This post will cover some approaches to Progress Tracking and how to know which to use.  

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The Seven Levels: A Model for Progress Tracking

Our last post covered what Progress Tracking is and how to sell it to your project team. This post will cover some approaches to doing it and how to know which to use.

The Seven Levels of Tracking – A Model

  • Level 0: No tracking
  • Level 1: Key % complete, make it up
  • Level 2: Key % complete, collect from team
  • Level 3: Key actual hours, make them up (weekly)
  • Level 4: Key actual hours, collect from team (weekly)
  • Level 5: Key actual hours, collect from team (daily)
  • Level 6: Real-time data collection
  • Level 7: Theory X (Big Brother, constant vigil)

Note: Anything beyond Level 4 is likely overkill.

Choosing the Right Approach

Level 0 is a total lack of control. If no one collects progress information, the plan is all-but dead-on-arrival.

Level 1 is sometimes useful in organizations that resist the collection of progress data. It’s better than level 0 because something is better than nothing. However, it will likely have just a casual connection with reality.

Level 2 is similar to Level 1 except the project manager now collects the percent complete data from the team. Getting the information from the people doing the work gets closer to reality, but the only numbers people automatically agree on are 0 and 100%. The Level 2 approach usually leads to a large number of tasks that are between 90% and 99% complete.

Level 3 is getting closer to an ideal approach. Using hours instead of % complete provides better, more objective information about how time is being used and about the costs of the project. This process is usually used by a project manager that sees the need for actuals in an organization that is not culturally prepared for it. In this case, guessing the actual work is still better than levels 0, 1, or 2, although combining this method with Level 2 may provide a good cross-check to help validate the data.

Level 4 provides the project manager with a valuable amount of progress data on a regular basis. We will assume this method in our discussions of tracking with Microsoft Project.

Level 5 is useful in situations that warrant frequent progress checks. Examples include shorter projects, environments where budgets are tight, or projects with high-cost resources.

Level 6 is becoming more popular as personal computers permeate the workplace. There are already tools that automatically log user activity. The problem, of course, is interpreting the meaning of the keystrokes. For example, does sending an e-mail contribute to project progress? Maybe.

Level 7 goes beyond Level 6. It uses even more of today’s technologies for presence detection and other forms of real-time monitoring.

On most projects, a weekly tracking process that collects actual hours is a good goal (Level 4). If this cannot be achieved, something that is better than nothing should be implemented.

Of course, the frequency of tracking depends on the project duration, among other considerations. Tracking a one-week project weekly is clearly useless. It does no good to know the project is falling behind when it is already supposed to be over.

Level 1 and Level 2 tracking are often used because percent complete is fairly easy for the project manager to use with Microsoft Project, and the manager avoids having to get estimated hours or actual hours from the team. There is often latent paranoia in organizations that makes people nervous when someone starts collecting actual hours worked. This is what usually gives rise to the tracking resistance.

Unfortunately, there is at least one major drawback to percent complete tracking. It is almost impossible to measure variances in duration, as shown in the following figure:

Our next post will cover what you should ask for when tracking.