Chapter 14, "Tracking Work on a Project," examines the important process of recording actual work and cost for a project. This chapter looks at using the information you get as a result of that effort. Microsoft Project 2003 offers a number of techniques for evaluating the status of a project and for comparing actual performance with the scheduled performance and with the planned performance, as captured in the baseline.
The iterative process model of project management supported by Project Management Institute (PMI) involves steps for initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing. The controlling aspect of the model requires the project manager to step back from the project and ask, "How are we doing?" After evaluation, it is often necessary to implement a change control, which requires a return to planning before re-executing work. This then completes the feedback loop of the process model.
Projects invariably deviate from their original plans. They take more or less time to complete, involve more or less work, or cost more or less than budgeted in the plan that was adopted and captured in the baseline. If you track actual performance from the start of a project and compare those results with the original plan, you will be in a position to correct, or at least mitigate, any unfavorable deviations from the plan.
The process of adjusting the project schedule to align it again with the baseline, which is evaluated through variance analysis, is called corrective action .
As a project manager, you should expect to make changes to control the schedule because changes are an inevitable part of managing a project. In other words, you will always have variance because projects rarely proceed exactly as planned. In the project manager role, you are most interested in what the tolerance is for making changes to the schedule to ensure conformity to the baseline, and what the impact is to the project in terms of dates, durations, costs, and work estimates.
The project plan, as captured in the baseline, represents the best estimate of how the project will proceed, as envisioned by the project manager, the project team, and all other project stakeholders. The baseline is also the benchmark against which progress is measured. If actual progress is not keeping up with the performance assumed in the baseline, then corrective actions should be put in place to get back on track, or the project will likely not finish when planned or within the budget. This chapter explains the tools that Microsoft Project provides to review the status of a project and to assess the implications of past performance on the remainder of a project. This chapter also discusses what you must do to bring an errant project back on track.
The techniques introduced in this chapter are discussed in increasing level of sophistication. We begin by showing simply how to spot tasks that are behind (or ahead of) schedule. We then look at how Project uses variance calculations to show the impact that actual performance and changes in the schedule have had on the estimated final finish date and cost of the project. Finally, we use earned value analysis to assess whether the effort and cost incurred to date have produced the output that was expected and to estimate what the final finish date and cost of the project will be if the current rate of progress continues. We conclude with a general discussion of the adjustments to the schedule that might be necessary to get a project back on track and within budget.