The Project Group, LLC

The Project Group, LLC Newsletter

  Advancing Project Management

December 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.







·  Determining how your project is going


How is your project going? A sponsor or customer funding a project has a right to know when they can expect to get what they're paying for. They ought to receive reasonable assurances along the way that their goals are being met. Senior Management needs to know when resources will be available for other initiatives. Financial staff needs to know what the cash flow will be.

We wrote last month about collecting actual data on tasks. We need to know if a task started when it was scheduled to. Did it take as long as anticipated? Were more effort hours applied to the task than projected? Did it cost more than anticipated?

The difference between the plan and the actual is called variance. If we are ahead of schedule by four days, we have negative variance (
11/01/04 - 11/05/04 = - 4 days). If we are behind schedule we say we have positive variance, (11/05/04 - 11/01/04 = +4 days). Positive and negative variance can also apply to cost and effort hours.

We like to get people accustomed to using terminology like Start Variance, Finish Variance, and Cost Variance. It takes some of the emotionalism out of the blunt "You're late!" or "You've spent too much on this task."

To subscribe to our newsletter


·  Presenting Project Status Information


Some people are happy seeing baseline with actual data in text format:


Others prefer to see a graphic representation.

The Gray represents the baseline. The Blue what actually happened. Important note: Microsoft Project represents critical path tasks in red and non-critical path tasks in blue. When critical path tasks are completed they are changed from red to blue.

To see previous newsletters


·  Some Tasks are Behind Schedule This Week
What is the effect?


Status reporting needs to include the net result of delays. What are the consequences of a delay for the end of the project? As a project manager what corrective action do you plan to take to return the project to its planned and baselined completion date or cost target?

While formal status reporting is a litmus test of project manager maturity and knowledge, scale of the project often plays a substantial role. Satellite launches or dam constructions with a cast of thousands demand formal detail. Most information work project managers nowadays however don't have the time or resources to gather and present status in this way. Mostly what they do is just recalculate the plan based on slippages and new task durations. We rarely see the plan vs. the actual.

The reason given for this practice is that "something came up" or new and unanticipated tasks presented themselves as the project developed. The project got so far away from the original baseline that keeping one was no longer valid.

We used to judge this practice (or lack or practice) as totally undisciplined. We have gradually come to consider that the model of planning and then rigidly following that plan just doesn't work in most small, internal, information work environments. So much of information work involves defining the project as it unfolds. Despite all your best upfront planning efforts changes are inevitable.

In reporting status, as with all communications transactions, knowing your audience is crucial. Some sponsor may be satisfied with a simple representation. (We have seen project managers report status with PowerPoint Gantt charts.) We prefer to show a milestone chart created from a data driven tool like Microsoft Project. At least the audience can see that there is data behind the graphic.

We have seen technical project managers fall down presenting project status when they don't have a clear idea of the story they intend to tell. Can you summarize it in one sentence? If we say that a software development effort is currently on track but anticipates difficulties in the testing phase due to lack of resources, We had better be able to
1) clearly show how it is on track
2) clearly show the difficulties of the testing phase
3) have some kind of plan or alternatives in place to deal with the shortage of testers

Making a general statement, then backing it up with details is part of the ancient art of persuasion. Just as the project manager is always selling his or her project at Initiation and Planning, they are also selling during Execution and Control.


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