“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
– Peter Drucker
Monitoring Project Progress sounds simple. However, many experienced project managers fail to do it correctly.
They focus on budget and schedule most of the time. While problems appear and accumulate in other aspects of a project.
Though I believe it is not rocket science. With a correct approach to monitoring the progress, you can increase the success rate of your project. You will be able to discover and correct all the issues proactively.
That is the focus of today’s article. I will show you how to make it practical and simple.
What is Project Monitoring?
It includes all the efforts and activities to collect and analyze project performance data.
But let’s dive a bit deeper.
Performance Data is all the raw data generated by the project team in the process of executing the project plan. For example, actual costs, finished work packages, defects found, time spent, vacation days used, etc.
Out of context, this data means nothing. You cannot make a decision based on it.
Performance Information is the data in the context of your project plan, project baselines, estimates, etc. In general, it is performance data compared with planned values. It is enough to tell if there is a deviation but not enough to warrant a change request.
Performance Report is the information analyzed and compiled in a form that helps you to make educated decisions. Earned Value Management chart makes an excellent example of a performance report tool.
Here is the goal of monitoring efforts in these terms:
Establish processes that will help you collect the correct data that can be converted into useful reports.
Prepare for Monitoring Project Progress
You know the saying by Dr. Deming:
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
For me, it has another level:
“If you had not planned it, you can’t measure it.”
How can you plan the required measurements?
I will describe possible options later below. Right now, here is an important question:
What metrics are crucial for your project? Just because you can collect data doesn’t mean you need to do that. Moreover, it doesn’t imply that it will be useful for decision-making in the long run.
Here are four aspects of data you need to consider first of all:
1. It Should be Cheap and Effortless to Get
There is little value in data that requires hours to collect and process.
If you don’t have integrated software – simplify monitoring processes. The best case is when data collection is built-in into the workflow. For example, like it is in Atlassian JIRA, Microsoft VSTS, or any other task tracker.
2. Track Progress Continuously
You need to be able to collect the same data in the same format during the whole lifetime of a project. Otherwise, it may require lots of effort to interpret and process the data.
3. How Can You Interpret the Data
It is apparent to collect and interpret actual costs, time spent, and finished deliverables. But what should you do with stakeholder engagement, quality, and efficiency of risk response plans?
4. Can You Set Thresholds that Communicate Problems?
Can you identify a deviation that will signal that you need to take action? If not, consider the efforts you need to spend to interpret the raw information derived from the data.
The critical takeaway is that you need to think ahead to understand how to collect, how to use, and how to interpret the data you have.
What Should You Monitor?
As I said, time and money spent speak for themselves. You can compare the actual versus planned values. It is simple.
However, I believe that it cannot help you solve the root cause of deviations.
So, what else can you monitor?
There are way too many metrics, in fact. I cannot list them all here. Here are just some that I consider valuable:
Scope Creep will show the amount of work you missed during planning.
But it should be only an indicator of a more significant metric:
Quality of Requirements may show you how much scope creep you need to anticipate. It is a qualitative metric that indicates whether the collected requirements are sufficient to define 100% of the scope.
Percentage of Accepted Deliverables can show your true progress. You know, you can have all deliverables 80% finished. But they are worth nothing to stakeholders in that state.
Efficiency of Risk Response Plans will communicate whether a response plan addresses the risk in an efficient way and within the limits of dedicated reserves.
Remaining Management Reserves can tell how many uncertainties and unknown risks you can absorb before impacting the project plan.
Level of Engagement will help you if you strategically manage stakeholders. You know their current level of engagement (and interest, authority levels). You also planned where you need to move each stakeholder’s attitude towards the project.
Conflicts usually help you to track trends in the behaviors of selected stakeholders. You might discover exciting interactions and dependencies between them.
Satisfaction is essential when your organization provides services. It will help you manage your project in a way that ensures prolonged business relations with customers.
Expectations will safeguard your project from failing at the finish line.
Security is always important. You need to monitor how secure the information flows between the project team and other stakeholders are.
Cost of a Decision is the monetary value of a decision you need to make at a meeting or by any other facilitation technique. Just sum up the salary rates of all participants and multiply by the time you spent to make a decision.
Among numerous quality metrics that you can collect, I usually focus on the following two:
Defects by Categories shows the areas of the project that require more of your attention.
Defects reported after hand-off shows the overall strength of your quality assurance efforts.
Quality Assurance team should collect way more than that. However, it is a matter of your Quality Management approach.
Issue Log is a chronological list of conflicts that you had with project team members and other stakeholders. It helps to connect seemingly unrelated events and define patterns in behavior. Also, it ensures that you don’t have unresolved conflicts.
Personal Development Progress for every person on your project team. It will show you whether your people are interested in getting better, taking on new responsibilities, etc. Moreover, it is a secondary metric for the overall happiness and motivation of the team.
Skills Star Map is a chart showing the skills and experience in different areas relevant to your project. You can also use it to track the progress of the team’s development.
Again there are so many metrics related to Human Resource Management. But it doesn’t mean that you, as a manager, need to monitor them all.
Delegate the majority to the HR department.
Project Monitoring Tools and Techniques
So, how does it all happen?
As I mentioned above, you need a cheap and effortless way to collect all this data. It should be in a format that you can efficiently process and relate to project plan.
I would limit it to the following techniques:
Collect First-Hand Information
Daily Scrum Meeting is an excellent example of a first-hand information collection.
Why is it so popular and powerful?
It is simple, and it has a strict format of information:
- What I did yesterday.
- What I’m going to do today.
- The problems I experience.
It might not be enough to monitor project progress. But sufficient to start digging deeper after it.
Aggregate Formal Reports
No one likes reports. Especially internal reporting to collect data.
Nevertheless, you can make it effortless and valuable.
If you end up with absolutely no shared task-tracking system, you can track everything in emails and spreadsheets.
Here is a possible format:
Initial Estimate: 10h
Time spent: 6h <- This field shows commutative time spent.
Remaining Estimate: 1h <- Notice that this field shows a revised estimate to finish the task.
On larger projects, it will be overwhelming and micromanagement. However, on a smaller one, it works like a charm.
You can then use this data to update master plans and take corrective actions if needed.
Make Use of a Work Breakdown Structure
If you use a WBS (and you should), you already have a structured reporting system. Literally, everything can be tied to a Work Package or a Delivery.
Integrated Reporting and Humans
Nowadays, I hardly believe in efficient project management without JIRA, VSTS, MS Project, or any other tool. They have built-in features that help collect and analyze project performance data.
But there is a catch.
There is a human factor here. People have to input actual data into the system. However, there are so many reasons they won’t do that regularly.
So even with powerful software, you can fail to monitor project progress.
You got the point.
You will need compelling reasons for the project team to track progress accurately and regularly.
What about Earned Value Management, Milestone Management, and other tools? These are more of a “Controlling” part. It’s just another topic. Each of them.
For now, you need to get clear on what data you can consistently get. Only then you can select proper tools to control the project.