Budget vs. Schedule: A Tale of Two Variables

There’s an old saying in service-based industries: “We can do it fast, good or cheap: pick two.” It’s a concept called the Unattainable Triangle, and it represents the balance of the three most important variables for any service-based transaction: time, effort and money. Each has an important relationship to the others—and often, time and money end up dictating effort.

The Unattainable Triangle is an important concept to understand when approaching any development project because it determines two important factors right from the get-go: the budget and the schedule. These two variables dictate expectations for the project and, more often than not, they’re at-odds with one another. 

Here’s a closer look at each, how they coexist within the scope of a project and how a good project manager can help balance them to avoid compromising on one, the other or both. 

What is a project’s budget?

A project’s budget is the cost required to meet the expectations outline within the scope of work proposed. It represents the financial plan to cover all expenditures encompassed within the project. The goal of a good budget is to provide stakeholders with a clear depiction of the monetary investment required to make good on the vision. 

The budget needs to include all known costs—materials, labor, soft costs, etc.—as well as discretionary funds to cover unforeseen or variable costs that are unknown at the outset of the project. Most importantly, the budget contextualizes costs: what you’ll spend, when and why.

What is the project’s schedule?

A project’s schedule—also called its timeline—is the time-bound outlook for how the project will progress and when it will culminate. A good project schedule has well-defined phases and stages, with details to outline expectations and targets across the scope of development: milestones, activities and deliverables. 

More than just a forward-looking approach to the project, the schedule also serves as a benchmark for progression that teams can measure themselves against, to determine if they’re behind or ahead of schedule, or on-track. It organizes the project in a way that’s easily understood in context, at any time. 

Budget and schedule are equitable variables

Quite often, a project’s budget and timeline will stand in juxtaposition to one another. This is because they go hand-in-hand.

For example, if you’re getting ready to develop a plot of land for a residential condominium complex, you’ll need to survey the land first. The project schedule will dictate the surveying process and associated deliverables, while the budget outlines the cost of obtaining survey results. When surveying is completed, project managers can reference both budget and schedule to see if they’re still “on-time and under-budget”—a phrase that’s crucial on any jobsite. 

But budget and schedule aren’t always aligned. Often, when one becomes misaligned, the other is quick to follow. When this happens, it can throw a wrench into future cost and time considerations. 

Say, for instance, the survey took twice as long as budgeted. Now, the next phase of development is behind schedule. To get it back on track, you’ll need to bring in more contractors to speed up the work—which means spending more than you intended in future phases. It works inversely, as well. If the survey costs twice as much as you anticipated, you might need to trim from the budget elsewhere, affecting how quickly the work gets done. 

These are simple examples, but they’re indicative of the equitable relationship between budget and schedule. Stress on one creates strain on the other—often, in ways that have rippling effects for the entirety of the project. 

A project manager is imperative

With an ever-changing landscape of variables involved in something like land development, there are constant threats to both budget and schedule. The solution to handling them effectively is to hire a great project manager. 

It’s the job of a project manager to adapt to unforeseen considerations that impact budget and timeline—to make sure the integrity (quality) of the project isn’t compromised. They do this in a number of ways:

  • Adjusting and adapting time-bound constraints within the timeline.
  • Seeking out cost savings or unnecessary allocations in the budget.
  • Coordinating efficiently between material and service providers.
  • Managing stakeholder expectations in relationship to a changing plan.
  • Leveraging partnerships and relationships into project flexibility.  

A great project manager will look to offset changes on one side of the equation with compromise on the other, to keep the entire thing in balance. They understand that time is money and money can buy time, and that there are tradeoffs to both. 

Keeping projects on-time and under-budget

While service providers often find themselves faced with the Unattainable Triangle, project managers face a similar concept with the Iron Triangle: the always-present need to balance time, scope and cost. Different name; same conundrum. 

A great project manager will understand the challenge in front of them, and work to moderate the give and take that comes with budget and schedule. A great project manager will ensure the two remain in balance, without affecting the integrity of the project. It’s a benefit that more than pays the salary of a skilled project manager!To learn more about the importance of stellar project management, contact Sandbox today.