What’s a budget?

It’s that time of year again… kids are back in school, days are getting shorter, the Red Sox are saying “wait ’til next year”… and it’s budget-season time! For many of our clients on a calendar-year fiscal year, October is when IT budgets are put together for the following year. However, what exactly is a budget?

Unfortunately, quite often a budget is a made up, arbitrary number. In some cases, the budget number was simply a placeholder submitted without research or planning. In other cases, it’s based on management’s willingness to pay up to a certain threshold. In either circumstance, quite often the results of the subsequent project fail to meet expectations.

Back when I bought my first house, I bought my first gas grill. I remember standing in Caldor (yes, that’s how old I am) debating between a $139 Char-Broil and a $199 Weber (that price being yet another sign of my age). The Weber was “out of my budget”, so I bought the Char-Broil. Within five years, the hood was cracked and broken from the body of the grill, the burners had already been replaced once and were due again, and the handle had broken off. I went back and bought a Weber, and that grill is still siting on my back porch to this day.

When the cost to meet expectations of a project require a $30,000 budget, but management only allows a $20,000 budget, vendors are often asked to “sharpen pencils”. However, sharpening pencils leads to cutting corners, and cutting corners means leaving something out that would ordinarily be necessary to achieve the goals of the project. When something necessary is left out, the results achieved will often fall short of expectations, and as a result, the client gets what they paid for, but not what they wanted or needed.

With projects, as with gas grills, there are several old sayings that should govern the final purchasing process: 1) You get what you pay for, 2) If you buy quality, you only cry once, and 3) If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.