In this video I share a few more ways to track project schedule performance. Sometimes it helps to look at the schedule in different ways, or to use different approaches to get updates from the team. Ultimately, the more tools you have available to you, the easier it is to flex your style to manage performance.
How do you track schedule performance? Let us know in the comments below.
There are a couple more ideas for tracking project schedule performance in this video.
I also mention this book, Healthcare Project Management, in the video.
In this quick video I share three different ways to track schedule performance. Do you use these methods already? Let me know in the comments below.
If you’d like to read more about this, or you just can’t watch the videos where you are, then you can read more about schedule tracking in this article.
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How do you track the performance of your project? Here are 5 ways that you can do it.
1. Fixed Formula
This is pretty easy. Assign a fixed percentage when the work starts. Then make it up to 100% by allocating the rest when the task finishes.
The Pareto principle is a good one to use if you don’t know how to split your task percentages. Assign 20% complete to the job when it starts, and the remaining 80% when your team member reports the work complete (because at that point it’s 100% complete).
It’s simple to work out but it’s not terribly accurate. It’s only good for small pieces of work and short tasks where it would be too difficult or not worth it to work out percent complete across a couple of days. It can also be used where the task is no longer than a week long. If you are updating your project plan once a week, and the task is no longer than a week long, the task is either started or finished so the 20/80 split (or 50/50 or whatever you think is appropriate) works out pretty well.
2. Weighted Milestones
When you’ve got plenty of milestones along the way, you can work out project performance by tracking how many you’ve hit.
In other words, you can pre-assign progress (percent complete) to certain milestones or parts of tasks. When you hit Milestone 1 you can say the project is 15% complete, at Milestone 2 it goes up to 20%, at Milestone 3 you’re 65% complete and so on. Until your final milestone at project completion where your project (or task) gets updated to be 100% complete.
This is also a way to split payments to vendors – many contracts have a schedule of payments linked to the achievement of key milestones. Your budget could be weighted in the same way as how you track performance.
3. Percentage Complete
We’ve talked about % complete already, but this version of it is just based on the project manager’s
This isn’t hugely accurate either – although it depends on the project manager. It takes experience to be able to pick a percentage out of the air and have it reflect reality. Generally, project management tools can help with this by playing back to you the % complete of your project schedule, so at least in that case you should have something underpinning the number you give.
4. Percentage Complete with Gates
This is similar to weighted milestones but instead of waiting to hit the ‘gate’ point, you can report any percentage complete up to the approved limit for that milestone.
For example, when you hit Milestone 1 you can say the project is 15% complete, as we saw above. With weighted milestones, until that point the project would be 0% complete. With gates, you can set a % complete every day if you like, working up to 15% at the point of hitting the gate (the target milestone date or achievement).
It’s like a blend of using your professional judgement but being constrained to not say you are too far ahead because you can only ever hit a certain percent complete through the nature of where you are on the project.
It sounds complicated to explain but this is my favourite approach for measuring project performance.
5. Level of Effort
Finally, you can track effort against the elapsed time. Alternatively, you can track against some other task or work package on the plan. For example, ‘Complete Testing Documentation’ might be linked to ‘Complete Testing’ and the two activities progress in parallel.
You’d track performance for ‘Complete Testing’ and then, as you know that testing documents are being updated as you go, apply the same % complete to ‘Complete Testing Documentation.’
Which one(s) of these do you use? And which do you avoid? Do you use these as standalone techniques or do they link to your Earned Value Management activities? Let us know in the comments below!
Crashing your schedule is hard work and not something that is advisable in many cases. So why would you do it? Here are 7 reasons why schedule crashing might be the right thing to do.
1. To get the greatest schedule compression
The main reason for crashing your schedule is to get the project done faster. If you need to bring your project’s end date forward then crashing gives you the most schedule compression for the least impact and the smallest cost.
2. When part of the project jeopardises progress
You could also look at crashing when you are facing one part of the project putting the rest of the project at risk. If a particular workstream isn’t going well it could suddenly become the route of the critical path. That might be OK, but equally you might feel that this difficult strand of work is going to hold the rest of the project to ransom. Crashing the schedule around those tricky tasks is one way to get yourself out of difficulty.
3. When meeting a fixed deadline
Projects require change and changes (however formal and appropriate your change control processes) have a habit of adding more time into the plan. When you are dealing with fixed date projects that’s not a good thing. So what happens when your necessary and obligatory changes start adding more time to your fixed date project? You have two choices: tell the project sponsor that you can’t do it and that your end date has to change or try crashing and see if you can claw back some time.
Whether you choose to crash or not will largely depend on your relationship with your project sponsor and how ‘fixed’ your fixed date project really is. I know that many project managers are given a fixed date to deliver by but with this often has some flexibility (especially if the compulsory changes that add more time are requested by the project sponsor).
4. When you are delayed
Delays early in the project necessarily have an impact on later work. You might consider crashing your schedule as a way to make up for some of the lost time.
5. When the team is needed on other work
And now we reach the reasons that are to do with resources. Your project simply might not be the most important thing happening in the business right now. Your team might be needed on other projects – or at least a particular subject matter expert might be.
Crashing your schedule is one way to free up certain resources more quickly. You could look at crashing a workstream so that your critical resources are available for other tasks or projects. The alternative to this is that you let them go (or are asked to let them go and can’t say no) and then find someone else to do the work. That’s a valid route too but depending on how far you are through the project you might find it easier to simply crash and deliver what you can with the original resources earlier.
6. When another resource is free
Sometimes the opposite happens – more resources suddenly become available. Ooo, more people for your project. The impact this can have on your schedule can go one of two ways:
Only you will know which of these scenarios is most likely on your project, and who the extra resource is matters hugely. A junior programmer who has no experience on your project is not likely to gain you much time. But an experienced technical architect who has always kept half an eye on the project and now is available to complete some solution design work alongside your existing resources should speed things up for you dramatically.
7. When another resource needs training
Finally, you may face a situation where you have a resource who is not contributing effectively to the project because they simply don’t have the skills. This hopefully doesn’t happen to you too often – ideally as project managers we would select people for the project team who have the skills we need to get the job done. However, I’m sure you are aware of situations where either ‘the skills we need to get the job done’ were not defined or changed halfway through the project or we couldn’t get a resource with the appropriate experience allocated to the project.
If you have to let someone go on training they obviously won’t be working on the project during that time. If they aren’t working on the project, then their tasks won’t get done. If you don’t have someone else to pick up their work, this will push their overall delivery milestones out.
You may find that crashing the schedule gives you some more slack around their work – either for them to get work done before they go on training (probably not if they don’t have the skills to do their work in the first place) or to speed things up when they get back.
Would you agree with these? What other reasons have you found in the past to crash your schedule? Let us know in the comments.
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.