Thursday 3 February 2022

Monitoring and control of project progress

Project Monitoring

This article is a continuation of our long article on project management. To start reading again, please follow this link.

When work on your project has begun, you need to know what was done, what was left to do, how long it took, and how much it cost. This way, you'll be able to see if your project is moving according to plan.

How to collect data

The data required depends on what the customer and other stakeholders think is important. Since the project schedule and budget usually top the list, information on actual days, time worked and finances spent is not provided.

First, find out when tasks actually start. Completing a task may take the time you calculated, but if it starts two weeks late, it can still delay the completion of your project.

Second, determine the actual working hours or, in some cases, the actual duration. Accounting for hours worked will give you a complete picture of the progress of the task and the labor costs associated with the work.

Third, ask yourself how much work is still left and how long it lasts. These values tell you how long the task will take to complete, as well as whether your initial assessment is in line with the target.
Finally, find out what other actual costs were incurred in connection with the project, such as transportation costs and training.

If possible, set up an automatic way to get the necessary task data, such as by email, web form, or enterprise-wide project reporting tool. Gathering data about what's going on in your project is crucial. This data tells you where your project is located and whether you need to make any adjustments to the course to get your project back on track.

Project Change Management

During planning, you've created plans to manage communications, change, and quality. Now that the project is underway, it's time to bring those plans to life.

For starters, you and your team move communication from plan to action. Everyone creates and sends information, and retrieves and stores any incoming information, all according to plan. And while you're communicating, don't forget that you also need to implement an stakeholder management plan to support the project.

Project control

Let's talk about reports. For example, the usual status reports are sent once a week. These usually include what happened, the work that was planned, the work that was completed, and the work that didn't go according to plan. Specify any deviations and how to correct them. In addition, indicate the problems, as well as the steps you plan to take to solve them. Finally, compile and distribute achievement reports for this week.

For the project management team, you can prepare a summary report on its status. That way, they'll be able to focus on the big picture of the project. If they ask for details, you can compile additional reports.

Dashboards display information graphically and make it easier to see what's happening with a project. For example, you can mark progress or performance with stop lights. The green color says that everything is fine. Yellow indicates a slight deviation, and red indicates a more serious problem.

During the messaging process, you need to monitor how it all works. Are stakeholders getting the right information when they need it, and are best practices being used? If it's not, change the communication plan to reflect what they want.

Now for change management. When you receive change requests, follow the instructions in your change management plan to determine whether to add them to your project. You add each change request to the change request log that you create so that you can track the request, whether it was rejected by the change review committee or approved and added to the project.

Also, if the added change requests affect the schedule and/or cost, update the baseline to reflect those adjustments. Therefore, change requests do not create discrepancies between the plan and actual performance.

You also perform activities to measure quality and assess the level of quality provided by your project. As you indicated in the quality management plan, if the quality is not at the required level, figure out how to improve it. Even if you get the proper quality, review your processes, as there is always the possibility to achieve the appropriate quality with less effort and cost.

Remember that managing communications, change, and quality is not a one-time effort. As the project progresses, continuously monitor communication, track change requests, and measure quality. If you are aware of all this, you will be able to implement your project more successfully and with less drama.

Project Schedule Management

You should look at the project schedule from different angles to identify problems and decide what to do with them. First, compare the current schedule with your baseline. A simple Gantt chart will help you see if you're ahead of schedule, lagging behind, or on schedule. For example, you can show your baseline schedule with stripes of one color and your current schedule with a different color. Variance values, on the other hand, tell you the exact difference between your baseline and your current schedule.

Gantt chart

Identifying problematic tasks helps determine where you need to make changes so you don't disrupt the schedule. If you're using a scheduling program, there are often filters and presets that provide early warnings about delays. For example, unfinished tasks that run late, tasks that should have started but didn't finish, or tasks that didn't complete as much work as planned.

