Posts Tagged ‘Tracking’

PostHeaderIcon Program Management Essentials

The world is (slowly) moving toward a shared understanding of the term “program”. There are still widely varying interpretations of project vs program but the most common themes are that programs typically drive significant strategic change, involve the integration and coordination of multiple component projects (and sometimes non-project work too), and focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

Alignment and Integration

Where all these criteria are fulfilled, major problems arise when the program is treated simply as a large project, meaning that planning and oversight is overly tactical to the detriment of the more strategic activity necessary for program success (see Big Programs, Basic Flaws).

Seven Key Elements

Ensuring the program delivers what was intended requires special emphasis given to areas such as strategic alignment, stakeholder management, scope and schedule integration, and benefits planning.

The following major elements of program management help provide appropriate focus:

1 – Business Case

Programs should have a well-articulated justification for the investment, that centers on the estimated costs of implementation and ongoing operations against the anticipated benefits to be gained and offset by the associated risks.  The business case lays out the strategic context of the program and shapes its overall mission and vision. Once approved, the business case provides a point of reference throughout the program (updated as necessary) in order to ensure a continued business rationale for the initiative.

2 – Program Organization

This should comprise a single program manager with unambiguous reporting lines to an executive steering committee (program board) that adequately reflects major stakeholder interests, budgetary control and resourcing. Other advisory committees may be set up to review and guide specific aspects of the program but the board always has ultimate decision-making authority. The program manager should have ready access to an individual program sponsor to resolve issues and obtain guidance not requiring involvement of the other board members.

3 – Stakeholder Alignment

The sheer scale of a program will usually infer involvement of many parties with vested interests. Stakeholder analysis will help to identify individual concerns and parties needing the greatest attention, and subsequently define appropriate response strategies. It also assists in identifying risks associated with (real or perceived) negative outcomes. Properly managing relationships with key stakeholders requires detailed communication plans and, (sometimes forgotten), ensuring adequate time and effort is expended in acting on those plans.

4 – Benefits Realization Plan

Since programs focus on outcomes (vs. projects which focus on outputs), a core element of program setup is the development of a plan that (a) assigns metrics to identified benefits, (b) forecasts when and how those benefits will be realized and (c) maps program deliverables to the benefits which are in turn linked to program objectives. This helps ensure that assumptions in how each benefit will be realized are validated and that all required deliverables are clearly identified.

5 – Program Architecture

The program architecture identifies component projects and the major interfaces between them. A vital aspect of developing the architecture is scope integration, whereby the boundaries of each component are validated to ensure that program objectives can be fulfilled without gaps or overlapping effort among the constituent projects. A high-level program roadmap is an important tool in depicting anticipated sequencing of the projects, target dates for key interfaces, review/approval gates and other milestones, and successive stages of funding.

6 – Integrated Master Schedule

An effective integrated master schedule (IMS) consolidates all component project schedules and links them at the task level with specific, clearly defined interfaces with explicit completion criteria. Depending on the schedule criticality, the use of simulation tools and optimization techniques are often essential tools to properly manage schedule risk and greatly increase credibility of the plan and confidence.  The IMS re-validates the program roadmap and benefits plan and together with an interface tracking log will therefore provide the basis for much of the program manager’s performance monitoring focus during program execution.

7 – Tiered Governance

While project managers within the program will typically track progress against schedule, cost and technical performance, the program manager needs to ensure not only proper roll-up of this data (possibly via a program office) to control overall program progress but also to implement tracking of benefit metrics, as per the benefits realization plan. A well-designed program dashboard reflects both types of metric to provide the board with a holistic view of both the strategic and tactical performance aspects of the program.

PostHeaderIcon Making Team Meetings Productive

Avoid a Disappointing Outcome

Much time can go to waste in project review meetings. Mostly this is due to: (a) poor agendas, (b) poor control and (c) poor preparation. The project manager has responsibility for each of these and should recognize each meeting as an opportunity to improve project performance, enhance personal credibility and motivate the team – all as timely and efficiently as possible.

A fine balancing act is typically needed in maintaining meeting focus on project status while ensuring an appropriate environment to re-align the team and foster a positive outlook. Here are some guidelines to keep meetings productive, on-point and on-track.


Set a clear agenda and stick to it-
e.g. Review the:

  • Schedule
  • Changes
  • Issues
  • Risks


Ready the data before the meeting-

  • Don’t waste valuable meeting time getting status updates from team members. Collect this information one day beforehand to allow time for updating the schedule, analyzing variances and identifying specific items needing team review, all in advance of the meeting. Provide team members with any pre-reading that could reduce meeting duration.


