Manage Your Projects … Not Just Your Schedule (Part 3)

You’ve been there. Your boss tells you that a new project has to be done and your knee jerk reaction is to start doing it. STOP! If you haven’t read my previous posts, read them first before continuing on.
You’ve been there. Your boss tells you that a new project has to be done and your knee jerk reaction is to start doing it. STOP! If you haven’t read my previous posts, read them first before continuing on.

Once the project plan has been approved and baselined (see Step 6 of the second part of this series), this is the time where the rubber meets the road – you are now ready to execute or run the project. Realize that having appropriately planned for the project doesn’t mean that everything will run 100% smoothly; however, the likelihood of project success is greater compared to not having planned at all.

So what does it take to run a project? Basically, it involves three iterative steps: Monitoring, Analyzing, and Correcting.

Step 1: Monitoring

Monitoring entails getting status updates about the project. Ideally, you have defined and clearly communicated to the project team when and how often you expect status updates to be submitted. For example, I expect my team to submit their updates by close of business (COB) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

How will they submit the updates? Well, it depends. It can be as basic as sending an e-mail (not efficient!), utilize tools like Microsoft SharePoint or even better, leverage EPM Live’s (link to tool) project management tool.

Second, it is important that you define what type of updates that you expect from your resources. Typically, you would want to be updated about the status of the project’s schedule, budget and risks.

Lastly, be clear as to how status updates should be quantified. 80% complete doesn’t mean jack! Using percentage is only useful when you are reporting to higher-level stakeholders. You should set the stage and educate your team on how status updates will be measured. For example: how much time they’ve spent (in hours), and how much more time they’ll need to complete a task. This way, you can efficiently compare what’s currently happening to what you’ve planned for when analyze the project status.

Step 2: Analyzing

After I get my status updates on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I sit down and review these updates and compare it against the baselined project plan. I review how we’re doing in terms of the schedule (are we ahead or behind?), budget (have we spent what we’re supposed to?) and also assess if any of the risks we’ve identified during project planning occurred.

Another aspect of project analysis to consider is evaluating the earned value. This is also known as Earned Value Management (EVM). Essentially, it answers the question: “Did we get the bang for our buck?”

For example, your project is to build a 10-mile bridge in 4 weeks. The budget is $8000 (yes, I know this is a cheap bridge). After two weeks, you have completed 1 mile of the bridge and spent $2000. Did you get the bang for your buck? This is what EVM is all about. Just stay tuned and I’ll be explaining EVM in more detail in future posts.

Just like using project management tools (other than e-mail) to capture project status, these tools are far more relevant when it comes to analyzing the project status. For example, you can specify if the schedule is 25% behind what you’ve planned for, send an automated alert. To learn more about essential project management tools, read “5 Essential Tools for Project Management” (

Step 3: Correcting

Based on your analysis of the project status, you have to act upon any deviations that occurred. What will you do if the project schedule is way behind? How will you address budgets being cut? What if a key resource was pulled off the project?

Hopefully, if you’ve done sound risk management planning early on, most of these situations shouldn’t come as a surprise. You should be able to address these situations with the contingency plans that you’ve already identified. However, certain things happen that the project team might not have expected. These are called project issues. Issues need to be logged and addressed accordingly.

The most common challenge that almost all project managers encounter is the schedule slipping. Now, now … don’t be too quick and pull out the PM whip and start lashing your project team because you think each and everyone of them are slackers. Keep in mind that there might be a possibility that your initial estimates are way off, hence the delay in schedule. Now you know why I harped on the significance of properly estimating during project planning.

So what does it mean to correct during project execution? Well, first off, if the schedule is way behind, go back to your project charter and review what the project priority is. If time is of essence, you can:

– Ask stakeholders to reduce project scope to meet the deadline.
– Add resources to the project. Realize that this is not applicable to all projects. For example, by adding another baker while a cake is being baked will not speed up the baking process.
– Re-evaluate task dependencies have resources perform tasks in parallel if possible. For example, let’s say the project is to build a website and you have a second task that is dependent on the first one (btw, this is known as Finish to Start dependency):

Well, if the schedule is behind, you can speed it up by adding lead-time:

Lead-time is essentially giving the next task a head start. In the example, the “Create Prototype” task will begin halfway through the “Identify User Requirements” task. Keep in mind that even if this might speed up the schedule, you are introducing potential risks. What if the customer changes their mind towards the end of requirements gathering and the prototype was already being built? That’s why it’s critical to identify what the project priority is early on. Is it Time? Budget? Or Scope?

Also, should there be new changes that will affect project schedule, budget or scope, make sure it goes through a change control process. Make it clear to your team that ALL changes that comes through during the project should go through change control. Having your customer tell your resource to add new project scope without going through change control is UNACCEPTABLE.

Lastly, re-plan. As a result of course correction, you will have to go back to your project plan and update the schedule, budget and even scope. Just don’t forget to re-baseline (save a good copy of the prior plan) so all the changes made is documented.

Continuously cycling through monitoring, analyzing and correcting is essentially the job description of a project manager throughout project execution. Focus on these three steps and I guarantee you that you’ll be taking your project management skills to the next level.

Read Manage Your Projects … Not Just Your Schedule (Part 4)

Originally posted at EPM Live

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