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The Importance of Project Tracking and Reporting

Once stakeholders have approved the project plan, the execution phase begins. At this point, project monitoring, tracking and reporting become the core responsibilities of project manager. But everyone on the team must also be aware of monitoring and tracking, so if issues arise, they are addressed. Project reporting documents show how things are progressing.

Effective project reporting requires clear, simple and concise communication. This communication flows in two directions. Not only top-down, from project sponsors and external stakeholders to team members, but also in the opposite direction.

Many types of project reports are created during the execution phase in order to track the progress of a project. Project status reports act not only as important communication tools during project execution but also as important historical documents that inform the development of future projects. This makes estimating the scope of future projects less of a shot-in-the-dark, and more of an educated guess.

Project status reports have a few key objectives, including:

  1. Making communication across the organization seamless
  2. Simplifying the communication process
  3. Keeping stakeholders informed as the project moves forward
  4. Delivering the right information, to the right stakeholders, at the right time
  5. Enhancing organizational support for everyone involved

Project monitoring, tracking and reporting are a highly-collaborative process. Without monitoring and tracking the progress of a project, the reporting is not accurate. Therefore, teams must collaborate when creating reports, so communications are clear. This collaboration and communication is facilitated by the right project management tools.

Using tools that help with collaboration when monitoring and tracking makes evaluating a project easier. Projectmanagementcompanion.com has a visual, timeline-driven Gantt charts, drag-and-drop Kanban boards and interactive task lists to help teams collaborate on tasks in the way that works best for them. These three views empower teams to collaborate and execute effectively.

There are six elements to a project report, as the execution phase progresses, it’s important to report on progress so the schedule doesn’t go astray.

Project Information

Start with the basics. What is the project’s name? Who will be managing the project? What are the available resources? Effective tracking requires detailed information. It’s an unsafe bet to assume stakeholders share a projects familiarity. Instead, provide information known, even if it seems like overkill. This helps things run smoothly, and also sets groundwork for the project to be referenced as a precedent when future projects are being planned.

Status Information

Report dates are the most important status information, and should always be front-and-center. Also, data separating status reports from other reports crossing stakeholders’ desks should be visible to grab attention.

Milestone Review

Milestones are major touchpoints for your project. They serve as a guidepost for remaining work, and the timeline for it to get done. Conducting a milestone review lets stakeholders see actual progress versus what was estimated in the project proposal.

Project Summary

The project summary includes a projected completion date, as well as resources and costs expended. Inclusion of issues causing delays is an important summary component. There should be a clear explanation of how these issues could affect budget and timeline, and work being done to ensure things are corrected to get the project back on track.

Issues and Risks

This section is straightforward. List issues and risks encountered and note how these are being resolved. Finally, outline how resolutions are positively impacting project execution.

Project Metrics

Back up statements with hard numbers and data points. Project planning details should have outlined these metrics. Show how data illustrates the success of your project to date, or, highlight needs for immediate improvement.

With these elements in mind, there are some project reporting best practices to consider:

  • Communication is the cornerstone: Status reports are a key element of your communications plan. However, these reports don’t have to cover everything, and be all things to all people. Writing reports in a way that delivers the right information to the right people, at the right time, should be the overarching goal.
  • Be consistent: Consistency is key. Find a format and distribution method that works for stakeholders, and stick with it. They’ll appreciate the predictability of the information they receive.
  • Set targets and measure against them: Establishing metrics is an important part of project reporting and monitoring. Accordingly, these metrics should be how the project progress is measured against goals throughout its life-cycle.
  • Keep things simple: Keep reports simple to ensure effectiveness. Don’t pull in details unrelated to the issue on which is being reported.
  • Always verify what is being reported: It’s a bad idea to assume information is correct without doing due diligence to ensure it is.
  • Have some standards: Reporting simplification is made easier through creation of standards defining report structure, and how information is presented. Given this, building templates to make the work easier is a great first step.

Throughout any project, it’s important to evaluate reporting to avoid scope creep. As project teams start to work, and silos of activity develop, it’s vital to keep everyone aligned. This ensures project scope doesn’t creep.

