Project Tracking


Project tracking (see Figure 17.1) has one major objective: to determine whether the project is in control (i.e., meeting the agreed business case) or out of control. To achieve this objective, project tracking typically involves tracking five variables :

  • Time: The estimated effort and duration versus the actual effort and duration.

  • Costs: The estimated costs versus the actual costs.

  • People utilization: The effectiveness of the effort versus the duration.

  • Quality: How well are the deliverables being completed?

  • Deliverables: What products or components have been delivered?

Figure 17.1. Project tracking

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Information on the first three variables can be easily gathered by the use of the information already implemented in the PC-based scheduling tool, and the fourth and fifth are by-products of the normal quality assurance process.

The Tracking Mechanism

Like all our project management processes, project tracking should follow the participative process that is used for planning. Regular team-based tracking meetings are the most useful mechanism, as these sessions can gather subjective information as well as the more quantitative data such as actual effort and costs. Subjective information such as warning signs, rumors, informal communication, and other "soft" data can often provide early warnings of potential project problems.

Time Tracking Versus Project Tracking

As we discussed in previous chapters, one of the most common problems in project organizations is the distortion of project tracking data through confusing the tracking of projects with time sheets. This occurs when management uses project tracking forms for attendance recording.

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Never confuse tracking projects with tracking people.

The fact that a person spent eight hours in the office has no significance in tracking projects.

Project tracking simply tracks tasks ”their costs and effort ”not the person or persons who are undertaking the task. The fact that only one hour in an eight- hour day has been spent by Bill could mean that Bill had a large number of nonproject activities and work on other projects. It could also mean that Bill is having trouble getting motivated and is not working efficiently . It is clear that if the second reason is the case, a time sheet or tracking report will not show this, as Bill would distort the reports to hide the situation. Poor motivation and inefficient work will generally not be found by reports, but instead by the project manager and team leaders being able to spend time with their people. Time sheets may be required for administrative purposes but project tracking should be kept separate and, preferably, anonymous.

Trust

It is vital that you do not put yourself into the position of always asking, "How is it going?" You must learn to trust your people. As we covered in earlier chapters, if one of your team members needs four weeks to do a task, you give them four weeks. The agreement you must have is that they tell you as soon as they realize that they can't meet the deadline. This frees you up to build relationships with your sponsor and stakeholders.

The tracking form can record certain activities such as production support work, training, and other specific nonproject activities, but the key is that the tracking form does not have to equal eight hours or whatever the normal hours of work are for the organization.

Many organizations further complicate the process of project tracking by imposing global rules such as making 95% of all project work billable to a client. This accounting and consulting company model is highly problematic in normal IT groups. As discussed in Chapter 15, studies have shown that 50% of the day can be lost in nonproject work such as nonproject meetings, mentoring, and so on.

The billing of these categories of work is at least unethical and at worst illegal. Clients should only be billed for project work done for them. However, you should examine the need to track this "lost" time, as we covered earlier.

The Role of Quality Assurance in Tracking

The role of quality assurance is vital in both ensuring the client's requirements and in triggering the tracking of tasks.

All project tracking should be based on reports from the quality assurance processes such as walkthroughs, technical reviews, and inspections (covered in Chapter 10) that the deliverable from the task has been reviewed.

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The fact that a task is finished does not mean that it is right.

At a minimum, no task should be recorded as complete until at least one other person, apart from the person who undertook the task, has reviewed the deliverable for quality.

The Use of Automated Project Management Tools

Project tracking is based on team members tracking their work on each task allocated to them. PC-based scheduling tools should be the vehicle for capturing the actual effort and, as a result, produce a series of reports that form the basis of tracking.

As shown in Figure 17.2, the two critical reports are the individual Gantt chart and the task forms for each task that the individual has been scheduled for. These reports can be produced at the end of the planning session.

Figure 17.2. Essential tracking reports

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Various Tracking Concepts

There are four basic tracking approaches. Most scheduling tools will support them however, each tool uses a default technique and you should refer to the manuals of whatever tool you are using. The tracking approaches are:

  • Linear progress: The portion of the actually expended work is calculated as a percentage of the total work. For example, if the task was scheduled for 20 hours and 5 hours are expended, the task is recorded as 25% complete (this is the default of Microsoft Project for Windows and other PC-based tools).