By managing your schedule, you'll also spend time managing the resources and all the contracts you've signed up to get them. For example, it is possible that a resource will not be available on the day when its task should begin, which can lead to various kinds of penalties from the resource provider.

Studying the project implementation schedule will help you see if your project has problems and identify possible solutions, if so.

Track project costs

When your team is working on their tasks, you need to keep track of rising costs to ensure that the project doesn't go over budget. It's important to know the cost information your organization cares about. This way, you'll know what day to collect and how to communicate financial information.

Ask the project sponsor or someone in the finance department how your organization's financial statements work. You also need to know the level of detail to track costs and this usually depends on the culture and focus of your organization. If the contracts are part of your project, whether they are contracts with a customer or with suppliers, then the type of contract can determine the level of detail that needs to be monitored.

For example, with time and materials contracts, you need to get detailed information about labor and material costs to attract customers. On the other hand, fixed-price contracts may not track costs in as much detail, but you still need the total cost to determine the profit on the contract.

How your organization tracks employee time is another factor in tracking project costs. Some companies track hours of operation in great detail, which makes sense when hourly work is astronomically high. In other companies, the salary of employees is considered as the cost of doing business.

The team tracks the progress of the project

Once you've gathered the cost information, you need to put it on a budget and take action if costs go beyond the pale. For example, if the project budget exceeds, you need to find out why this is the case. Perhaps a volume of work has been added, the work is progressing faster than you planned, entails more expenses or people spend more time on tasks. Whatever the cause, once you know it, you'll be able to find a solution to the problem.

Project cost is one of the top three constraints you have to deal with as a project manager. So it's very important to manage costs well.

Project scope

The scope, schedule, and cost of the project are inextricably linked, but the volume tends to grow as stakeholders ask you to add one or the other. The problem is that they're not as keen on increasing the budget or lengthening the schedule to adjust to the new volume, so managing scale is critical to keeping your project running. Volume may change for other reasons. For example, the scope of activity could not be clearly defined in advance.

The best way to prevent the sprawl of work is to clearly define the scope when planning. But what can you do if the planning is complete and the volume is expanding?

For starters, reset unrealistic expectations. If a customer requests features that are clearly out of scope, refer to the volume description and politely decline. Or offer to discuss the schedule and budget changes needed to increase the scope of the project.

Also make sure that the customer and your team understand that undocumented unofficial changes are unacceptable. Reset their expectations so that future requests go through the change management process. If the scope was not clearly defined from the beginning, work with the customer to review the volume for greater clarity.

If the customer really doesn't know what they want, consider switching to an iterative approach to the project. That way, you'll have multiple opportunities to get feedback from the customer and agree on the volume over time. Volume management is the key to project success.

Risk monitoring and control

When you developed your risk management plan, you identified the risks that need to be monitored and the response measures you will use to eliminate them (we wrote about this in one of the previous parts). Now that the project is in the implementation stage, you must carefully monitor that the risks become a reality. If this happens, then you proceed to retaliate.

Project Risk Management

In the Risk Management Plan, each risk you choose to monitor is assigned an owner. The job of this person is to monitor the risk assigned to him and regularly update his status. Let's take a closer look at what risk means.

Implement proactive risk responses. This means that you take steps to avoid, mitigate, reschedule, or plan for contingencies for risk before it occurs.
Watch for signs of high-priority risks. Also keep an eye out for events that trigger an emergency plan. If there is a risk, start reacting according to your plan. Then follow the results of the response.

Regularly report on the status of risks and update the risk log and details, i.e. increase or decrease the probability of risk or impact in the event of a change in the situation. Sometimes the risks disappear as the project progresses, and you can cross them out of your plan.

Do not forget about lower priority risks. Changes to a project can increase their likelihood or impact. As a project team, check them from time to time to see if they need to be tracked. Also keep an eye out for possible new risks that have arisen due to changes in the project.