There are five ways to avoid scope creep:

  1. Document all project requirements 
  2.  Establish change control processes: If scope creep happens, it’s important to have change control processes in place to bring things back on track.
  3. Create a clear project schedule: A thorough project schedule outlines project goals. It outlines tasks to be done to reach those goals. This schedule is referenced against the project plan’s requirements document to make sure everything is moving forward. If not, the schedule sets the course for tweaks or changes.
  4. Verify scope with stakeholders: It’s worthwhile during a project’s lifecycle to review scope with all stakeholders. Reviewing the schedule together, and making sure all tasks stakeholders are expecting to be done on a given timeline is also a good idea.
  5. Engage the project team: Make sure the project team is happy with how things are going throughout the project. As the change control process starts to take hold, let the team know how it will affect them. Weekly 1:1 meetings or team meetings to review tasks, and also overall project progress is a great way to keep the team engaged.

Project reporting can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Taking things step-by-step can help ease anxieties among everyone involved, and ensure a winning result.

Project reporting can be tough, but also efficient with the right tools. Projectmanagementcompanion.com offers tools that make collaboration and development of project reports less time-consuming and more intuitive. Check out the selection of reporting capability in action by taking a free 30-day trial.

Necessary Capacity Planning Tools

Necessary Capacity Planning Tools

Capacity planning is a process that balances the available hours of teams against what the project needs. Capacity in this case is the most work that can be done over a certain time frame. It can be a delicate balancing act as there could be several items needing attention at once, such as the availability of the team, the money in the budget for those hours and what is demanded by the client, stakeholder or customer. Planning is how one schedules the hours of the team members so that the work gets done in time.

The first question to address when planning for capacity within an organization is whether or not there is any capacity, or the resources, to do the work. Regardless of the situation, the information will not be worth much unless there is a way to measure and track these resources, such as a resource management tool. Only then can an educated decision on capacity planning be made.

It’s a matter of supply and demand, are the resources available? Those resources can be people, who can be reallocated from other projects that have been cancelled. If it’s skill, then there’s training to close the gap.

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same. The process is different. The differences have been listed below.

Capacity Planning

  • It’s a planning process designed to help determine if the organization has enough people resources according to skill sets.
  • It looks at the availability of those resources at the skill set/team level.
  • Then it facilitates the decision-making process to hire resources or defer/approve/cancel projects.
  • Capacity planning is about supply and demand.

Resource Planning

  • It’s a planning process that coordinates and allocates actual resources to projects based on skills required.
  • It provides a plan to project managers, which resources they can plan to use for their projects and when.
  • Resource planning is people resource utilization.

Capacity Planning Checklist

The following is a short checklist for high-level capacity planning.

  1. Establish Cross-Functional Team: To collaborate and communicate about resources, as you’re looking across different projects or programs, it can assist a cross-functional team as required with different levels and different functions.
  2. Calculate Resource Capacity: Before planning can occur, there must be an idea of what tool is required, which is why it’s important to note the gap between what is wanted and what is need, and then figure out how to narrow it.
  3. Determine Resources required by the Project: For each project, look at the scope and what resources are required to do the task for the project.
  4. Prioritize Projects: Which projects are most important, and which can be put aside for the time being? Remember everything cannot be done at once.
  5. Allocate Resources Based on Project Priority: Allocate those prioritized projects and make sure that they are aligned with the goals of the organization.

The following are three tips for capacity planning.

  1. Keep the lines of communications open between executives, project management leaders and stakeholders.
  2. Document known risks (such as union strikes, weather, government regulations) that stop a project or create new ones unexpectedly.
  3. Plan for how to handle too much capacity (where is it and how to resolve it, such as reassigning) or not enough capacity (again, where/how.)

Related to capacity planning is capacity requirements planning, which is when an organization decides how much it needs to produce and whether it is capable of doing so. Therefore, capacity requirements planning allows companies to meet supply and demand.

This applies to IT, as they must access the demand for their service and determine their ability to meet that demand with whatever supply they have, be that people or technology. In order to do this successfully, any enterprise must look at internal and external forces and how they impact the business.

