How to Create a Project Budget Step-by-Step 

Arek Terpilowski

Updated: June 6, 2024
July 25, 2023
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Definition of Project Budget

A project budget is a comprehensive overview of estimated or allocated financial resources required for the planning, execution, and completion of a specific project. It represents the total amount of money allocated to various activities, tasks, and resources needed to achieve project objectives within a specified timeframe.

What project costs are included in the project budget?

A project budget typically includes:

  1. Costs of resources: Salaries, wages, benefits, and other labor costs.
  2. Direct costs: Costs directly associated with the project’s activities, such as purchasing software or conducting research..
  3. Indirect or overhead costs: Costs not directly tied to a specific project activity that still contribute to its overall cost, including administrative expenses, utilities, office rent, and general supplies.
  4. Contingency reserve: A portion of the budget for unforeseen events or risks that may arise during the project, serving as a buffer to cover unexpected expenses or changes in project scope.
  5. Miscellaneous expenses: Any additional expenses that may arise during the project but are not accounted for in other budget items. This allows for flexibility in addressing unforeseen costs or changes in project requirements.

How to Create a Project Budget

The project budgeting process consists of a few steps that are critical for estimating the actual costs of your operation, as well as the revenue required for the project’s success. 

Here is how to create project budgets in any industry.

Step 1: Define the Project Scope

In project management, objectives and milestones play a pivotal role. They also have the most significant impact on project budgeting — that’s why project managers should pay a lot of attention to this part of project budget management.

To ensure you include all the objectives in the project plan, create a project scope or a comprehensive overview of all the project tasks that must be completed in your operation. Use resource management software to put these project deliverables on the project timeline and create a clear path leading to the project’s successful completion.

Last, but not least, consult with project stakeholders or more senior members of a possible project team about the project scope to ensure you are all on the same page and the team can complete the project as planned. Use historical data from previous projects or current similar projects to make the description of the entire project more accurate. That is especially important for fixed-price projects, which depend heavily on accurate estimates to avoid exceeding the project budget.

Step 2: Create a Work Breakdown Structure

Break down the work into specific activities or tasks. Ensure that the team will gradually accomplish objectives as the project progresses without delays and other avoidable risks. A well-defined project plan should also specify the dependencies, priorities, and risks a project manager can encounter throughout the operation.

Step 3: Manage Resources

This is the stage in the project budget creation process when you should start translating the objectives into the people’s time that will later on become a base for project budgeting.

To create a basic project budget, you need to specify what resources you will need. A comprehensive resource management plan should include information on:

  • Skills and specializations of the people required for the project.
  • The amount of time project managers think their team will need to complete all the tasks.
  • The availability and capacity of your desired resources.
  • Maximum or estimated costs of their work.
  • Any physical resources the team might need throughout the project.

Using this info, you can assign resources to the task list and see whether you have all the resources your project requires.

Step 4: Create a Budget Estimate

Before you move on to the official project budget, try to predict the actual costs of your project using cost estimates.

Include common project cost categories in project management, such as:

  • The actual cost of work: Try not to use estimates, but the actual wages of the employees you would like to assign to your project.
  • Project and company overheads: You can calculate the exact values using our cost allocation formula.
  • Administrative expenses

When in doubt, do not hesitate to consult senior employees, project champions, other project managers, or any budget plan for previous projects to create a detailed estimate. The project costs you calculate now will impact your project’s final outcome, so any unexpected costs are very undesirable.

Step 5: Create Contingency Reserves (Contingency Fund)

Even the best project budget template might not be fully accurate by the time your project begins. That’s why it is up to the project manager to assess potential risks or uncertainties in project budgeting and allocate a contingency reserve or, simply, some additional money your project might need to cover unforeseen project expenses. This buffer will help accommodate unexpected expenses or changes in scope.

If possible, use the information acquired while creating budgets for past projects or similar projects you have heard about to identify the most likely obstacles your new project may face in the future.

Naturally, accurate estimates from one of the previous steps can mitigate those risks; however, the actual budget might still be full of surprises. Therefore, you should always include some additional funds in your project budget.

Step 6: Create a Project Budget

Having prepared everything you need for a project budget, you can create a project budget example independently.

To do so, use resource management software to compile all the cost estimates into a comprehensive budget document. Group costs from the entire project by category (e.g., personnel, equipment, materials) for easier tracking and analysis. Include overheads to create an accurate budget. 

What should a final project budget include?

  • Detailed breakdowns of costs associated with each deliverable or stage.
  • The actual cost of work of your project team.
  • The person responsible for each budget component.
  • Comprehensive summary of project expenditures, including individual totals for each department budget involved, if applicable.
  • Provision for tracking actual and budgeted costs once the project is underway.

Step 7: Monitor the Project Budget

In project management, project budgets are not documents that can spend the rest of their lifespan hidden deep down your drawers. Instead, you need to control project costs after your operation kicks off.   

Project Budgeting Tips to Improve Your Project Budget Management

Is your project budget still far from perfect? Here’s how you can improve it with our project budgeting tips.

Involve Key Stakeholders

Collaborate with project stakeholders — including team members, senior specialists, and finance experts — to gather input and insights during budgeting. Their perspectives can provide valuable information and ensure alignment with organizational goals.

Conduct Detailed Cost Estimation

Take the time to estimate costs for each activity, task, and resource required. Use historical data, industry benchmarks, expert opinions, and vendor quotes, if applicable, to make your estimates as accurate as possible.

Manage Risks Before They Impact Your Projects

Consider potential risks and uncertainties that would impact project costs. Allocate a contingency reserve to accommodate unexpected expenses or changes in scope. Regularly monitor and assess risks throughout the project to minimize their impact on the budget.

Prioritize Essential Items

Identify critical items that are necessary for project success and allocate resources accordingly. By prioritizing essential deliverables, you can focus your budget on high-value activities and reduce the risk of overspending on non-essential items.

Document Assumptions and Constraints

Document any assumptions made during the budgeting process and note any constraints or limitations that may affect the budget. This helps provide clarity and a reference point for decision-making throughout the project.

Communicate Budgetary Information

Ensure stakeholders know the budget and understand how it aligns with project goals. Transparent communication about budget constraints and progress can help manage expectations and foster collaboration.

Evaluate and Learn from Past Projects

Analyze budget performance and lessons learned from previous projects. Identify areas of improvement and apply those insights to enhance your budgeting process for future endeavors.

Remain Adaptable

Recognize that changes and unforeseen circumstances can impact the project budget. Be prepared to revisit and adjust the budget throughout the project life cycle, while focusing on delivering value within allocated resources.

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