Make attendance mandatory-

  • Allowing members to skip meetings without a really good reason will hamper decision-making, dilute communication and weaken the team. Ask the Sponsor to send out a message reinforcing expectations on attendance – and let him/her know how well they’re being met.


Keep meetings relevant and concise-

  • Keep control of discussions, stick to the agenda, ensure cell-phones stay off and stop any side-conversations promptly. Actively solicit inputs from the team on their perspectives of likelihood of success – and probe any concerns thoroughly. Secure clear commitments on actions and due dates.


Rigid or relaxed to suit the culture–

  • It’s a subtle thing but get it wrong and your perceived credibility as an effective leader will be impacted…as will the team’s motivation and commitment. Some cultures respond better to informal meetings, lots of humor and a relaxed environment than others. Know your team members and your organization’s culture.

Virtual Teams

Additional considerations-

  • If the team includes foreigners, speak slowly and avoid using idioms. (Obvious perhaps, but rampantly ignored). If time zone differences are severe, consider rotating weekly meeting times to spread the pain of early morning or late night calls. Consider asking virtual participants to connect into the meeting individually and separately to avoid the risk of co-located groups getting into their own side-conversations while ‘on mute’.


Give thanks-

  • Be sure to take time to express appreciation for any and all noteworthy efforts honestly, openly and consistently. Whether for the efforts of a single individual or a group, conveying words of thanks and using simple positive reinforcement rewards are powerful motivators.

PostHeaderIcon Setting Baselines in Microsoft Project

Baselining a project plan is essential to facilitate accurate tracking of project progress. Project schedules that lack baselines make progress reporting a combination of guesswork and blind faith, yet it is surprising how often this occurs.

Setting a baseline is typically the final act of planning. It should only be done once the sponsor has approved the project plan for implementation, thereby signifying the transition of the project from planning to execution. All documents that reflect the approved project plan should be designated as baseline records, but most importantly it is the detailed schedule that needs baselining to facilitate accurate tracking of progress.

Two Pre-Steps

Before actually setting the baseline, there are two important pre-steps:

  1. Ensure the schedule has been quality checked
    This includes validating the WBS (see A Checklist for Work Breakdown Structures), and verifying the integrity of the duration estimates, dependencies, constraints and resource assignments
  2. Obtain approval of the schedule from the project Sponsor
    This should include a review of all major incremental milestone dates and the level of schedule risk associated with each – not just the final deadline.

Quick and Simple

Saving a baseline in Microsoft Project is a quick and simple thing to do and here’s how:

  • Select either Project, Set Baseline… (Project 2010), or
    Tools, Tracking, Save Baseline… (Project 2003/7)
  • Click to select Baseline
    (rather than Interim plan which is normally used for saving draft versions of plans)
  • Select Entire Project
    Microsoft Project now copies all current schedule information such as Start/Finish dates, estimates and costs into Baseline fields so they can be used as comparisons with Actual information once the project gets underway (see image below).
  • Select View, Tracking Gantt to see the baseline schedule displayed together with the current schedule.

An updated project schedule showing current progress on each task (Start/Finish columns, blue/red bars) compared with the original baseline (Baseline Start/Baseline Finish columns, light grey horizontal bars). Also shown is the total slack on each task (positive slack/blue horizontal lines displaying the late schedule, negative slack/red horizontal lines).


Microsoft Project provides for re-baselining via the “Baseline 1”, “Baseline 2” etc. dropdown selections in the Save Baseline dialog. The options for displaying the Gantt bars for any baseline can be set up in Format, Bar Styles (click Insert Row to assign bar and color options for any re-baseline, e.g. for Baseline 1 select “From” as Baseline1 Start and “To” as Baseline1 Finish).

However, once set, the baseline schedule should only be altered (re-baselined) under extreme circumstances (such as a Sponsor-approved major scope change), that render the original baseline schedule obsolete and no longer a meaningful target to aim for and report progress against. Continually re-baselining is not project management – it’s playing politics.

PostHeaderIcon A Checklist for Work Breakdown Structures

Whether checklists are retained as tacit knowledge, explicitly documented for personal use or defined as an organizational standard, they can be invaluable aids to ensuring quality and consistency (see Project Management Checklists). Checklists can be used for any and all aspects of project management but generally have most value in those major areas of project planning that are most frequently defective, such as scope management, scheduling and risk management.