Capacity requirements planning is the macro to capacity plannings micro. That is, capacity requirements planning is the big picture that takes in the whole business landscape to see where the company’s production fits. While capacity planning is for the specific projects the company engages in.

Capacity planning is linked to resource management. Projectmanagementcompanion.com has a selection of resource management tools that provide control over planning, scheduling and sourcing. Workload can be balanced and reassign tasks to keep team members from being idle. The resource management tools allows managers to see what their teams are doing, when they’re doing it and how much it costs to do it. Resources can be tracked and see progress, which allows managers to make better decisions. To get a full picture of the costs involved, hourly rates can be added for teams and contractors across project or portfolio. As team members log their hours, their actual costs are automatically calculated and can be compared to the costs that were planned, so adjustments to capacity can be made as needed.

Holidays and working days can also be accounted, whether they’re local or international. These off days are blocked in the calendar, so resources can be better managed. Once capacity planning is completed then the use of the resources can be planned, as to use them more wisely to accomplish project goals.

A data driven resume to nail that next role

The current project is coming to an end, and with it your contract, or possibly it’s time for another challenge elsewhere. Regardless of the reason it’s time to refine the resume to nail that next role. So what is required to standout from all those competitors, it is hard to come by important decisions that are made in the absence of data to support them. Managers are, understandably, loath to not have evidence stacked up to support a claim or decision that exposes their organization to opportunity, but also risk. 

This same perspective can be applied to hiring decisions as well. Are not employees a huge opportunity, albeit potential risk, for any business? A star employee can transform an organization for the better, resulting in a strong bottom line and happier customers. In a competitive job market, candidates need to sell their attributes and accomplishments to hiring managers, who increasingly need to base their hiring decisions on strong evidence, not unlike other operational or project decisions.

The resume needs to be quantitative, most resumes list work experience and education in a neat table, sorted by date and organization. This is a good start. However, when drilled down into the details underlying each previous job, the descriptions often leave something to be desired. For example;

  • “Compiled project analysis for company executives”
  • “Managed an organization-wide ERP solution implementation”
  • “Trained support teams on use of new software tool”

What these examples demonstrate is a lack of volume, scale, or size. How is a hiring manager to know if you managed the roll out of an ERP system for a staff of 10, or 2000? What does improved service delivery really mean? That each agent more consistently said thank you at the end of each call? Or were turnaround times reduced by 30%? Look for the ‘wins’ and highlight them with data.

Which can look like;

  • “Comprehensively analyzed and compiled dozens of address, routing, and fuel data points on a weekly cadence, to draft executive reports that could be quickly understood and acted upon”
  • “Managed a 1 year ERP implementation affecting 900 staff, resulting in time savings of 5 FTEs”
  • “Facilitated dozens of training sessions of 5‐25 participants each, achieving an average instructor rating of 4.5/5 from feedback forms”

The descriptions above provide a potential employer with the following takeaway.

  • $’s spent, saved or earned
  • Time taken or time saved
  • Cadence or turnaround time of process or task
  • # of people impacted, trained or involved
  • # of computers/machines updated or provisioned
  • Volume or quantity of materials 

What if the numbers aren’t impressive, when providing feedback on resumes, mentees often state they don’t think their accomplishments sound big or important enough if too much detail is given, as if keeping it vague somehow augments their work. If you don’t think an accomplishment is worth quantifying, remember that hiring managers can also revert to the lowest common denominator, if quantities aren’t provided. You may have concurrently managed 10 accounts worth an average of $10,000. In the absence of concrete numbers, a hiring manager may theoretically guess that maybe it was 4 accounts worth $5000 each. 

Sometimes, exploring different ways of telling your data story can make your work history sound more effective too. Maybe you successfully negotiated a $100 savings on a monthly vendor contract. That’s great, but maybe you can re-word it as, “Negotiated a 10% savings on a recurring monthly expense, saving $1000s per year”. Explore absolute versus percent versus ratio metrics for each claim, as sometimes one will sound better than the other. 

