Information Gathering Methods on the Project

Posted by Brad Egeland

Project managers have a nearly non-stop task of gathering and distributing information on the project – and most of it centers around the current status of the project and outstanding tasks that have been assigned to team members or the customer.

The question is, how do you go about getting this kind of information? What processes and methods can you use? Among the most common ones are the following:

Internal team meetings

Holding consistent weekly internal team meetings with all of your project team members is an excellent way to not only share current project status with them and keep them apprised of the budget and timeline status, but also for you to get up-to-date progress information on each individual’s assigned tasks.  This is necessary input for the project status report and for the project status meeting and scheduling the internal team meeting 1-2 days prior to a formal customer meeting ensures that you will have the timely and accurate information you need for your project status.

Formal customer meetings

Weekly formal customer status meetings are a great way to both disseminate and gather project information.  Your team will provide more information during this session along with what you received during the internal team meeting, and you’ll likely get some useful project information from the customer.  Document it as an update to the status report and re-issue that to all participating parties to verify it’s accuracy.

Forms and Templates

A number of methods exist for gathering information. Among the most straightforward and reliable methods is simply to provide your team members with fill-in-the-blank forms and templates. If the forms and templates are designed properly, they should make life easier for team members and help to ensure that you get the type of information you need – in the form in which you need it – to maintain control.  Consider designing a WBS-based spreadsheet with spaces for providing input such as labor hours spent, current status, forecasted values, issues or problems, re-estimates of duration and cost, and so forth. You could also provide copies of the project schedule that team members can mark up as appropriate to provide information on current status. Even better, if you’re using a collaboration-enabled project management software tool, allow them to access and update information as you deem appropriate (it all depends on your comfort factor).  There are various possibilities for enabling your team members to give you information; whatever you choose, make sure you take the time and effort to make their lives (and yours) easier.

Adhoc discussions

I’m not fond of the term Management by Walking Around (MBWA) – possibly because it seems like it’s dated from the 80’s and possibly because it seems so cliché.  But it is what it is, even if I’m referring to it as adhoc discussions.  For effective project leadership it’s absolutely vital.  Maintaining control is often more than just recording information.  It’s assessing the motivational level of your team members, evaluating or confirming the accuracy or validity of the information you receive, and uncovering problems or issues that may not surface in a team setting. Sometimes, these things can be evaluated only by spending time with team members, one on one.  Face to face is better, but a good project manager can get a lot of information from his team members remotely if he’s an effective communicator and knows what cues to look for that may not come across as actual words.

Take the time and find ways to spend time with the individuals on your team or to be in contact with them through other means if you or they are remote. Join them in the break room or cafeteria or at lunch from time to time. Call them or seek them out, just to see how things are going. You may be surprised at what you learn.

Software and Systems Support

The information management component of gathering information varies widely from organization to organization. On some projects, project control documentation may be effectively managed through the use of pencil and paper. Others may make use of sophisticated, company-wide systems. The amount of software and systems support you use for your projects will depend on various factors in discussing the amount of planning you should do:

  • Project complexity
  • Project size
  • Organizational expectations
  • Organizational support (i.e., what the organization provides for you)

Many project managers find themselves somewhere in the middle of the continuum of software and systems support. They use one of the many standalone software packages, most of which have a respectable amount of processing capability, but still require manual data entry.

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