Photo courtesy of: Greg Land

3 Tips For Restarting The Budget Cycle

September 12, 2019

B&D’s Beth Penfield has advised clients navigating the capital budget process for over ten years, contributing to over $25B worth of project plans. We asked her to provide tips for restarting the budget cycle. 


Happy September, all! As summer comes to a close it can mean only one thing… the start of budget season!

To start—congratulations to those who recently opened new schools and wrapped up the blitz of summer projects. To help you collect your thoughts on those projects and move on to the next round, here are some tips about how I approach informing the budgeting process all year round.


First – get the story of each project on paper during your planning efforts

  • I like to say we “build” a project three times—once with words, once with pictures, once with bricks & mortar. During planning, get the project’s concept on paper within a deliverable like an Educational Specification or Project Charter.
  • Make the implicit explicit. It will go a long a way to ensuring expectations get managed from the start—Why is the project needed? What are the key assumptions? What are the risks?
  • Use the same format for each to make it easier to pick back up a project and refresh its assumptions.


Second – determine how and what can you learn from the most recent projects

  • Your project managers are a wealth of knowledge. Learning from them how key budget assumptions evolved over time will inform your next project’s assumptions.
  • Initiate a process to track a project’s budget. At closeout, compare the “as-built” budget to the original budget assumptions.
  • If the PM knows you need certain information in the end, it can be logged along the way to support this process. It is MUCH harder and time consuming to work backward after a project is complete.
  • Perform post-occupancy reviews of your projects to capture lessons learned to improve your space programs and design standards. Include them as part of your contractual requirements of your project team so that they are required to help you capture these stories.


Third – refresh and right-size your “legacy” project budget models

  • I have seen many “legacy” projects get pushed back into the budget request process where the assumptions are taken as hard fact from when their budgets were first modeled.
  • The key word here is “modeled”—budgets attempt to model a reality of how you will eventually commit funds for different hard and soft costs. Realities change and thus you need to recalibrate your budgets each year:
  • Have square footage assumptions for particular uses changed (maybe even been reduced)?
  • What codes or requirements have changed?
  • What lessons learned can help better this project?
  • What was the original assumption for escalation?


Finally, ask yourself carefully about the level of stakeholder and community input received to date and what will be needed to confirm your scope, schedule, and budget for projects. If you have not had time yet to fully engage, step back and forecast what baseline items may shift after those discussions begin. Ensure you have the right contingencies in place to mitigate against those unknowns.

Good luck!

"The leadership and information from B&D, and the clarity with which they provide it, brings added credibility to the process and ensures that a range of university stakeholders, including senior leadership and our board, are fully informed for – and confident in – their required decision making.”

B.J. Crain, Former Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration
Texas Woman’s University

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