Welcome to this edition of the ProjectTalk newsletter. A successful Project Plan is an ongoing and continuously evolving process. Project Planning should never be seen as a single phase exercise. Actual project results and outcomes must be continuously monitored and compared against the project plan throughout the project’s life cycle to insure we remain on track toward our goals. The Plan is then adjusted/modified to reflect the Project’s current requirements and status when necessary. In order to do that there are specific aspects/elements of our projects which must be tracked and specific steps to be followed. In addition, there are easily developed and readily available tools that will help. This issue will focus on how to track your projects, steps to take when your project goes wrong and how to create your project dashboard.
How to Track your Projects
It’s a tough challenge; juggling people, equipment, time, money and materials to complete your project on time. To do it successfully, you need to keep an eye on 5 key areas of your project...
1. Time and Cost
Schedule hour aside every week to determine if you are likely to complete the project on time. To do this, identify any tasks that are running late and determine whether they are likely to delay the overall project. Then look for ways that you can save time by; finishing tasks earlier, delaying non-critical tasks to after the project has been completed, or gaining approval from your Sponsor to remove tasks altogether.
You also need to review the total spend of the project to date against the original budget set. Identify ways to reduce costs by allocating cheaper resource, reducing the project scope, or boosting the efficiency of your team.
2. Resource Allocation
Keep a constant watch on the percentage of time that your team are allocated to tasks.
If you have one person allocated to tasks 50% of their time and another 150% of their time, then you may not be working efficiently. Instead, balance workload fairly so that your team are kept busy 80-100% of their time, without being overloaded. If you intend to overload resource, then only do it for a short period of time, to avoid “burnout”.
As you reallocate work among your resources, keep an eye on the overall resource level. It may be that everyone is under-allocated and you can take a person off the project, saving on cost. On the other hand, if everyone is over-allocated then you may need to quickly allocate more resources to the project as soon as possible.
3. Progress and Efficiency
Track the progress and efficiency of your team. ‘Progress’ means the percentage of tasks completed to date. ‘Efficiency’ means the number of tasks completed on time. You need to track these items to ensure that you are progressing according to plan and that your team are working efficiently in completing tasks assigned to them.
- Risks, Changes, Issues
Every project encounters risks, changes and issues at some point. It’s often impossible to prevent them from occurring, so the trick is to resolve them as quickly as possible when they do come up. Throughout the project life cycle, you need to watch them closely. For each item raised, set a ‘target resolution date’ and track these dates carefully to make sure that they are adhered to.
- Project Health
In addition to tracking the project at the micro level, you also need to stand back and take a look at the project from a helicopter level. You need to gain a clear view of the overall project health. You’ve already done most of the work by assessing the time, cost, resources, progress and efficiency of the project. By also taking a summarized view of the project each week, you can lead the project team towards success.
When your Project goes wrong
It was all going well and then suddenly out of the blue you've found yourself behind time, over budget with no clear end in sight. To get back on track, you need to take these 8 steps...
- Stocktake: The first thing you need to do is to work out how far off you are. Exactly how many days are you behind schedule and what is that, as a % of the project timeline? Also, how much over budget are you and what is that as a % of the overall budget?
- Re-plan: Then review your Project Plan to see if you can make the time back, by changing your task allocations. First, see if you can reassign people to tasks in a smarter way that saves time. Then check out your task dependencies and see if there is a more logical sequence that completes the overall deadline earlier. Make sure you identify the critical path through the plan so that you know which tasks must be completed and which are a nice to have. Then assign your best people to the critical tasks and try and get those done earlier. Any time you can save through re-planning is precious.
- Brain Storm: Sit down with your team and go through your revised plan and see if they can come up with new ideas for delivering the project earlier or save on budget. You might be surprised with what they come up with.
- De-scope: The easiest way to get back on track by far is to de-scope your project. This means delivering less than you originally intended. List your project deliverables, prioritize them against the project objectives and see if there are any deliverables that you can ask your Project Sponsor to remove from the scope of the project, to help you get back on track. It doesn't mean that these deliverables will never be produced. It's just that they can be done as a separate activity once the project is complete.
- Get Support: If your Sponsor won't change the project scope, then ask them for a deadline extension or for more budget so you can assign more resources to finish it on time. Get their buy-in and support by telling them why you're late. Be honest and upfront. Show them that you're willing to do whatever it takes to deliver on time, but you need their support to do it. With their support, anything is possible.
- Control Change: You then need to tightly control change so that new features or deliverables aren't added without your approval. Change is common on most projects, so you need to control it to have the best chance of success.
- Rally: Then meet with your team and explain why the project is late and how important it is to the business. Get their buy-in to working harder and longer hours to deliver the project on time. Remember that you need everyone’s understanding, buy-in and hard to work to deliver your project on schedule and under budget.
- Communicate: Keep everyone regularly informed of progress. This will keep them focused and motivated to achieve the targets set.
These 8 steps should begin to assess your current status and begin to get you back on track.
How to Create your Project Dashboard
A "Project Dashboard" is a tool that provides you with a graphical view of the progress of your project, so that you can see at a glance whether you're on track. It's basically a set of Charts that gives you the current status of the project at any time. You can create the Charts manually in Excel, or use smart software that does it for you.
To create your own Project Dashboard using Microsoft Excel, take these steps:
Step 1: Get a Pen and Paper
Sit down with a pen and paper and list the things that determine whether your project will be a success. It might be that your project is delivered on time and under budget. Or that tasks are completed when expected and that your resources are perfectly allocated. It's these types of things that your Dashboard needs to track, every day
Step 2: Gather your Data
Collate all of the data that is needed to measure the success criteria you've defined above. The data may exist in Project Plans, Excel spreadsheets or Word documents. It might exist also in Timesheets, Expense Forms and risk / issue / change logs. Remember, the quality of your Dashboard depends on the quality of the data that goes into it.
Step 3: Sift, Sort and File
You then need to sift through your data, sort it into groups and file it all in one place, so that you have the right information needed, to populate your dashboard.
Step 4: Create your Dashboard
You are now ready to build your project dashboard. Enter all of your data into a single spreadsheet and create the following charts to create your Project Dashboard:
- Time Chart: This chart tells you whether you're on schedule. You need to list your tasks and identify the planned versus actual percent complete for each task. Summarize this data and you'll find out whether you're ahead or behind schedule.
- Cost Chart: To find out if you're under or over budget, you need to add up all of your project costs and compare them to your budget. To do this, calculate the cost of your resources, as well as equipment, materials and any expense forms completed by staff.
- Tasks: You need to know the percentage of tasks that have been completed to date, so that you can get a feel for how much of the project has been done. List all of your tasks and identify whether they have been "Not Started", are "In Progress" or "Complete".
- Resource: It's important to know whether your resources are over-worked. To calculate this, list all of your resources and work out how many calendar days they have scheduled for the project. Then identify from your task list, how many days they have been assigned to tasks. If they have been assigned to tasks for more days than they have available in their calendar, then they are "over-resourced" and you need to reduce their workload.
- Risks: Every project involves risks, issues and changes. Make sure these are documented and identify whether each is low, medium or high impact. Then sum them up to find out how "at risk" your project is.
Step 5: Review it Daily
A fully populated dashboard will tell you at a moment’s glance, whether you're on track. You need to populate your dashboard each and every day, to have the best chance of success.
If you don't want to create your dashboard manually as it's too complex or time consuming, then use a commercial software product. Many come with a complete Project Dashboard online.