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Progress Tracking: What to Track and How to Track It

This series has given a full overview of progress tracking. This post will answer what you should track and how you should do it.

Click here to view our earlier post that introduces progress tracking, or here for our last post on the 7 approaches to progress tracking.

What Will You Ask For When You Track?

Let’s say you agree that Level 4 Tracking is desirable and possible in your organization. Now the question becomes, “What exactly do I need to track?”

The project manager using Level 4 tracking needs the following information from the team each week:

  • Period reported (such as week-ending date) – The tracking data has more meaning if you can tie it to a specific period of time. This will allow the project manager to ask questions like, “How many hours were performed in February of last year?”
  • Actual task start date – This information is important during the analysis process to gauge if the project is progressing as planned.
  • Actual hours worked this period – The term actuals usually refers to this figure. This number is one of the keys to determining if the original (baseline) estimates are still valid. Note: Hours are not always the appropriate measure of time. Smaller projects may use minutes and larger projects may use days, weeks, or even months.
  • Actual costs incurred this period (if any) – If team members report non-human costs, such as equipment and travel, this information should also be collected.
  • Estimate to complete (Remaining Work) – This is maybe the second most important field behind only Actual hours. It asks the team member to re-estimate the task based on the work performed so far. The project manager needs to be clear about how and when it’s okay to modify the baseline work estimate.
  • Estimated or Actual Finish – If the resource has not completed the work for the task, they should indicate if the original estimated finish date is still valid. If the task is estimated to finish later than originally expected, a new task finish date should be provided. If no work remains for the assignment, the actual finish date should be reported.
  • Task-related issues – Any issues encountered while performing the task should be reported.
  • Reasons for exceeding estimates – If the total actual work plus the estimated hours to complete exceed the original estimate, the reasons for the increase should be reported. This helps the project manager determine if these reasons will impact other tasks as well.

What Tools to Use for Progress Tracking

The real issue, of course, isn’t what you should collect and track but how you can do so. Team members often resist filling out paper forms to report the needed data. Most project managers don’t have the time to collect and enter data manually anyway.

The latter is often the real reason actuals aren’t tracked. Most project managers don’t consider “data entry clerk” as part of their job description. This is especially the case if they recognize the importance of the controlling part of project execution.

In a sense, where your project is doesn’t matter, except as an indicator of where it’s going. You can’t change the past. If it’s not going where you want it to, you have to take action to change the future direction of the project.

Fortunately, Microsoft recognizes the problems of actuals collection and inclusion. There are a number of solutions at your disposal, depending on the support infrastructure in place.

Most users of Microsoft Project 2016 will use Project Web Application to collect actuals for tracking. Project Web App represents an automated approach to Level 4 tracking, which frees the project manager to focus on the results, rather than on entering the data into the project plan. The project manager has more time available for the human interaction and follow-up necessary to deal with unexpected results and issues. However, there will be situations where the project manager will not be able to use Project Web App and will be forced to fall back on other tools to collect the necessary information.