What strategies do you use for managing project progress? How do you face up to reality, especially when things go awry? Here are a few tips that I’ve acquired over the years.
Managing Project Progress
Tracking and managing project progress is crucial to project success. If you don’t do it you won’t know where you’re at or when you’re going to arrive at your destination.
Therefore, managing project progress needs both discipline and strong organisation skills. You need to be clear about what’s happening. And you need facts about project progress.
Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. – Henry Ford
Some project managers measure progress simply by asking the project team “How’s it going?” And of course they reply “Fine.” Is it heck! In my experience you have to see the completed deliverables. As I’ve said before, I prefer to report progress like this: not started, started, completed. What does 25% complete really mean?
It’s subjective and not likely to tell you whether the task will be completed on time. In other words, it’s a pretty meaningless bit of information.
So, get out of the office and meet the team.
Let them show you how they’re getting along. Build rapport when meeting people and make use of non-verbal communication to get what you want.
And if you can’t get out and about to see everyone hold a weekly* progress meeting. Review what was started or completed the previous week, what is scheduled to start or complete in the next period, and identify variance from the schedule plan. Do the same for scope and budget. Then cover off risks and issues before reviewing any actions and decisions. Now you can update your plan with confidence!
Scope and Quality
Anything produced by your project team can be checked, tested, measured or whatever. Therefore, always check quality against specification. Ask to see reports, test results, or a demonstration of the deliverable. If it’s not ready, has errors or doesn’t fit the product description you have something to report and something to correct!
Take this approach from the outset and use it to motivate the project team. Good managers know that people perform well when they are given specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) objectives. It’s no different in a project environment—even if you don’t directly management team members.
Costs can be calculated when a task or project is delivered. And if the task took longer than planned it’s a good indication of cost overruns.
Above all, make sure you have a system for capturing costs and commitments. Regardless of your organisation’s culture it is important to keep track of both actual spend and forecast costs.
Therefore record baseline, actual to date and forecast to completion for each stage. As with the schedule you should aim to plan in summary for the entire project and in detail for the next stage. Costs may be tracked by resource type and by product or task.
The Project Control Cycle is a process that we all follow. The cycle may last a day, a week, or longer depending on your attitude to risk, work, and time.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. – Frederick Douglass
Up till now I’ve focused on work done and measuring progress. Now you need to earn your keep! It’s all well and good to have a good understanding of where the project is now. However, this is a completely different ball game to understanding and interpreting information to make sure the future you want is more likely.
You need to act on the information you have collected to alter and control future performance. But how do you go about this? What do you do if a particular task is a week late? Or if it took twice as long to complete as estimated? If you ignore these signs you are failing to do your job properly! As project managers we need to learn from project progress in order to uncover potential problems. That is, translate facts into implications to identify new issues and risks.
Updating the Schedule Plan
Okay, so now you’re armed with lots of new information it’s time to formulate ideas, take corrective action, and to update the plan. What options are available? Well, it’s likely that much of your job is simply about managing a relatively minor problem: providing clarification, improving the way a task is tackled, or simply getting people to talk to one another.
However, it’s sometimes necessary to amend the plan because costs are overrun or time-scales have slipped. In these situations you have few choices to accommodate the issue
- Extend the end-date
- Spend more money
- Alter scope
Thus, your options are: to deliver late, over budget, with a reduced scope, or to scrap the project altogether. You have to propose a solution to the problems identified and seek approval from the project board (also see The Highlight Report.) Only then can you change the plan.
Communication Is Key
Finally, as part of your regular control cycle, tell anybody interested in your project that things have changed. Don’t overlook the fact that a change to your project may have a knock-on effect for other projects. Therefore publish your updated plan as soon as possible. That is, unless you can contain the changes within your immediate project team. In this case, update but do not publish.
First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak. – Epictetus
And remember, always escalate matters that are outside your sphere of control or authority. Never sit on problems as they rarely go away by themselves!