Tracking a project can be just as elusive as tracking a wild animal that has been let loose in the woods. The project may have been caged up for some time and it is finally time to let it go. Perhaps a strategic decision has been made by the company to implement this project or maybe a client has secured the funding necessary to engage with your company. The green light has been given, the cage door has been opened, and the project is ready to go!
And off it goes…
The project dashes madly from department to department overturning desks and careers along the way. It runs rapidly through the halls biting anyone that dares to slow it down. It takes every conceivable shortcut imaginable and leaves a wake of destruction and chaos behind it. People are scared to confront the project in fears of it draining every bit of their life force from them. Others avert their eyes to the carnage that ensues pretending as if it never even happened.
The bad news? It’s your job to track this project down and put it back in its cage. The good news? Project tracking is one of your specialties. You have perfected this craft through scores of project safaris and expeditions. The weapons you need are a little more advanced than just a project tracking spreadsheet, the following five documents are key to successful project tracking.
Top 5 Project Tracking Tools.
#1. Statement of Work
This is one of the first places to start for a paying Client engagement in order to wrangle an out of control project back into its cage and under control. The statement of work is the cut-and-dry legal contract or agreement that lays out clear expectations between what the vendor agreed to do and the client agreed to accept.
This most important of project tracking methods typically outlines the purpose of the project and the scope of the work that will be undertaken to accomplish this project. It also includes key dates as to when payment will be received and deliverables finished. Additionally, client responsibilities are many times spelled out in such a document as well as the definition of what “complete” means for a particular project. This is especially important when the project you are tracking is out of control and just won’t seem to go away. Clearly spelled out Acceptance criteria are a must when it comes to taming the beast.
The statement of work is a good place to start for project tracking as it will be the reference point to go back to upon what was originally agreed upon for this particular project. This can serve as the foundation for subsequent conversations and strategies to get the project back on track.
#2. Project Charter
You may start directly with this document if this is a project internal to your company and not from a paying client. This is the next document that you would need for project tracking purposes. Not only does the project charter give the project manager the authority they need to complete a project, it should also include a breakdown of those items that are in-scope and explicitly out-of-scope.
There are many assumptions that can be made at various stages of the project. This is especially true within the Sales cycle. The potential client may reason that because something was not specifically mentioned during the sales cycle, it must be included. The sales person may reason that because something was not specifically mentioned during the sales cycle, of course, everyone knows that it is to be excluded.
A properly prepared project charter is another document you can refer back to as a project manager in order to get your project back on track and aid in project tracking.
#3. Work Breakdown Structure
The Work Breakdown Structure is a veritable cornucopia of project tracking goodness for any project manager. This is the document that takes the deliverables that were spelled out in the Statement of Work and/or Project Charter and takes it down to the next level. For example, perhaps the Project Charter includes a statement that “training will be provided”. What does that mean and what does that include? Some may say that training includes phone support for anyone that calls into a particular number. Others may say that it would include regularly scheduled training sessions that someone may attend while looking at a professionally developed training manual.
Such a huge disconnect can be remedied via the Work Breakdown Structure. This graphical representation of what is included in a project can serve as the basis for a project manager tasked with getting this project under control can reference. If it’s something that was agreed to by the company, then it needs to be honored. If it’s not, then this portion of the project could be considered closed OR a change request document can be executed.
#4. Project Schedule
Another area where a project has the tendency to run rampant is how long it takes. Project timelines and schedules quickly unravel if they are not managed closely. Worse yet, many projects don’t have a clearly defined schedule other than a gentlemen’s handshake that the entire project will be done at a particular point in time.
A well-developed and thought out project schedule is critical for a project manager to keep things under control. This minimizes surprises and serves as the benchmark for project tracking to be compared against. For example, a project should have been at this particular point in the schedule on this date, but it is currently running behind by this many days or weeks. There is no way of knowing this is the only deliverable that has a date to it is “project completion”. Carefully manage and monitor the project schedule and you can use this document to get a rogue project under control as well.
#5. Change Request Documentation
Last, but certainly not least, is the necessary audit trail to document change requests. There are a couple of expressions that come to mind when one thinks about changes on a project. One of these is, unfortunately, “no good deed goes unpunished”. This is the bane of new project managers that are eager to please.
A client makes a seemingly innocuous request to change just one part of the project. It’s not that big of a deal, it won’t take that long, and it seems like it’s the right thing to do. However, it’s out of scope from what was originally agreed upon. The new project manager understands this but says to himself “what could possibly go wrong” and decides to move forward with the undocumented request.
One thing leads to another, and it is found that this particular change impacts deliverable after deliverable on the project. Managers get upset, timelines get prolonged, and the client gets amnesia. “I don’t recall asking for that to be done. I think that’s something you decided to do on your own”, they say to your dismay. What’s more, they refuse to pay for any of the additional time or materials necessary to complete the project and your company has to eat that cost.
That only has to happen once (hopefully not twice) before you realize that you are not being a jerk asking for these changes to be documented, and if appropriate, paid for. Rather you are performing responsible project management for the purpose of keeping the project on track and delivered on time.
There is certainly much more to effective project tracking. However, making sure that you have the above five documents can help you tame an out of control project and put it back in its cage where it belongs!