How do you track your projects? Maybe you have a list of the 5 most significant milestones on your project reports and track progress against them each month. Maybe you go for the ‘gut feel’ approach. You can be a bit more scientific with how you track progress on your project, and the best thing is that you don’t need anything special to get started. You already have these 5 project tracking tools at your disposal. You simply have to make sure you are using them to help you measure project progress.
#1: Project Schedule
Your project schedule is probably the first thing you think of when it comes to tracking project progress. It’s a great tool because it shows what you are doing and when, and it’s easy to understand. If you use a tracking Gantt view you can also see which tasks are completed or in progress.
Compare your project milestones to your actual project progress and you’ll see exactly how you are performing. Are you on time? A bit behind? The activity on your project schedule (assuming, of course, that you keep it up to date) can tell you a lot.
You’re probably familiar with project scheduling baselines – these are sometimes called ‘baseline Gantt’ or similar in project management software tools. But did you know that you can also baseline your project budget, scope, requirements and pretty much anything else that’s defined, approved and subject to change?
You can baseline, for example, your project requirements by taking the first fully approved, final version of your requirements documentation and saving that as your baseline. The document is updated as change requests are approved but you always have that original document to look back on. This gives you some great information for project tracking.
However, tracking your project against the baseline can give you a false picture of progress if you aren’t updating your schedule and other project information to show that changes have been incorporated. You can always take new baselines when significant changes have been signed off.
#3: Project Budget
Your project budget is another typical way of tracking progress. Compare predicted spend to actual spend and you can see if your expenses are happening faster or slower than you expected – and if the amounts per item or per category are broadly on target.
A budget baseline can be really helpful when you want to find out how your project finances have evolved over time. You can refer back to the baseline to see what amounts were originally approved and then compare that with your actual budget to see how things have changed. It’s a lot easier than going through all your change requests and piecing together the new picture.
#4: Earned Value Management
Combine your budget and schedule together and what do you get? EVM! OK, that’s a bit simplistic, but EVM can be applied to most projects, however small, and it is an incredibly useful tool for assessing project progress. It’s a good way to predict future performance too, so if your measures are showing you that progress to date hasn’t been that great, you can at least look ahead and make changes to your schedule based on what is realistically achievable.
#5: Resource Allocations
Resource allocations are another good way to track your project. These show you who has been allocated to what and when they are scheduled to do their tasks. The greatest value comes from assessing resource plans over the life of the project so far. This can show you how accurate your estimates were – if your project team members consistently deliver late or take more hours than planned to work on a task you can conclude that your estimates weren’t as smart as they could have been.
You can also use resource allocation reports from your enterprise project management software to make tweaks to your schedule and budget for the planned work still to come. Check, for example, if anyone is over allocated. This means they have more work to do than time to do it and they literally won’t be able to get everything done.
Tracking the status of the workload allocated to your resources can help you avoid bottlenecks and burnout, as well as low morale in those team members who are sitting around waiting for the next task to come their way.
Project tracking is one of the things that project managers spend a lot of time on, so the more you can automate and standardize the easier it will be for you. All of these tools mentioned here could be used to create standard reports so you don’t have to go digging through the data every month.
You can probably think of yet more ways to track progress on your project – stakeholder satisfaction measures, quality targets, and others – so one of the big challenges is working out what measures are the most relevant to you! Then create your standard metrics and track progress against your targets using what you have defined. You can use whatever makes sense for you, as long as you keep it consistent throughout the project so that everyone knows what is being discussed when you talk about tracking and progress.