How to Resolve Project Budget Conflicts so Everyone Wins

Ron Ause Mar 4, 2016 2 min read


Resolving conflicts requires a careful approach and a few key strategies. Keeping a cool head should be first and foremost: you can’t take on a hot situation if you’re not thinking coolly and clearly. It also helps to have some diplomacy skills, and hopefully a bit of reasoning to go along with them.

But while these character traits are good, they are not the only things that you might need when you encounter budget conflicts. Don’t forget to also consider these important strategies for resolving project budget conflicts.

Find the sweet spot for every line item

While working with a project budget - or even budgets for multiple projects - you need to be able to predict what your needs might be, before they arise. If you spend too little in a specific area, you can earn a reputation as a spendthrift and lose some loyalty. On the other hand, by spending more than might be necessary, you run the risk of going over budget and incurring the wrath of a superior.

How to find the sweet spot? It’s easier than you might think. Look at your project history. Find projects that are similar in scope to the current one, and examine the spending. See if there were areas that could be cut back, and adjust the budget accordingly. Otherwise, follow the spending pattern.

If you can predict what you will require for the project ahead of when the money needs to be disbursed, you can avoid over or under-spending situations. When you rely on previous project budgets and spending for decision making, you have a pretty infallible paper trail that will back up your decision.

Have your budget written out in detail

Have a documented reasoning for your budget amount, and you will have something to fall back on when someone does raise an issue with it. Just like with using a past project as a guide, this can shore up the reasoning behind why you chose to spend more or less on a particular portion of the project. It can also bring to light why it would be necessary to have more available funds for the project.

Don’t just write out the budget amounts and line items. Make copious notes and leave no detail unwritten. If you do have a budget conflict, it will be much easier to solve if you can point to a paragraph on your budget that was put together well in advance of the argument.

Ask for complete input

If you are faced with a budget conflict that wasn’t resolved by the first two methods, then it’s time to get a little creative. Ask whoever is raising the conflict to join forces with you. You want to resolve the budget conflict, but you’ll need his or her help in the matter. When you’ve got a clearly defined budget, and have the reasoning written out for defining the budget amounts, this can be a learning situation for everyone.

Regardless of the outcome, this input process can be a positive experience. If you are able to combine heads and find a way to move funds around, that’s great; you’ve resolved the issue that was causing the conflict, you’re staying within budget constraints, and everyone is happy. If you cannot move around funds, it will be very clear as to why the budget is set up the way that you’ve arranged it. The budget is small and everyone is tightening the proverbial belt to make it until the completion of the project. Most importantly, everyone will be on the same page.

This input can come in a few different forms. The easiest method would be to just sit down immediately and start poring over your well-organized budget. But, if that doesn’t drive the point home, perhaps a well-penned email with the budget attached asking for a double-check of your figures would be an effective and subtle hint.

Above all, remember that budget discussions can be tense and difficult but your team should be driven by a shared desire for success and a commitment to resolving any conflicts as smoothly as possible.


About The Author

Ron Ause

Ron Ause

Ron began a career in the software industry at 13, while working with his father. He's become an expert in job cost and project management for creative teams.


Run better projects

Sign up for our free project management resources.

Get all our templates, tips, and fresh content so you can run effective, profitable, low-stress projects in your agency or team.