Stacks of Invoices, Sandy Beaches, Green Eye Shades

Project cost control, project accounting, project schedule reviews must be conducted on a regular basisWhat do stacks of invoices, sandy beaches, and green eye shades have in common? Nothing. I lied about the green eye shades.

Although I probably didn’t have to lie about the green eye shades.

I was managing my first major IT project (pre-Excel, pre-Lotus 1-2-3). And project accounting in those days was mostly a manual process. Piles of timesheets and invoices, four-column ledgers, binders, calculators, pencils – all the stuff of black-and-white movies featuring backroom accounting staff with green (more specifically, dark grey) eye shades.

Previously, as a team lead, all I had ever done from a project accounting standpoint was to meet with my team once a month to estimate the effort required to complete our current activities. I would then provide these to the Project Manager.

As Project Manager, I was now required to collect this same information from my team leads, accumulate the project expenditures to date, and provide a report of project progress to my senior executive.

Two to three weeks later, a large ream of green-bar paper would land on my desk with a thud. This massive report contained my project’s actual expenditures, staff time reports, corporate allocations, and other reporting data. Unfortunately, the report arrived much too late for me to use it in preparing the numbers for executive.

What followed then was a laborious exercise of reconciling corporate accounting’s numbers against what I had reported up the chain. Unfortunately, corporate accounting didn’t think like a Project Manager. So, the effort was even more tedious as I had to also reconcile across non-aligned reporting categories.

I’m making this process sound more onerous than it really was. My assistant and I were able to complete both the initial progress report to executive and the reconciliation in a few short hours each month. The silver lining for me was that the detailed, consistent, hands-on review of actuals versus planned, estimates to complete, and schedule variances was priceless. I feel this experience grounded me in project financial fundamentals in a way that a faceless corporate project management information system managed outside of the project ever could have.

And what of the stacks of invoices, sandy beaches, and green eye shades? Well, you know about the manual accounting of invoices. I’ve also explained the green eye shades. What you don’t know is that we conducted these processes on Saturday afternoons, to not detract from daily project activities. My third-floor office window looked across to a beautiful beach park teaming with sunbathers, swimmers, and boogie boarders.

In truth, that’s probably where I should have been.

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