You may notice 2 distinct metrics types, often, when we are stuck in the weeds of our projects, we only think of our internal metrics. These could include things like # of stakeholders managed, dollars spent, or groups involved. What are often more impactful, in terms of convincing employers of the significance of your work, are metrics that speak to what your project ultimately accomplished; the downstream outcomes. Sometimes, these data points may not be known for months or years. These could include things like # of new clients, # of people trained, or incremental dollars earned or saved, directly due to actions you took while deep in the weeds of your project. Have a think about your last few projects. What were their downstream outcomes?

People differ on the utility of a personal interests or extracurricular section of your resume. Hiring managers, like all humans, are subject to nervousness around meeting new people in a formal interview setting. The personal interests section provide great small chat talking points to fill otherwise awkward pauses that can occur before and after the formal questioning part of an interview.

Just like with the other sections of your resume, be specific, and quantified, with your personal life! Instead of; 

  • “Organizer of musical festivals”, or 
  • “Love traveling and photography”

May look something like;

  • “Have organized 3 musical festivals with 1000s of participants each”, or
  • “Have traveled in 23 countries, and photographed the Taj Mahal to the fish & corals of the Great Barrier Reef”

Lastly, quantifying your resume is an exercise to perform not only once you are looking for your next contract or job, but on an ongoing basis, so that you can leverage the metrics you have formulated for yourself in conversations and informal networking chats.

Good luck on your next application!

The difference between a Project Manager and a Scrum Master

The difference between a Project Manager and a Scrum Master

By the nature of the work that Project Managers and Scrum Masters do, the two are not particularly closely aligned, even if it seems at first glance that they are. Managing a project is not the same as being a Scrum Master. Scrum Masters have the role of mentoring, teaching, coaching and facilitating, while the role of the Project Manager is to ensure that the project runs to time and budget. This means that the Scrum Master relies on more of the so-called “soft skills” involved with helping people to move forward, while the Project Manager takes a more methodical, and arguably more of a “hard skills” approach. While both roles have an interest in ensuring a high level of team performance and driving efficiency within the team, the ways in which they go about this are very different. The Scrum Master facilitates and coaches, while the Project Manager assesses risk and manages issues and conflicts. 

Looking closer at what Project Managers and Scrum Masters do in terms of activities, differences can be seen here too. Project Managers manage projects, while the role of the Scrum Master is to make sure the rules of the Scrum are followed and that the Scrum Framework is adhered to. Project Managers work across all areas of the project spectrum, while Scrum Masters will largely only focus on the three areas of scope management, quality management and resource management. The Project Manager can commonly be responsible for a very large team, while Scrum Masters work within scrum teams which can be quite a lot smaller.

Project Managers also plan regular project meetings as needed, but the Scrum Master will hold a meeting every day for the scrum. Even the emphasis of the work is different, since Project Managers schedule and plan, and narrow in on costs, while Scrum Masters are concerned with the value of the product. Importantly, Project Managers can serve in any industry, delivering projects. However, Scrum Masters only work in the IT industry, or similar related field. As can be seen therefore, there are both subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the skills and activities of Project Managers and Scrum Masters. 

Ultimately, the Project Manager has a role that is focused on control. Project Managers are responsible for project costs, time spent, and scope, quality of the end result, stakeholder management, risk and more. If the Project Manager is unsuccessful, they are accountable for this, and they will usually be blamed for issues. This means that the role of the Project Manager has to be based on control. This is achieved through each of the different stages of the project, such as its initiation, planning, design, running, monitoring, change control and even the final evaluation. On the other hand, the Scrum Master does not have an emphasis on control at all. Their role is ensuring everyone understands what their role is in the Scrum, getting rid of impediments, coaching people and ensuring that Scrum events occur. Importantly, they encourage the team to self organize. This is not the same at all as the level of control that is involved with ensuring that project is managed effectively. 

As a Project Manager, being controlling is a good thing. It means that projects get delivered to time and to budget. But being controlling by nature is hard to change, and Scrum Masters are not controlling. It is very difficult for a person that is used to leading in a command and control style to adopt the very different, softer leadership style of the Scrum Master. 

