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PROJECT BURN RATE: HOW TO CALCULATE AND GAUGE

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

In the realm of professional services, where projects can span various industries and require meticulous attention to detail, project burn rate emerges as a guiding light. It enables professionals to measure the pace at which resources and budget are being utilized against the projected plan.


For those overseeing client projects and striving to meet high standards while adhering to financial parameters, understanding project burn rate can make the difference between success and potential missteps. So how do we calculate it? That’s what we’re going to answer today.


WHAT IS PROJECT BURN RATE?


In project management, project burn rate is the pace at which a project consumes its allocated budget over a specific timeframe. It provides insights into the project's financial health by indicating whether the project is on track to stay within budget or if adjustments are needed to avoid overspending. Although there are notable differences, the project burn rate shares similarities with project overrun, see our guide for more information.


Project burn rate is crucial in project management as it serves as a real-time financial gauge, measuring the rate at which a project is utilizing its allocated budget. By monitoring the burn rate, project managers, stakeholders, and executives can quickly identify if the project's spending is aligned with projections. This insight allows for timely interventions, adjustments, and informed decision-making to prevent budget overruns, ensure financial discipline, and ultimately increase the likelihood of project success.


HOW TO CALCULATE PROJECT BURN RATE


Calculating project burn rate (PBR) is a fundamental practice in project management to maintain budgetary control. The recommended formula for calculating PBR is the "Total Spent / Total Budget" method. This formula offers a clear and comprehensive view of how quickly a project is utilizing its allocated funds.


The formula for calculating project burn rate (PBR) is:


PBR = Total Amount Spent / Total Budget


In this formula, the "Total Amount Spent" refers to the cumulative expenses incurred on the project up to the current point in time. This includes all costs associated with the project, such as labor, materials, overhead, and any other relevant expenditures. The "Total Budget" is the originally allocated budget for the entire project.


By using this formula, project managers can readily determine the rate at which funds are being consumed, enabling them to make well-informed decisions regarding resource allocation, cost-saving measures, and potential adjustments to ensure the project's financial success. Regular assessment of the PBR against the project's timeline also allows for timely interventions to prevent budget overruns and maintain financial alignment.


HOW TO USE PROJECT BURN RATE TO UNDERSTAND THE PROGRESS OF YOUR PROJECT


Project burn rate serves as a valuable tool for project managers to gauge the financial health and progress of their projects. By understanding and interpreting the burn rate, project managers can effectively monitor whether their project is on track or facing potential challenges. The burn rate, which reflects the pace at which a project is utilizing its allocated budget, offers insights that go beyond mere financial tracking. Here are a few key indicators that project managers can quickly identify through burn rate analysis to determine the state of their projects:



Rising Burn Rate and Potential Trouble:


A rising burn rate can be a red flag indicating that the project might be in trouble. If the actual expenses are outpacing the projected spending, it suggests that the project is consuming its budget more quickly than anticipated. This could point to issues such as scope creep, resource inefficiencies, or unexpected obstacles that are driving up costs. A rising burn rate should prompt project managers to investigate the underlying reasons, reassess project priorities, and take corrective actions to bring the expenses back in line with the budget.


Falling Burn Rate and Positive Progress:


Conversely, a falling burn rate can signal that the project is progressing well. If the project is spending less than initially projected, it suggests efficient resource utilization and effective cost management. This scenario might occur when tasks are completed ahead of schedule or when the team is effectively managing resources without overspending. However, it's essential to ensure that the quality and scope of the project are not compromised in the pursuit of lowering the burn rate.


Comparing actual burn rate and planned burn rate


Planned burn rate and actual burn rate are two critical metrics in project management that help teams assess the financial health and progress of their projects. The planned burn rate refers to the anticipated rate at which a project is expected to consume its allocated budget over a specific timeframe, as calculated at the project's outset. On the other hand, the actual burn rate represents the current pace at which the project is utilizing its budget, based on real-time expenses incurred up to the present.


Comparing these two numbers, the initial planned burn rate and the current actual burn rate, provides valuable insights into the project's financial performance and potential issues. When teams contrast the planned burn rate with the actual burn rate, any discrepancies can be quickly identified. If the actual burn rate is significantly higher than the planned burn rate, it may signal potential problems. This variance could be due to factors such as scope changes, resource inefficiencies, unexpected challenges, or even inaccuracies in the initial budget estimation.


If the actual burn rate is notably lower than the planned burn rate, it might suggest efficient resource management or tasks being completed ahead of schedule. While this could be a positive indicator, it's essential to ensure that the project's quality and scope are not compromised in the process of cost reduction. Regularly comparing these burn rates enables teams to detect discrepancies early on and take necessary actions to address any issues that may arise, ensuring the project remains financially viable and on track for successful completion. This comparison also empowers project managers to make informed decisions, optimize resource allocation, and maintain a clear understanding of the project's financial trajectory.


Identifying potential problems early on


The early identification of problems with project burn rate is crucial for successful project management. Monitoring the burn rate allows project teams to swiftly recognize financial discrepancies, potential risks, and deviations from the planned budget. This early awareness empowers teams to take corrective actions, make informed decisions, and implement necessary changes before issues escalate. By addressing problems promptly, teams can prevent budget overruns, allocate resources more efficiently, and maintain the project's overall timeline and quality. Ultimately, the ability to identify and address problems with project burn rate early on significantly enhances the project's chances of meeting its objectives and delivering successful outcomes.


One crucial aspect of monitoring the burn rate is observing the potential signs of trouble that were previously mentioned – rising and falling burn rates. To recap, a rising burn rate can indicate that a project might be in trouble, and a project is swallowing up its budget quicker than expected. A falling burn rate is often a good sign however and suggests that the project is progressing well and there is less spending than first planned. Whatever the outcome, the first thing that will be spotted is the fall or rise in the burn rate. Companies should then act straight away, especially if they see a rising burn rate, to diminish any problems and either distribute more budget or take measures to improve the efficiency of the project.


Making adjustments to the project plan


When discrepancies arise between the planned and actual burn rates, swift adjustments to the project plan are crucial to maintaining financial health and project success. If the burn rate is exceeding projections, indicating potential budget constraints, several adjustments can be considered:


  • Reducing the Scope of the Project: Streamlining project goals and deliverables to align with available resources.

  • Reprioritizing Tasks: Adjusting task priorities to ensure critical aspects are addressed within budget constraints.

  • Optimizing Resource Utilization: Ensuring resources are allocated efficiently to prevent wastage and unnecessary costs.

  • Exploring Cost-effective Solutions: Identifying alternative approaches or tools that can achieve project objectives with reduced expenses.

  • Extending the Deadline: Providing more time to complete tasks without compromising quality due to resource limitations.


On the other hand, if the burn rate is lower than anticipated, suggesting underutilization of resources:


  • Reassessing Task Allocation: Ensuring tasks are appropriately assigned and distributed among team members.

  • Identifying Additional Tasks: Including supplementary tasks that contribute to project objectives and optimize resource usage.

  • Addressing Task Dependencies: Evaluating interdependencies to streamline workflows and eliminate bottlenecks.

 

USING PROJECT BURN RATE TO IMPROVE PROJECT MANAGEMENT


Being able to both understand your project burn rates and make effective decisions that help to keep your projects viable from a financial perspective has the potential to reshape an organization’s trajectory for the better. Precursive’s project management software equips professional service organizations with real-time insights into their burn rates, enabling swift, data-driven, and impactful decisions that maintain project alignment and bolster client and business achievements.


Book a demo with Precursive to see for yourself how we can maximize your efficiency when it comes to project management.



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