A key activity of project management is highlighting problems and issues early in the process and taking appropriate action. The earlier the action, the less likely the project is to suffer. To do this, you need to gather, analyze, and track data and create reports.
At project initiation, you and your project team need to agree on how to measure progress and successful delivery. Figure out who will be in your data loop and how often you will update them. Document these decisions in a communication plan and summarize them the Project Initiation Report (PIR). Throughout the life cycle of your project, you can use the data you gather to maintain communication and track progress.
Objectives of gathering project performance data
To bring your project in on time, on budget, and at the required level of quality, you need to monitor progress and control resources. Reporting and reviewing progress ensure that tasks proceed according to plan. When you gather information on your project status and review it frequently, any deviations become apparent quickly. You can then investigate and take necessary corrective action before deviations become project-stopping problems.
Best practices in gathering project performance data
The interdependencies of time, cost, and quality help you measure success. Referring to all three of these factors helps you keep your reports in context. For example, reporting how much money has been spent on a project without including the context of time spent and quality delivered only tells part of the story.
Gathering project data helps you control your project and report your progress in meaningful ways. Having recent, complete data available to your project team, sponsor, and management helps them know that the project is on track. Thorough, updated reports also help you and your team make and justify business decisions. While you might need to focus on detailed data to manage the project, the rest of your organization is more interested in what you've delivered and where or how your plan has adapted to necessary changes over time. Your initial plan needs to agree on milestones, when they occur, and when and how to report certain, key details to all interested stakeholders. Comparing measurements, milestones, and deliverables to original projected dates or resources creates a simple yardstick for measuring progress, change, and success.
Typical project measurements include:
- Tracking the timeline against milestones Use a custom Project Guide and project-scheduling tool such as Microsoft Office Project Professional 2003 to track tasks, milestones, and work packages over time against your original projected dates. By using this information, you can create reports and views showing current status and deviations from your timeline. A Project Time Performance Tracking Report can help you track and present this information to your stakeholders.
- Tracking the amount of effort and cost expended in resources Once again, a project-scheduling tool such as Project makes this task easier. In this case, assign resources to the tasks at the start of the project, and then add the actual resource value used to complete the task. You can create reports and views that show the current status of a project and any deviations from your original projections. This information can be presented in terms of value to your organization through quality and successful delivery in an Earned Value Analysis.
- Quality of deliverables The quality of deliverables is decided and documented in your initial plan and PIR. Compare actual deliverables against your projected deliverable specification. Typical measurements look at the increasing or decreasing trends in the number of changes or revisions. These trends can then be compared with the timeline to predict whether the quality meets requirements for final delivery. Use a Forecasting Report and a Variance Report to help you with this task.
- Dependencies Dependencies occur when several different groups or functions rely on each other for input before they can begin or complete tasks. You need to monitor these connection points very carefully. This is another area where a project-scheduling tool is helpful. You can link or identify dependent tasks or milestones for planning and scheduling. Milestone Summary and Project Status reports can help you get your data out to stakeholders.
- Issues Log issues as they arise, and make sure to include:
- The number of issues increasing or decreasing
- The number of open issues by priority
- How long it takes to close issues
- Overdue reports
- The categorization by type, owner, and function.
Track this data in the project's Issues Log, and use it to communicate and escalate anything that is out of line.
- Risks Record project risks in the Risk Log. If a risk does not happen, there is no data to report. However, an increase in the number and priority of risks might indicate that your project is heading for trouble. Schedule a review of your project when the number of risks or issues rises.
Advantages of gathering project performance data
Gathering project performance data helps you know where your project is headed and how well it is progressing. The data that you gather and track also helps you keep your stakeholders informed of the progress of the project. The data also alerts you to possible trouble before it derails your project. Reporting your data to the project team helps keep them informed and motivated as well as helping you gain the cooperation and support of management and project owners.
Finally, when you close a project, the data you gathered throughout the process becomes a valuable source of lessons learned that can help you plan for successful future projects.
About the author Pcubed is a global company that provides program management and project management solutions, as well as services in consulting, outsourcing, technology, and training.