Project Sponsors are well known for their habit of turning up at your desk unannounced and asking how things are going. “How’s the budget?” they may ask, or, “Do we need any more help from Marketing?”
Project managers can’t answer these questions without knowing one piece of information: the status of how things are today. If you don’t know the current situation, you can’t comment on whether the project is in budget or forecasting to go overspent. If you don’t know the current situation, you can’t assess whether Marketing is giving you all the support you need.
Everything starts with knowing the position of the project as of today, and if the information is available in real time, then that is even better. Status is more than just Red, Amber or Green (RAG), but that’s a good place to start.
UK project managers are familiar with the traffic light grading of projects in the form of RAG. While the thresholds for the color bands will depend on the limits set by your own project management office, the concepts are the same wherever you go.
Red projects are those that need significant management intervention. Amber projects are potentially off course but could be brought back on course with no major impact to the end date, and Green projects are progressing to plan. Some project management offices include Blue in their color scale, which corresponds to closed projects and gives the acronym BRAG.
A traffic light grade is one way to tell the status of the project, but project managers need a far more detailed assessment of project status to be able to make management decisions or make sense of those random questions from Sponsors.
Use Your Tools
Enterprise project management tools, when set up and managed properly, can give project teams access to a lot of data that accurately reflects project status. Data in enterprise project management tools like Primavera P6 is only as good, of course, as the people who enter it, so encourage your project teams to:
- Keep their entries up to date and relevant.
- Record time and effort regularly and accurately.
- Ensure expenditure is tracked appropriately as soon as it is incurred.
Set a good example by ensuring that any data you enter into the system is accurate and timely. It is also worth explaining how the data is used – there is nothing more likely to stop people from bothering to update entries in an application than believing that no one does anything with the information once it has been entered. Taking the time to explain to the team how their data impacts future project planning activities will make sure that they know exactly why they need to keep up their end of the bargain and make time to record the status of their tasks effectively.
There are other ways to gather status information. MBWA, for example. That’s Management By Walking Around, and it relies on the project manager stopping by the desks of the team members and informally chatting about how things are going. This is actually a very effective way to uncover issues or problems in the team, both with how team members are working and with what they are working on. The output – conversations – is by nature very unstructured, so if you wish to record the output from MBWA you’ll have to find a convenient way to capture it.
Asking for weekly reports is another alternative, especially if team members don’t have access to the enterprise project management tool and you as project manager or a member of the PMO is making the updates on their behalf. Try to get weekly reports on any day except Friday, as Friday afternoons seem to fill up remarkably quickly every week and reporting is one of the things that people are likely to forget to do in their efforts to clear their inbox’s and get home for the weekend.
However you gather status information – from reports, a software tool or by talking to your team members – the most important thing is that you do gather it. If you don’t know the status of the project, none of your other management decisions will make any sense. Project managers need accurate information about status in order to choose the best course of action for the project. And to be able to answer the Project Sponsor’s questions when he or she turns up at your desk.