Earned Value Analysis

Earned value analysis (EVA) allows you to assess how the baseline execution plan relates to actual timesheet and cost performance. In other words, how a project gains value by doing the work. This analysis is useful because the main indicators of the project can be deceptive.

Suppose that 50% of the work calculated in your project is done and 50% of the budget is spent. Everything seems to be going well. However, if only 25% of the work is done, then a problem arises. You have to complete 75% of the work, but with only 50% of the time and 50% of the funds remaining.

A earned volume analysis can reveal similar problems because it looks at work and costs relative to time. It looks at your schedule and budget in monetary terms. This means that you see all aspects of your project's performance in one block. Of course, costs are already listed in monetary terms, but you also measure work in monetary terms, counting how much human labor costs.

The earned value analysis is based on three dimensions:

First, you measure the planned cost. This is how much you plan to spend to complete work scheduled before a certain date. This is also called the budget cost of the planned work. Suppose you estimate that you will spend 50,000 dollars to work on a task until January 12. The planned cost is 50,000 dollars.
Second, the value earned is the amount of money you earned by doing the work. It is also called the budget value of the work performed. If the planned labor costs for the hours that your team worked until January 12 are 30,000 dollars, the earned cost is 30,000 dollars.
The third key indicator is the actual cost of the work performed. 

For example, suppose you needed to enter a more expensive resource, so the labor costs are actually 35,000 dollars. This is your real value.

By looking at these values on the chart, it's easy to see if your project fits the schedule and budget. Here's how you read the earned-out graph:

  • First, the time is on the horizontal axis, and the cost is on the vertical axis.
  • Secondly, you want the mastered cost to exceed the planned one. This means that you've done more work than you planned. In other words, the task or project is ahead of schedule. In this example, the mastered cost is lower than the planned cost, so this project is behind schedule.
  • Third, you want to see the actual cost below the spent cost. This means that you actually spent less on the work done than you expected. In this project, the actual cost exceeds the spent cost, so the project also exceeds the budget.

If you're interested in using mastered value metrics in your projects, you can explore this tool in more detail.

Measuring progress

Here we will talk about how to evaluate and implement your ideas when your project is off course. First, consider solutions you can use. That way, you can continue making changes without asking for permission.

For example, if you shuffle task assignments to complete work faster or at a lower cost, you won't affect anyone outside the project. Then, if you don't have enough authority, ask for stakeholder approvals. Options such as lengthening the schedule, increasing the budget, or reducing the volume usually require approval from the client, stakeholders, or management team.

If you ask for approval, be prepared to submit one or more recommendations along with the pros and cons of each. You should also be prepared to answer questions about the solution you recommend and other solutions you've considered but excluded.

Finally, if your organization manages a portfolio of projects, you may need to go beyond the stakeholders of the project. For example, if you need people from other projects or funds from contingency funds, you'll probably need to reach out to management to ask for the people or financial assistance you need.

No matter how well you manage your projects, they go astray from time to time. Don't panic. By assessing your capabilities and effectively seeking help, you will be able to get the support you need. If the project has serious problems, more drastic measures are required.

Problem solving as the project progresses

Problem solving and decision-making are very similar. If you think about it, most of the decisions you make as a project manager are primarily about how you're going to solve the problem or prevent it. Here are some tips to help make solving problems easier.

First, focus on what's important. Decision-making processes and problem-solving may require time and information that may be lacking. Learn to ignore what doesn't matter, no matter how urgent it seems. If a problem arises, ask yourself if it's important. If it's not, ignore it.

Second, when developing a problem statement for a project, make sure you understand what it is.

Third, assess the impact of issues and identify priorities that have the greatest impact on the project. Also, think carefully about solving problems that have significant and long-term implications for the project. For complex and/or important issues, evaluate your options, as with the project strategy. Even in the case of serious problems, do not ignore the option of inaction.

Finally, ask for help if you need it. Working with others will help identify options you wouldn't think of and help you choose the best alternative.

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