If, having considered the evidence above, and there is still believe that a Project Manager is the right person to be the Scrum Master, then there are some important steps to be taken. Review the experience they have working in the Scrum, and additionally provide some Scrum training. Perhaps most critical of all, determine if the Project Manager has energy, enthusiasm and interest for putting the Scrum in place. If they do not, then the initiative will be likely to fail, because any effective Scrum needs a great Scrum Master who is interested in and committed to making it work. The good news is, it is possible to learn how to be a great Scrum Master, ensure that the passion to do so is there in the first place for this to succeed.

As has been seen, despite common misconceptions, the Project Manager is not the Scrum Master. The roles are different and require skill sets and activities that might be considered conflicting in nature. This is perhaps why less than a third of organizations assign the Project Manager to be Scrum Master. This is not to say that a Project Manager cannot be Scrum Master under any circumstances – they can – but the circumstances and level of interest have to be just right to get it to work. 

The importance of a good Project Sponsor

Establishing and maintaining a good working relationship with the project sponsor is a key ingredient to project success. The project manager may think that understanding process and having a tight schedule and established governance is enough to guarantee project success. The unfortunate truth is that project success is not just about these things, nor is it simply applying the tried and tested disciplines of project management. There is a critical component to project success that is extremely underrepresented in project delivery advice and that is the pivotal role that a sponsor plays in project success. Regardless of what the Project Manager may or may not do, one of the key ingredients to successful project delivery is what an exceptional sponsor brings to the table. And it’s up to the Project Manager to be able to identify and leverage them.

The project sponsor can come from an assortment of avenues, most come from the ranks of senior executives who have clear skill sets to do a line management role and who’ve been brought on board to deliver in that capacity. However, rarely are they interviewed about their skills in delivering major projects. Exceptional sponsors do exist and they honed their skills through experience. It really is the only way.

So what happens when a Project Manager lands a project that he or she will deliver on behalf of an exceptionally gifted sponsor?

Here are our Top 5 Characteristics:

  • Time they have it – And not just for their direct reports. They understand the importance of their role and thus they are engaged and make the time to be present as required to fully participate in the project.
  • They can manage up and down – This is critical, they will at times need to influence peers and senior executives and other stakeholders for the good of the project but may also need to intervene downwards to help bring their teams along for the ride.
  • They can tell the difference between a risk and an issue – and help manage their impacts – and it is the management of these two things that will go a long way to deciding whether a project is successful or not. Overlook or misrepresent a key risk and the project may be caught flat-footed. Likewise, with major issues, the input of a sponsor with a cool analytical approach is often required to get the best remedy.
  • Everyone is a critic – They get it. Change is difficult, not everyone will be a fellow traveler and a good sponsor knows it is nothing personal just human nature. They will protect the project as best they can from the negative influences (both within and without) and understand it is often nothing personal—just a by-product of driving change.
  • Scope can change – but not without change control. The experienced sponsor understands implicitly that project governance is their friend. Projects can always pivot if required but this should only ever happen via the correct chain of command with the right sign offs, so everyone is aware of impacts to meddling with scope.

While this is a high-level list, it does provide some important insights into the characteristics of what an exceptional sponsor will ‘look like’. Those who are lucky enough to be working with one, coupled with a project manager with strong project fundamentals, know that the opportunity to be successful when delivering a project is infinitely greater.

Task Management Essentials

Task Management Essentials

Tasks are the building blocks of a project, when used correctly it can manage tasks more effectively, then set the project up for success. Projects are made up of tasks, and knowing how to manage these tasks is the secret to getting projects completed on time. At its simplest, task management is having a to-do list, but it can be so much more, for simply having a to-do lists isn’t going to cut it for managing project workloads.

At its core task management is a process where one identifies, monitors and progresses the work that needs to be done during the day. It assists with being efficient if all that happens to be reactive to whoever shouts the loudest at work. Efficiency is not purely answering the next email in an inbox. Tasks need to be treated by a group because what comes in next might not be the most important. Time needs to be managed to spend the right amount working on the next priority task. Task management provides the ability to stay on top of work and helps teams hit their deadlines. The benefits of task management are:

  • The ability to see everything being worked on at once
  • Understanding priorities
  • Time available to do those tasks
  • Tasks can be grouped together to work on similar things at the same time

Above all, a balanced workload can adjust or delegate tasks and deadlines⁠—preventing from being overworked.