  • One hundred “zero: The task is either not started or it is complete. That is, as soon as the task is commenced it is considered 100% complete.

  • Fifty “fifty: As soon as the task is started it is considered 50% complete and is not 100% complete until it is finished.

  • Subjective progress: This involves the person doing the task making a subjective evaluation of actual progress. For example, after 5 hours (25%) of a 20-hour task, the people report it is only 10% complete.

Clearly, there are problems with each of these approaches. The linear progress method assumes that work effort and output are linked to sequential and even progress. (We talk more about this later.) That is, if Mary has done 10 hours of work on a 20-hour task, it is assumed it is 50% complete. Computing work rarely takes this form and, for example, after 10 hours Mary may have done the easy components of the task and might still have 80% of the work to complete. However, the subjective progress method could be incorrect because it is subjective. If the work is being completed on a fee basis, then either of these techniques may need to be used, as the person providing the service may require progressive payment for work undertaken.

A more complex variation on project tracking is earned value. This technique involves a series of calculations based on actual versus estimated or budgeted costs and is rarely used in IT organizations.

We Aren't Painting Walls: We Are Building Dreams

The real problem with traditional project tracking is that it uses linear tracking concepts borrowed from the construction industry. For example, if a painter requires 10 days to paint a wall or a mason needs 10 days to pour concrete, then at the close of the fifth day, it is reasonable to expect about 50% of the painting or concrete pouring to be completed.

However, creative work such as business or systems analysis has a completely different completion dynamic. As shown in Figure 17.3, there are three basic completion curves in creative work:

  • The 10/90: The problem requires considerable interviews, research, and workout until, in the last 10%, all the background work "gels."

  • The 90/10: After the first few interviews almost all the requirements are clear and the remaining 90% of the effort is in tidying-up.

  • The sawtooth: The initial work is found to be flawed so considerable rework is required.

Figure 17.3. The nature of creative work

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The inevitable conclusion is that the 0/100% model is the only valid model for eXtreme projects.

Tracking Mechanism

The tracking mechanism is simple. Your team members should enter the actual effort spent on each of their allocated tasks on a daily basis (let's not have the Frantic Friday Finagle [2] here). This is essential for accurate tracking and the building of a project metric database. At an agreed time (weekly or biweekly), the individual task forms can be aggregated during a team-based tracking session to determine the overall progress of the project.

[2] This is where you go into detective mode to determine where all the hours you worked in the week disappeared to.

Tracking Summaries

Assuming that team members have honestly recorded their efforts into the task forms, the types of reports that can be produced from the scheduling tools include the following:

  • Start and finish dates: Which tasks did not start and finish as planned?

  • Effort: What is the actual effort versus the estimated effort, task, or total project?

  • Duration: Which tasks took longer or shorter than expected?

  • Costs: Which tasks cost more or less than expected?

Most scheduling tools can produce these reports for individuals, the team, and the total project, and can produce other reports such as earned value. However, these four basic reports provide a simple yet powerful progress and tracking summary.

It should be reemphasized that simply relying on reports is not sufficient for tracking progress in a project. Because of the complexity and creativity of project work and the nonlinear nature of creative work (i.e., 50% of the effort being spent does not mean that 50% of the work has been completed), the project manager, team members, and stakeholders must always supplement formal tracking with informal and subjective tracking information gathered during meetings.

Building a Project Metric Database

As a by-product of project tracking, you and your team can begin building a project metric database. This database can be invaluable in enabling you and other project managers to learn from the project and to assist in both macro and micro estimation in future projects. Typical information would include the following:

  • Description: This would be contained in the business case.

  • Project development strategy: If fast track or RAD strategies were used, these could affect the productivity measures.

  • Phase and task lists: These could be used to develop phase percentage models.

  • Risk assessment: This captures more than 80 factors that influence productivity and quality.

  • Estimates: This measures both effort and duration.

  • Actuals: This measure both effort and duration.

  • Rework effort: The amount of effort spent on defect repair throughout the life cycle.

All of this information is simply collated from the work already undertaken during the RAP session and the project tracking process. The key here is that the major deliverables required for developing a project metric database have already been developed during the planning process.



Radical Project Management
Radical Project Management
ISBN: 0130094862
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 136
Authors: Rob Thomsett

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