The project manager for an organization is responsible for planning, organizing, and directing a project to completion. Before a project begins, the manager must look at the end deliverable and estimate the required resources and costs, build the budget, assign the work, and determine a timeline. Only when the pre-planning process is mapped out and complete can the project begin.
Once the project has launched, the goal of the manager is to watch the deliverables unfold according to their detailed plan. However, perfection is no one’s reality, and unforeseen events and changes in an imperfect world can and will alter the most realistically planned events. To keep projects from slipping away from the planned budget, timeline, and overall objectives, a project manager must monitor and control the project from start to finish.
The project monitoring and control process tracks, reviews, and reports on the project performance dedicated to watching for red flags and making quick adjustment decisions. The primary goal of the monitoring and control process phase is to oversee all the tasks to ensure that a project is completed within the scope, time, and budget.
To monitor a project with control, a project manager:
- Compares actual performance with planned performance.
- Identifies corrective actions needed.
- Records and documents accurate and timely information on project outputs.
- Monitors corrective changes.
- Delivers forecasts that update current costs and project schedule.
Why is Project Monitoring and Control Important?
Project monitoring and controlling is one phase of the project management lifecycle and encompasses the fundamental management duty of a project manager, who directs the project from beginning to end. The project management lifecycle includes the initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closing phases. The monitoring and controlling phase is what keeps the project on track to completing its objectives successfully.
Project monitoring is informative to how a project is performing and when it is necessary to implement changes to keep the project on track. Utilizing leadership skills, emotional intelligence, and data analytics tools, managers can assess project performance variables from the estimated and planned schedule, costs, and quality to the actual performance. If there are variances in planned vs. actual performance, a control plan will enable accurate decision making for a project manager to implement corrective action and forecast the projections.
No matter how well project costs are estimated and budgeted, and how well triggers and tasks are scheduled in the planning phase, there may still be changes once executed. Monitoring the project’s deviation from expectations allows a project manager to set a corrective course for seamless execution that improves productivity and efficiency.
Once a project start is launched, there are best practices for successful project monitoring and controlling. Following this list of six tips to operate a controlled and efficient project monitoring process.
Best Practices for Project Monitoring and Controlling
1. Get organized with a software application
As businesses grow and projects are increased in size and frequency, it will become increasingly difficult to keep projects and tasks organized and manageable. Effectively monitoring scaled tasks and outcomes can be done by implementing a systematic procedure by breaking projects down into phases and organizing milestones, tasks, roles, and a timeline with a project management software application.
To start, a work breakdown structure is commonly utilized to funnel tasks and responsibilities by constructing a hierarchy of deliverables that descends levels of work and task detail encompassing the entire scope of a project. Another common tool is a Gantt chart, which adds the element of time, mapping out the scheduled tasks against a timeline to help assess the planned project schedule in real-time. There are other project management techniques such as the critical path method, the waterfall method, and many others all supported by a variety of software applications.
2. Structure employee roles and responsibilities
Strategically assigning the right employees to the right tasks during the setup of the work breakdown structure will greatly impact the project’s ability to remain in management’s control. Project managers should carefully consider the tasks at hand, the skills needed to complete them, and the structure of the task to role deployment. Also, breaking down employees into task groups or teams can help with time and scope management by increasing communication and responsibility.
In addition to structuring employee tasks, spending time properly training employees on time management will increase long-term efficiency and help ensure the project remains within schedule. Encouraging employees to prioritize their tasks by ranking them based on urgency and importance can help with efficient task completion. Assisting employees in managing their workload can be helpful, but avoiding micromanaging is necessary since they know how they work best.
The quality of a project and its completion is dependent on many things, but the project may only be as great as the employees completing it. Monitoring the people, their roles, and their activities may be optimal if supported by a conductive structure of tasks to roles and a line of accountability.
3. Measure performance analytically
Since the project monitoring and control process largely involves supervision on actual performance in comparison to planned performance, it is important to utilize measurable values and analytics to assess project performance.
There are many quantitative methods for monitoring performance and variance along with a wide range of complexity and detail. Earned Value Management is an effective method in calculating schedule and cost variances by measuring the planned and earned values alongside the actual cost. The earned value method for schedule performance will indicate whether a project is on time, and the cost performance indicates where the project stands on budget. This is also useful in forecasting the budget at completion at any point in the project when variance or changes arise.
Additionally, applying the control chart technique will assist in monitoring project quality by looking at predictability, behavior, and causes for deviation. There are a variety of tools that can be either calculated internally or utilized in conjunction with project management software. Depending on the project or organization, choosing the right tools and a few key metrics that will provide valuable insight and avoid unhelpful measures with unnecessary precision.
4. Utilize project status reports
With the data analytics used in measuring performance, project managers should turn their performance calculations into status reports. Reporting the status of project deliverables, schedule, expenditures, risks, issues, and work performance will showcase comprehensible progress and indicate pain point areas.
Utilizing predictive analytics tools to create data-driven progress reports and forecasts will increase accuracy and decision validation. Status reporting can breakdown performance by budget, schedule, and scope quality, as well as project milestones and task performance at different employee levels, and it can outline issues and risks.
Status reports should be concise with focused objectives and formatted to display transparent progress backed by data. This is an essential tool that should be utilized for communicating project progress with the team and the stakeholders.
5. Determine variance deviation threshold
To keep a project under control, setting a threshold limit for any deviation from the planned events and measurable values will enable swift decision making when things don’t go as planned. If the project manager determines the deviation threshold from the estimated schedule and cost baseline prior to the start date, the need for corrective action can be appropriately triggered. Additionally, pre-determining an action plan and identifying critical paths to appropriate authority for different levels of variance will allow for accelerated decision making.
Since each variance from planned performance may vary in greatness, they may require different levels of correction or may not require a change in the plan at all. Putting in the effort to accurately estimate project variables will set up a project for success but ending there may leave the project in vain. Proactively setting a variance deviation threshold will trigger a quick and appropriate level of corrective change and forecasting the final project constraints sustaining minimum cost and schedule overruns.
6. Implement change control appropriately
While it is necessary to make corrective changes to a project as variances arise, hastily adjusting the project constraints when any deviation occurs can harm a project. Utilizing integrated change control will only authorize one implemented project change at a time. This allows for an evaluation of how the change impacts the project and promotes an accurate identification of any adverse changes increasing project control and minimizing the risk of change.
Since there is a decision to be made at which level of change to the project budget or timeline a variance may require, monitoring integrated changes can enable better decision making. If there is a deviation that surpasses the threshold from the planned values, a change should be requested for approval or rejection before implementation. Once there are approved changes, stakeholders should be informed, and final planned values and forecasts should be adjusted to continue monitoring how performance meets the updated planned values.
In today’s volatile economic environment, controlling projects is a challenge; and changes in estimated plans are to be expected. Following project management’s monitoring and control procedure can tighten a project’s accuracy and efficiently keep it under control. Following these best practices can help a project meet the finish line within the initial scope, budget, and schedule reporting in as a success.