Ten WBS Checks

 Here’s a checklist for that cornerstone of all detailed planning, schedule optimization, proper risk identification and effective change management – the work breakdown structure (WBS):

  1. Is the WBS organization method appropriate?
    – The chosen level 1 grouping method should reflect the focus needed for tracking and reporting
  2. Is the project scope fully reflected in the WBS tasks?
    – The scope definition of each deliverable should be reflected in all tasks that accomplish that deliverable
  3. Do all task names have verb/noun descriptions?
    – Action-oriented task names reduce ambiguity and minimize potential misunderstandings
  4. Do all tasks have correct coding?
    – Unique WBS codes should correctly identify the hierarchy of each task
  5. Do tasks aggregate correctly?
    – All lower level tasks should roll up to the next highest level
  6. Are tangible outputs evident for each task?
    – Establishing measurable outcomes enhance understanding of a task’s purpose, scope and progress
  7. Does each task have one single owner?
    – The project manager needs to know who is accountable for ensuring the task gets done – that’s one single individual (multiple owners = zero owners)
  8. Do the lowest level tasks have appropriate duration?
    – Task durations should be consistent with tracking frequency (e.g.. weekly tracking would demand task durations of typically between 1-8 days)
  9. Do tasks have clear, agreed upon completion criteria?
    – Completion criteria ensure there is no ambiguity in understanding what “done” means
  10. Does the WBS include adequate milestones?
    – Milestones should be present to help set schedule targets and track progress against the completion of key deliverables and major project events.

PostHeaderIcon Displaying the Late Schedule in MS Project

Knowing the latest dates that we can start and finish tasks without impacting the overall project schedule is key to effective time management, especially for those projects where schedule is the least flexible component (see Flexibility Matrix).

Like the critical path itself however, Microsoft Project does not display this information by default. But we can easily set up the display options to reflect the late dates as in the example below:

Late Schedule Example

Here’s how we configure this. First we display the critical path:

  • From the menu, select View, Gantt Chart
  • Then click the Gantt Chart Wizard button on the Formatting toolbar
  • Select “Critical Path”, then Finish, Format It, Exit Wizard.

The critical path tasks are now visible in red. Next we set up the late schedule for the noncritical (blue) tasks:

  • On the menu, select Format, Bar Styles
  • Then click Insert Row to add a row just above the Critical Path display row (note that inserting a row at the top of the list may not work)
  • Enter “Late Schedule” for the ‘Name’ and select your preferred bar styles for the ‘Appearance’ – (in the example above I used a navy horizontal line bounded by small triangles)
  • Select “Normal, Noncritical” for ‘Show For … Tasks’
  • Lastly ensure that you select ‘From’ “Late Start” and ‘To’ “Late Finish”
  • Click “OK”

Now you should see the late schedule bars showing for the noncritical tasks indicating the latest each task can start and finish.

Useful Information

Showing the columns for Total Slack (the difference between the early and late dates) and Free Slack (how long a task can be delayed without delaying a sucessor task) as in the simple example above tells us the following:

  • The critical path runs through tasks E, G, J
  • The noncritical tasks have varying total slack
    • Tasks B, C, H, L have only 2 days, so are near critical and should be monitored closely for any slippage
    • Tasks A, K have 7 days
    • Task F can be delayed by up to 11 days before the project finish date is impacted
  • Tasks B and C have zero free slack so any delay will immediately impact their successor tasks

Track the Slack

Knowing not only which tasks are critical and which are not, but also how much float or slack there is on each non-critical task, helps us prioritize work (according to slack value) and monitor trends in schedule variance (changes in slack week-to-week).

PostHeaderIcon The Flexibility Matrix

An important aspect of the project manager’s role is the appropriate balancing of trade-offs among the primary project constraints. In most cases this means determining priorities among schedule, scope and resources. The relative importance of these should be defined unambiguously by the project sponsor and then reflected by the PM in a matrix:

Forcing clarity on project constraints and priorities

Forcing clarity on project constraints and priorities

In the example above, schedule is deemed to have the least flexibility, meaning that everything possible shall be done to meet the target completion date, even if scope has to be compromised in some way, or more preferably, by adding resources to expedite the schedule. It is important to state WHY a particular constraint is either least, moderately, or most flexible, according to the sponsor’s priorities, with guidance on the relative limits of flexibility (so no blank cheques).

This little tool is invaluable to the project manager during both planning (in ensuring the right focus in optimizing the project plan before baselining) and execution (in guiding both the tracking effort and corrective action in the event the project deviates from the plan).

