sage advice for moments like this: “Don’t Panic”.

Don't Panic

Don’t Panic


This was a classic example where there was an issue but it was not my issue alone. There were other folk who would also care – I just had to galvanise them into action.

Firstly I communicated the problem to stakeholders. The most important people were on the Steering Group so I convened an emergency meeting to inform them of the situation. They were outraged at Technology of course, but more helpfully they seemed willing to mobilise to rectify the situation. I also talked to the various Programme Management Offices (PMO) I was dealing with because this would have massive impact on my capability to deliver. I did not really share any of this with my team – I didn’t want them unduly worried and jumping ship before it was necessary.

I then quickly assessed likelihood of alternative funding. I couldn’t muck around because if there was no likelihood of addition funding I was going to close down the programme immediately. As it happens the prospects were good – this was, after all, the high priority programme for the business – however the new money would only be available in the next financial year. The implication was that I didn’t have to terminate the programme, I just had to buy time.

I knew I didn’t have enough money to see out the current year so I put the brakes on spend. There is always some money you have to spend regardless – committed money – so I quantified my committed spend until the end of the financial year. This told me what I had to play with, i.e. not enough. That process also highlighted purchases that I could defer to the next financial year and defer I did. I found I could retain my team at current levels but certainly could not ramp up. Ramp up had to wait for the new financial year. That had an knock on effect on the Release Plan as the product owner and I had to reprioritise the development backlog (e.g. we didn’t kick off mobile work stream).

Those changes meant I could make it to the end of the financial year on the reduced budget (£1 million of the cut was from the current financial year).

The next step was to negotiate the alternative funding from the people who cared = the business. They’d previous indicated a willingness to help but £3 million is a lot and I had to get that commitment signed and sealed. Being the high priority programme helped, so other initiatives took a hit – that is what prioritisation is about. (In fairness to Technology that is exactly what they’d done to us, they had prioritised elsewhere.)

Having lined all of that up I went back to my stakeholders and communicated the solution I’d put together.

Finally I took a deep breath. That had been a stressful period.

Outcome

I managed to stay within budget in the first financial year despite the massive cut. The alternative funding filled the gap from the new year. I continued development and rollout. With some clever reshuffling of workstreams I even managed to hit the promised milestones in the second year despite the monetary glitch.

The only major fall out was the relationship between the business and Technology – the latter didn’t look good.

Of course it could have gone bad. And I was seriously considering terminating the programme early. That attitude probably helped me in the negotiations with the business. They could see their product about to abort and they weren’t going to let it happen.

Taking a step back, and looking for advice for other folk finding themselves in a near fatal programme/project situation, I’d say don’t panic and go look for help. But mostly “Don’t Panic!”

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