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  • Writer's pictureBrian Davidson, PMP, CSM

How Inflation Can Occur Within Projects


In today's fast-paced and economically uncertain environment, business agility and fiscal prudence often dictate the competitive landscape. Organizations endowed with substantial financial resources face a unique challenge: managing project cost inflation. This article delves deeper into the nuances of project budget management in financially robust companies, exploring sophisticated strategies to harness extensive resources without succumbing to unnecessary expenditures. We will examine how psychological comfort from large financial buffers can lead to less stringent financial controls and discuss approaches to maintain budget discipline without stifling innovation.

Part 1: Understanding Project Cost Inflation

Project cost inflation occurs when the expenses associated with a project exceed initial estimates, often ballooning to levels that can jeopardize its return on investment. In organizations with ample financial backing, the propensity to allocate excessive funds to projects can be high. This tendency is not merely a matter of financial mismanagement but is deeply rooted in the psychological comfort that large reserves engender. Corporate culture often plays a role, as companies with more resources might prioritize speed or prestige over cost efficiency, believing that financial cushioning can absorb inefficiencies. Decision-makers may feel less compelled to tightly control spending, leading to budgetary complacency that could inflate project costs unnecessarily.

Part 2: The Impact of Financial Abundance

When companies operate with the safety net of substantial financial resources, project budgets can inflate as stakeholders indulge in top-tier technologies, high-cost consultants, and feature creep—adding unnecessary features based on the assumption that ‘more is better’. This scenario is particularly common in tech-oriented industries where the rapid pace of technological advancements can blur the line between necessary innovation and lavish expenditure. Furthermore, the psychological impact of having abundant resources can lead teams to make decisions that prioritize impressiveness or novelty over practical functionality and cost-efficiency. This often results in projects that are over-engineered, loaded with unnecessary features that complicate the product and inflate the budget.

Part 3: Principles of Lean Project Management

The Lean Startup methodology, pioneered by Eric Ries, advocates for a systematic, scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in an age where companies need to innovate more than ever. At the heart of this methodology is the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), which emphasizes the importance of learning and agility over elaborate planning and design. This principle is not only applicable to startups but also to established companies looking to launch new projects without excessive upfront investment. Implementing lean principles encourages companies to focus on what truly adds value to customers, reducing wasteful spending and preventing project cost inflation from the outset.

Part 4: Case Study - Building a Web Application

Consider a hypothetical scenario where a corporation allocates several million dollars to develop a new web application. The executive vision might initially lead to a feature-rich, high-cost product roadmap. However, by adopting the MVP approach, the company can focus on developing a basic version of the application that meets core user needs without the bells and whistles. This strategy significantly cuts down costs and allows for real user feedback, which is invaluable. By testing the product early in the market, the company can make informed decisions about which features are necessary and which are superfluous, thus avoiding the common trap of building something far more expensive than what the market actually requires.

Part 5: Implementing Frugal Innovation

Frugal innovation involves doing more with less. In the context of the MVP, this means identifying the most critical features needed to satisfy early adopters and postponing additional features until after gaining valuable user insights. This approach not only conserves financial resources but also aligns product development with actual market needs, enhancing the likelihood of success. Frugal innovation is not about cutting corners; rather, it's about smart allocation of resources and focusing on building a product that customers truly want and will use. This strategic focus helps in minimizing waste and reallocating resources towards making iterative improvements based on solid data and customer feedback.


Embracing a lean approach to project management allows organizations with abundant financial resources to avoid the pitfalls of project cost inflation. By focusing on creating value through strategic spending and resource allocation, companies can ensure that their projects not only meet intended goals but also contribute to a sustainable business model. The philosophy of frugality and strategic foresight should guide your organization towards more disciplined and rewarding project outcomes. In an age of technological abundance and rapid innovation, maintaining a clear focus on essential features and customer needs can prevent wasteful spending and lead to more successful and financially viable projects.


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