While the relative priorities can be changed by management as desired, a simple rule must be followed to prevent insistence that everything be least flexible – only ONE check allowed per column and ONE check allowed per row.

PostHeaderIcon Construction Industry needs Project Management Education

When I first started in the project management services business, I was repeatedly led to believe that the construction industry was the beacon of leadership in project management maturity. My own experience over the years tended to question that wisdom and now the truth is out that this is indeed all nonsense. According to a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), which represents 42,000 members and sets standards for the management of the total building process, the construction industry has much to learn about project management.

The Shocking Truth

Not a towering force in project management

Not a towering force in project management

The survey results are based on data from 73 companies and over 2,000 projects. Its conclusions are available on the CIOB website – you can also watch an interesting video of the CIOB president Keith Pickavance presenting the results at the Project Management Asia Conference 2008. They make for a highly uncomplimentary denunciation of the state of project management practices in the industry- for example:

– more than 50% of projects reported on managed with simple bar charts and no CPM
– less than 15% used a linked network to define the schedule
– only 10% had a QA system in place to quality control the network
  • less than 15% used a linked network to define the schedule
  • more than 50% used only simple bar charts
    • (no chance of a critical path)
  • more than 50% used paper (not computerized) records
  • less than 15% kept logs of changes
    • (not much good in court)
  • 95% did not report delays to progress because they:
    • hoped no-one would notice
    • hoped they could catch up
    • did not want to upset the client
    • thought they could blame someone else.

Its not a pretty picture. Little wonder then, that the industry is dogged by delays, compensation claims and disputes.

The Way Forward

Clearly there is a need for some serious project management skills development. In the words of Mr. Pickavance himself:

We have no standards, we have no training, we have no qualifications.

All of which should be manna from heaven for project management educators, particularly in those regions where construction investment is being pumped up to help resurrect limp economies. Assuming of course that the building firms are open to changing their ways.

PostHeaderIcon Ambiguity kills Projects (the 1st Law)

Not so clear

Ambiguity is the enemy of project success. Its one of the first things I instruct new project managers on. I call it the First Law in project management.

Its not hard to find ambiguity in projects. Look closely at the objectives, the requirements, the scope definition and the schedule. Are they each as clear and as accurate as they can be? Most importantly, do we know what “done” really looks like? This is crucial. (Glen Alleman’s prolific and consistently excellent blog at Herding Cats has a host of outstanding posts on this – check it out). Each ambiguity is a potential source of conflict, rework and failure.

Clarity Checks

The antidote to ambiguity is clarity – here are a few items that must be on the ‘Clarity Checklist’:

Leaving ambiguity unchecked simply increases project risk. The pursuit of clarity isn’t always popular because it makes people have to think ahead a little harder. But its necessary. So put on your flak jacket and go on a mission – seek out ambiguity and destroy it… before it does some damage.

(See all 5 Laws summarized in The 5 Laws of Effective Project Management)

PostHeaderIcon Using Indicators to Track Schedules in MS Project

Custom fields in Microsoft Project offer a host of possibilities for tracking and managing schedules. I like to use the indicator functionality to help monitor and control progress. In the example below I’ve used the custom field “Number1” to indicate task status based on total slack.


Here’s how to set this up-

  • Select Tools, Customize, Fields
  • Select the field “Number1”
  • Click Rename to relabel field as “Schedule Indicator”, then OK
  • Click on Custom Attributes, Formula
  • Enter the formula:
    IIf([Baseline Finish]>100000,-1000,IIf([Actual Finish]<100000 And [Finish Variance]=0,-998,IIf([Actual Finish]<100000 And [Baseline Finish]>[Actual Finish],-998,IIf([Actual Finish]<100000 And [Actual Finish]>[Baseline Finish] And [Finish Variance]>0,-999,[Total Slack]/480))))
  • Click OK
  • Click on Values to Display, Graphical Indicators, and set up the images in the order below:
    White = -1,000 (will show tasks that are not baselined)
    Blue = -999 (tasks that finished late)
    Dark green = -998 (tasks that finished on time or early)
    Red <=  -5 (incomplete tasks that are late by 1 week or more)
    Yellow <= 0 (incomplete tasks that are up to 1 week late)
    Green >= 0 (incomplete tasks that are early or on time)
  • Click OK, OK

Lastly, we set a Deadline on the Project Complete milestone to provoke negative slack values when behind schedule-

  • Double click on the milestone name, then go to Task Information, Advanced, Deadline

That’s about it!