Monitoring some projects is like herding cats; as soon as you get one piece pointed in the right direction, the others will find some new mischief to get in to. Still, you do have to monitor your projects in order to manage them. Tracking progress on a project should be a regular part of you daily routine, even if you have other duties that require your attention. Below are the things that should be check on regularly.
At the most fundamental level, you need to track the differences between what was planned and what is actually happening. This includes whether start and finish dates for activities are being met; how cost estimates are working out in reality; whether planned resource requirements are matching actual utilization; and, whether the expected outputs are being created. This may seem a bit self-evident but I have seen project after project slide further and further behind schedule solely due to a lack of effective monitoring of these most basic elements.
Regardless of the monitoring process you choose to use face-to-face meetings, e-mail, written reports, periodic groups meetings, etc., you, as the project leader, have the responsibility of tracking the project. If you are not receiving the information you need, you must go and get it. Setting a clear expectation for progress and status reporting at the beginning of the project is an important step in keeping a project under control. However, if you set an expectation, for example, that status reports are to be submitted weekly, you must follow-up on it. If someone has not submitted a report by the deadline, you must contact them and get it. You can't very well make decisions about what should be done when the project gets off track if you don't know it's off track.
Monitoring the technical aspects of a project is usually where the energy is focused. Most project leaders, particularly inside organizations, are first and foremost, technical experts. In many cases, their technical expertise not their project management skills -- is why they were given the project in the first place. However, if all the attention is placed on technical measurement, there is a strong likelihood that the things that will cause problems in the project will be team and interpersonal issues. I have never seen a project team "blow up" over a technical problem. Some projects fail due to insurmountable technical problems. Project teams fail over interpersonal issues. So, in addition to the monitoring those nice clean technical tasks, you must also keep an eye on the "health and welfare" of the team working on the project.
And, while we're on the subject of difficult-to-measure items, there is always the issue of monitoring the status of your project in light of every other project that your company is undertaking at the same time. Shifting priorities plague virtually every project. Keeping a "weather eye" on the changing priorities in your environment can warn you of impending problems in time to prepare for them.
Project monitoring is a process. It needs to be done constantly and consistently. Set the pattern at the outset of your projects. Plan how you will monitor progress right along with how you will accomplish the work. Set the process in motion and keep it moving from the beginning.
Jeff Crow is a Portland, Oregon
consultant and trainer. He conducts seminars and
workshops on project management and organizational
development for corporations and through the Professional
Development Center at Portland State University.
Find out about Jeff's on-site workshops.
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