We have previously discussed important considerations to take into account when defining and planning your project. Here, we look at some useful guidelines to follow when actually executing your project.
Accuracy of progress measurement – The importance of accuracy in progress measurement cannot be overemphasized as, without accurate measurement, all the benefits of best practices cannot be realised. Depending on the type of project involved, it may be possible to agree what needs to be achieved to ‘claim’ earned value percentages against different types of activities, or visual checks on progress may be necessary. A successful Project Manager needs to be sure that the progress measures being reported are accurate, to allow them to make the right decisions.
Cost versus schedule – The real value of earned value management (EVM) is that it compares cost and schedule progress measurements – providing the team with accurate measures and forecasts. However, the timely reporting of actual costs(AC) is not realistic in some organisations. In these cases it is still possible to calculate a reasonably accurate costs-incurred figure based on known payroll costs or committed costs through finance systems. To not measure costs and schedule simultaneously, is to make decisions based on potentially misleading data – which should worry any project team.
Forecasting and early warnings – The purpose of accurate forecasting figures such as estimate at completion and budget at completion, provides an early warning to the project team, project manager and project stakeholders of all types. Hiding this bad news early in a project is a mistake that many project managers are tempted to make – convincing themselves that they will compensate for early problems later in the project. All organisations need to know early if there are issues. No project manager is thanked for delaying bad news. Equally good news should be made available as it may allow for the organisation to channel much needed resources elsewhere if they are now available.
Variations and change management – almost all projects will encounter change and it is the ability of the project team to recognize change, evaluate the effects of change, and make a reasoned decision that can often make the difference between a successful project and a disastrous one. Human nature often leads to variations or changes being accepted without challenge. The consequential effect of an ill-considered change is one of the most common causes of project cost or schedule overruns.
The learning organisation – capturing and recording ‘actuals’ has an importance to most organisations considerably beyond the project itself. If an organisation is to learn lessons from the past and improve its project performance it is essential that the data recorded for progress reporting during a project is also analysed at project completion for ‘lessons learned’. It is common in most organisations for project staff to be reallocated immediately after a project is completed. However a little time spent recording and disseminating lessons learned and actual can pay immense dividends to the organisation and is, in mature project organisations, an integral part of good project management.
Always measure progress against a baseline plan. Forecast cost and schedule variances and manage change. The techniques and tools available to do this are critical for the project manager and yet the most overlooked. As some progress measurement techniques require timely and accurate data, and an understanding of earned value management, they are often avoided as ‘too complex’.