There are many tools available for managing tasks. Some of the more common tools are.

To-Do Lists

In its simplest form a pen and paper is required where tasks can be written down. The downside of this simple approach is that it’s hard to move tasks around to group them and prioritize them. And then the list would have to be rewritten every few days or it gets too messy with all the crossings out. Many people do manage simple lists on paper, but when managing a project or multiple projects then something more sophisticated is required.

Online Task Lists

The online task list is a step up from a to-do list. Since its online, it can be accessed from anywhere, and it can be updated and edited easily. Online tools enables the ability to have complete control over tasks. Add due dates, priority levels, attachments, notes and even tags for easy sorting. When working in a team, tasks can be assigned to other team members to help carry the workload.

Online Kanban Boards

If more than lists are required, Kanban can be used to manage tasks. Kanban boards provide a visual means to manage tasks. Tasks are created using Kanban cards, which are then placed in relevant columns. Columns are typically labelled as “to do, doing, done”. The visual interface allows the ability to quickly spot progress levels for tasks, and where a bottleneck or overdue task might be lurking.

Task Management Software

Comprehensive task management software, allows all of the most common task management tools in one software. Plus, it’s great for project teams because they can make a list of all the tasks required for the project, known as a work breakdown structure.

One of the big challenges for project managers is making sure that tasks are done by others. When other people take an action in a meeting, make a note of it and add it to your task management app. Assign it to the right person and it will show up in their personal to-do list. Progress can then be monitored and actioned if required. Filter the project’s task list by resource to see what work everyone has got on: this gives provides an at-a-glance view of the workload for each person. Where they can be reminded from time to time about what has been agreed to do, making sure it is completed before the deadline.

This enables a link to resource planning, where details of who has too much to do and who has some capacity to take on more work, using the information in the task list. It saves a lot of time and duplication of effort. The main things seen in the task management system are tasks. Ensure the Tasks page of the project management tool is first accessed every day. Where assigned work can be seen for that day and the upcoming tasks so they can be checked that the priorities align to what is felt work is needed and make changes as necessary

Tasks that are overdue will be highlighted. This is helpful to see what should have completed but have not. AN agreement can be reached with the team that the target date for completion needs to be changed or get cracking on making sure that work is finished off.

Tasks can be tracked on the task management tool via the ‘Progress’ column. This is an indication of how far through a task the project is, anything that is greater than 0% means the task has started and when it gets to 100% the task will be considered complete.

The to-do list should be updated once any individual item on it is completed. If that sounds like too much to remember, check the to-do list at the end of every day and mark the tasks finished that day as complete. Mark anything that has commenced as ‘in progress’,  It only takes a minute or two and it means that on the following day there is a clear understanding on the priority for that day.

Task lists should be shared as management works best when everyone can see what needs to be done. Online task management software makes this easy because project task list can be shared with the team. Don’t worry about people getting confused about what they personally need to do: each task will be allocated to an individual so there is a whole picture for the project while still knowing what is personally responsible.

Managing tasks, and those of the team, takes up valuable time in the day. This can be achieved by;

  • Tip #1: Use Calendar – Use the calendar or project schedule to add deadlines for tasks. Then can forecast busy and times of extra capacity.
  • Tip #2: Stick With One Method – Using online software or an app is the best way because a laptop or phone is readily available. An app on a smartphone or tablet can quickly be opened to record the task.
  • Tip #3: Prioritize tasks – Creating one central list of tasks for the project team is a big help. There are two ways to do this: what’s urgent and what’s important. Of course, a task can be urgent and important at the same time and the priority of tasks can change from day to day!
  • Tip #4: Track time – Using time sheets to track time is a great way to manage tasks. Because it helps see exactly where time is being spent during the day and this information lets effective priority.
  • Tip #5: Delegate – Look at what can be delegated, projects are a great development and learning opportunity for team members, so think about what can be delegated to others.

There are many task management app available, take the time to test drive a few products and find one that suits your style. Projectmanagementcompanion.com has a list of easy to use, quick to set up apps for managing task lists. Start your free 30-day trial.