The Project Group, LLC

The Project Group, LLC Newsletter

  Advancing Project Management

November 2003  


in this issue


The Project Group, LLC

We specialize in assisting corporate and government clients in learning to improve their productivity while planning and executing projects.

Our three-phase approach yields faster, more efficient project initiation, planning and execution results.



Each month our newsletter delves into a specific step in the phases of Initiation, Planning and Execution of projects. Our methodology is applicable to any project in any industry. Our process approach to Project Management is designed to help your company's projects gain traction quickly, communicate clearly to all parties and keep them on track to reach a successful conclusion.

We facilitate workshops that jump-start your teams, making sure they know what they are going to do and validating they have the time and resources with which to do it.

This newsletter focuses on Process 11:

Tracking and Managing A Project.







·  Collecting Actual Data


You made your project plan and had it approved. You've set a baseline. Work on the project proceeds. How do you know if the project is proceeding according to plan?

Now you have to find out what's really happening on the project by collecting 'actual data'. Much project management literature just says something like "collect actuals and then compare actuals to the plan". But how do you get people to report on the work they have done?


·  How to do it


The following table describes several communication modes along with their pros and cons.





• Easy to do
• Can get some non verbal feedback
• No written record

• Time consuming
• Difficulty coordinating schedules
• Time difference challenges

One on One

• Best non-verbal feedback
• Most “warm and fuzzy”
• No written record

• Time consuming
• Difficulty coordinating schedules
• May intimidate some team members
• No consistent format


• A written record
• Team members can respond on their time
• Asynchronous (good for team differences)

• No standard format
• Impersonal; no non-verbal cues
• Easily misinterpreted
• E-mail overload –No guarantee of response

Electronic forms

• A written record
• Team members can respond on their time
• Asynchronous (good for team differences)
• Standard format

• Everyone must have same software
• Impersonal
• E-mail overload –No guarantee of response

Paper Forms

• A written record
• Team members can respond on their time
• Standard format

• Must be collated or transcribed
• Only can be used when team works in same location


• (Potentially) Warm and fuzzy
• Consistent format
• Team members can listen to each other

• Time consuming
• Time consuming
• Time consuming

How many of us have been in meetings where the project manager (or the project manager's boss) goes around and grills each person: "How is your part of the project going?". And what do the rest of us do? We sit around being bored until it is our turn to get grilled.

Meetings may be useful but they are not the best place to collect actual data. As a project manager you should utilize one of the other methods of data collection and then hold meetings to solve problems collaboratively that you have uncovered as a result of your analyzing the data.


·  How often should you do it?


How often you should collect actual data depends on the size of the project. For short projects once a week may be required. A generally accepted standard is every two weeks. This gives your team members time to actually get some work done. If you have been following the 8/80 hour rule, that is, not having any task longer than two weeks, you won't have that many tasks to report on in any given period.



·  Do you want me to spend time working, or reporting on my work?


What do you do when team members, especially programmers, complain about reporting requirements?

One response is to ask them if they are professionals. They'll all indignantly say yes. You then remind them that lawyers, painters, consultants, accountants and psychiatrists always track their hours, how long they have worked for which client. Why should programmers, or any other team member for that matter, not be held to a professional standard to keep track of what they are doing?

This argument is a good one but it does not always work. Your next best defense is to try to keep it as simple as possible.


·  The Four Questions


Reporting actual data ought to be simple and easy. In most projects, if you have broken the work down into tasks and work packages, no one is working on more than four or five tasks in a two week period. The Four Questions that need to be answered on each task ought to be done in ten minutes or less.

What are The Four Questions?

1) Is the task complete (Yes/No)?

2) If complete, how long did it take (or how many effort hours did you spend)?

3) If not completed, how many days to you anticipate to completion (or how many more effort hours of work do you anticipate)?

4)If not complete, explain in a few words why it is not complete.

To see previous newsletters


·  Next Month In The Newsletter


In the December Newsletter we will talk more about how to use the Four Questions, how to use the responses from them to report status and then take appropriate corrective action.

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