Q+A

On track

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Q: What are the most important metrics and methods involved in tracking project progress?

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RANDY ENGLUND,
EXECUTIVE CONSULTANT, BURLINGAME, CALIF., USA, AND CO-AUTHOR OF CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR SUCCESSFUL PROJECTS: THE QUEST TO MANAGE PROJECT MANAGEMENT

I measure project progress through a vector approach. A vector has magnitude and direction. Of course, the ideal for project progress is a wide magnitude in the direction of the project outcome statement. However, there will be times when the direction gets altered, such as priority interrupts or reorganizations, and times when magnitude is less due to redirected work or morale and motivation setbacks brought on by “integrity crimes.”

I learned that project managers need to be conscious about the ebb and flow of project work. There are times when magnitude may be down but the vector is still going in the right direction. That's O.K. and may be the natural energy of the group for that moment: The right work is happening, albeit slowly. A project manager could mess things up if he or she pushed too hard at that time, so my advice is to “go with the flow.”

If the vector turns in an undesirable direction—impeding progress, retracing old decisions, unconstructive conflict—that's the time for the project manager to take a more active role to turn things around. The magnitude of the vector determines the type of action: gentle coaching and reminders, if small, directive action and commands, if large. Progress is measured by observing that the vector is constantly pointed in the right direction with a magnitude appropriate for the stage of the project.

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MAYTEE ASPURO,
PORTFOLIO MANAGER, WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, MADISON, WIS., USA

The two main tracking tools are the work breakdown structure (WBS), or project plan, and the risk management plan. The WBS provides a detailed overview of project tasks scheduled, task completion, actual vs. budgeted hours expended and a timeline. The risk management plan provides an overview of project risk probabilities, risk sunset dates and mitigation strategies and their related impact on the project. Focusing on the project plan without considering risk will provide an incomplete assessment.

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ALFONSO BUCERO,
PMP, SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER, HEWLETT-PACKARD CONSULTING, MADRID, SPAIN

I follow the “elephant approach.” I mean, every project, bigger or smaller, is complex and must be divided in tangible parts in order to be able to measure the project progress among each part. For instance, in transition projects you can perceive project progress not only in terms of parameters and performance but in terms of customer or end-user feelings.

Usually, project managers measure project progress among each milestone, using scope, time and cost measures, but real progress can be measured among “the customer satisfaction level” at the achievement of each project milestone. Some milestones are changed along the project life cycle, but project scope must be managed and verified to keep updated on all stakeholder expectations.

I learned that project managers must be conscious about the different level of feelings and perceptions from the different project stakeholders along the project life cycle. Please don't look at the head of the elephant and forget the rest; the elephant has legs and a body and the elephant needs to move forward as projects do.

I really believe project synergy is part of the task of measuring project progress. If the project manager creates project team synergy, he will have a more accurate measure of the project progress, because every team member will be giving automatic input and feedback on a daily basis.

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ANDRES CABRAL,
PMP, PRESIDENT OF PMI'S ARGENTINA CHAPTER AND CEO OF PMC, BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

In my experience, in the information technology industry, the only way to measure project progress objectively is through a strict earned value analysis, but I realize that it is very resisted. The good news is that there are not rational reasons behind the opposition, so if there is enough support from the sponsor, a project team finally accepts [the need] to report progress in this way.

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ROD WELCH, PRESIDENT, THE WELCH CO., SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF., USA

PMI and related professionals have developed techniques for tracking cost and schedule metrics, and in recent years these have been integrated using the cost/schedule control system criteria (C/SCSC) developed for measuring progress on major procurements by the U.S. Department of Defense.

What has been missing up until now are communication metrics that complement traditional methods. Since communication is a predicate to action, aligning daily communication necessarily has a bigger impact on saving time and money than simply measuring cost and schedule after the fact. What are these metrics? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a report showing that unanswered correspondence, pending action items, overlooked subjects at meetings, and aligning daily work with objectives, requirements, and commitments are critical ways to measure progress, and reduce costs at the rate of about 10 to 1.

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MEL SCHNAPPER
, CHAIR, PM'S METRICS SPECIFIC INTEREST GROUP, AND PRESIDENT, MEL SCHNAPPER ASSOCIATES INC., CHICAGO, ILL., USA

Measuring project progress assumes that you have precise project metrics that describe the project objectives at a standard of at least “satisfactory.” The quantitative and qualitative metrics describe a value equal to 100 percent of the financial cost of the project. Metrics are weighted to describe progress that is proportionate to the value of that particular objective, because not all objectives are of equal value to the overall deliverable. In this way, “progress” is described in both results and financial terms at the same time and there's no convoluted interpretation of progress and its “meaning.”

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STEVE ROLLINS,
PMP, KNOWLEDGE VICE CHAIR, PMI'S METRICS SPECIFIC INTEREST GROUP, AND SENIOR PARTNER, EPM SOLUTIONS INC., KANSAS CITY, MO., USA

Essentially, the measure of project progress is the difference between planned project progress and actual project progress, where the work of the actual progress has been accepted and approved by the project requestor. There are many variants of project progress: none, bad, good, excellent and so forth. The key differentiator among the variants is in the approval and acceptance of value in the work delivered on the project.

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DOUG KAISER,
CHAIR, PMI'S DESIGN/PROCUREMENT/CONSTRUCTION SPECIFIC INTEREST GROUP AND VICE PRESIDENT, EXXCEL PROJECT MANAGEMENT, COLUMBUS, OHIO, USA

Measuring project progress has been turned into a science, particularly in the construction industry where capital projects exceed the level of complexity of most other types of projects. At its simplest level, all project measurement boils down to the work assignments. The most critical issue is assigning the work.

The sooner the work assignments have been made, the sooner the members of the team can get on with planning to succeed at their areas of responsibility. The cycle time of the procurement process of any project is an indication of the progress of the project. Procurement that gets dragged out is an early indicator for projects that are likely to drag out.

Work assignments are the building block of project management and all project metrics can be tied to the data collected around work assignments, such as schedule variances, budget variances and acceptance. At the higher levels of the work breakdown structure, packages of work assignments can be reported together to provide a “high-level” view of the project, if used consistently from one reporting period to the next.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK | OCTOBER 2002 | www.pmi.org

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