How do you know if your project is going well? Schedule performance is a reliable way of assessing whether you are on track or not. Here are 6 ways to review your schedule performance and see if you are making the progress you expected.
1. Earned Value
Earned Value management is probably the most reliable way to track and manage schedule performance, but it’s also quite complex to get right, especially if you have no prior experience of working in an EV environment. On a small project you might find that a full EV approach is overkill.
However, it is a good discipline so if you have the time to set it up properly and feel it would be beneficial in your project environment, then you’ll get accurate and useful results with it.
2. RAG/RYG Indicators
Managing through simple colour-coding is pretty basic, but many senior executives like this as it helps them see which projects in a portfolio need their attention. Projects that are coded Red or Amber/Yellow need management attention, and those that are Green don’t.
To add an extra level of data to this simple scheme, you can flag trends with arrows. If the project is green at the moment but at risk of sliding into the Yellow zone, include a downwards arrow in the status information, for example.
You do need to set definitions for what each colour means. This will help avoid the situation where one project manager thinks a project is performing well and another would report the same situation as needing management attention, so set your criteria (or check what your PMO has already set) before your project starts.
3. Progress against milestones
Schedule progress is easy to measure against milestone data. List the milestones that should have been achieved during this reporting period and note whether they were hit or not. This gives a really visual, simple way of showing if the schedule is on track.
If a milestone has not been achieved by the target date you should also include a revised forecast so you have an idea of when it will be completed by.
4. Team morale
This is a measure that was flagged to me by Healthcare Project Management, a book by Kathy Schwalbe and Dan Furlong. I hadn’t considered this before, but team morale does have an impact on schedule performance. They write: “If project team members are always working extra hours, the schedule might not be realistic… On the other hand, if workers are coming in late and leaving early while still producing quality work on time, the schedule might not be challenging enough.”
A happy team may work extra hours because they believe in the project and love what they are doing. Or they might be doing the extra hours because they are swamped with work and couldn’t cope otherwise (in which case you should watch for burn out as they won’t be able to sustain that for long).
5. Tracking Gantt chart
If you use your Gantt chart software to generate baselines and show actual start and finish dates you can generate a tracking Gantt. This will show you progress against your original forecast and is a visual way to display schedule performance. You can generate all sorts of views of this information so you can get a good understanding of which tasks are underperforming. This is easy and useful, so use baselines if you can.
6. Status review meetings
Finally, you have the option of reviewing schedule performance in person (or as part of a virtual team meeting) with the rest of your team as part of a status review session. Trusted team members will give you their impression of how the project is progressing and whether or not they are performing as per the forecasted scheduled work.
Combining this narrative report with data from your project management systems will give you the best overall view of schedule performance. After all, you can’t use data successfully without understanding the context, so it will help to have your team members discuss project status with the figures in front of them.
Understanding schedule performance is critical if you want to bring your project in on time. When you know how your project is performing, you can make changes as appropriate to bring it back on track or enable the continuation of the good work.