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Published on Thursday, December 13, 2018
A huge part of project management is tracking your project. It’s the only way to answer the question: “How is the project going?”
And you probably get asked that a lot! Your team needs to know, your project sponsor needs to know, the PMO will ask you for status updates at least on a monthly basis. Plus, as a project manager, it is your job to know how the project is going.
You can only answer if you have all the information about progress to hand, and that’s what you get when you track your project.
In this article, we’ll look at five ways you can track what is going on so that you can always answer that question! And the great news is that you have the mechanisms to do this already with the information on your project.
The first, and most common, way project managers track progress is to use a project schedule. It’s the document most frequently used for tracking and what most people think of when they think about tracking progress.
Use the project schedule to monitor progress. Look at what should have happened by a particular date and then compare that to what actually happened. If your project team members are updating the schedule regularly with actual hours worked or task status, then it will be even easier for you.
Tip: If you are going to track against your schedule, you need to have a good schedule to work from. Make sure yours is up-to-date and accurate, and created with the involvement of your project team.
A baseline is an agreed position on the project. Normally, we talk about baselines for schedules but they can apply to budgets (or anything else) too. Baselines are set at the beginning of the project. You can update or create a new baseline at any point.
Once you have a baseline, you can look back at it and compare the position you are in today against where you thought you would be at the time the baseline was saved.
You will probably be surprised at how many changes there have been! Changes aren’t always a bad thing, but the little shifts of schedule and budget can make a substantial difference to the project over time. It’s a good idea to take a new baseline after a large or significant change to the project – either time, cost, or scope. Share the new baseline with the team and project sponsor so you all know what the latest position is.
Tip: Take a baseline of your project schedule by saving a copy of the file and keeping it as an archive version (i.e. don’t make any changes to it) or by using the baseline feature in your project management scheduling tool.
We’ve touched on this above, but tracking progress against your project budget is also really important and a good way to keep on top of what is going on.
You can track how much you are spending against what you thought you would spend. Use a baseline of your budget so that you can compare actuals to your forecast. Record everything you spend as you go along, and that will make it easier to see the financial picture on your project whenever you need updated figures. Use a spreadsheet or your project management software to capture your budget figures, and work with your Finance team if you need support.
Tip: Project Sponsors are really interested in budgets! Track your spending by recording what expenses go out of the project so you can always keep them updated with the budget position.
You can also use your change log to track what is happening on the project. The change log is a document or spreadsheet that records all the changes to the project. Generally, changes relate to scope, and that has an implication for the timelines for delivery and the project’s budget, and sometimes the quality targets you had set.
The change log is important because often documents like a Project Charter become out of date quickly. As you move through the project, people change their minds about what they want or how they want it, and you need to accommodate that.
A quick scan through your change log shows you the changes that have been considered, approved and rejected. You’ll be able to see what impact these decisions have had on the project. Include the status of latest changes and their impact in your regular project reports.
Tip: Make sure your schedule and budget are updated every time a change is approved.
Your Work Breakdown Structure (also known as WBS) is a document that lists everything that will be done on the project. It’s “deliverable-orientated”. In other words, you use the WBS to create a hierarchical chart of the outputs from the project.
A WBS defines the whole scope of the project, so you can definitely use it for progress tracking. Use colors to highlight boxes on the WBS where deliverables are running late or over budget. As the WBS records what needs to happen on the project to a low level of detail, down to individual work packages, you’ve got a ready-made way of seeing the wheel project in one go. Plus you probably already have a WBS, as you may have used it to create your project schedule.
Tip: Make sure you keep your WBS up-to-date if anything changes on the project.
There are a lot of documents involved in project management, and many of them will help you accurately track progress. Use what you have already, so that you don’t have to create new tracking spreadsheets or mechanisms to record progress.
As you already work with the documents mentioned above, it should be easy enough to keep these up-to-date in real time. Then you will always be prepared to answer the question: “How is this project going?”
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