10.4. Monitoring for Active Control

When setting up monitoring and controlling systems for a new project, it’s essential to keep in mind that not all projects are the same. What works for one project might not work for another, even if both projects seem similar. Also, the amount of monitoring and controlling required might vary with your personal experience. If you’ve never worked on a particular type of project before, the work involved in setting up a reliable monitoring and controlling system will typically be much greater than the up-front work required for a project that you’ve done many times before. For projects you repeat regularly, you’ll typically have standard processes in place that will make it easy for you to keep an eye on the project’s overall performance.

Exactly which items you need to monitor will vary from project to project, and from one industry to another. But in any industry, you usually only need to monitor a handful of metrics. There’s no need to over-complicate things. For example, when managing major construction projects for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Gary Whited, focused on these major items:

  • Schedule
  • Cost/budget
  • Issues specific to the project
  • Risk

He also recommends monitoring the following:

  • Quality
  • Safety
  • Production rates
  • Quantities

In other kinds of projects, you will probably need to monitor different issues. But it’s always a good idea to focus on information that can serve as early warnings, allowing you to change course if necessary. This typically includes the following:

  • Current status of schedule and budget
  • Expected cost to complete
  • Expected date(s) of completion
  • Current/expected problems, impacts, and urgency
  • Causes for schedule/cost overruns

As Whited explains, the bottom line is this: “If it’s important to the success of your project, you should be monitoring it” (Whited, 2014).

Note that measuring the percent complete on individual tasks is useful in some industries, where tasks play out over a long period of time. According to Dave Pagenkopf, in the IT world, the percent completion of individual tasks is meaningless: “The task is either complete or not complete. At the project level, the percent complete may mean something. You really do need to know which tasks/features are 100% complete. However sloppy progress reports can generate confusion on this point. 100% of the functions in a software product 80% complete is not the same as having 80% of the features 100% complete. A poorly designed progress report can make these can look the same, when they most definitely are not” (pers. comm., November 13, 2017).

In addition to deciding what to monitor, you need to decide how often to take a particular measurement. As a general rule, you should measure as often as you need to make meaningful course corrections. For some items, you’ll need to monitor continuously; for others, a regular check-in is appropriate. Most projects include major milestones or phases that serve as a prime opportunity for monitoring important indicators. As Gary Whited notes, “The most important thing is to monitor your project while there is still time to react. That’s the reason for taking measurements in the first place” (2014).

11.2 What to Monitor and When to Do It” from Technical Project Management in Living and Geometric Order by Jeffrey Russell, Wayne Pferdehirt and John Nelson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Essentials of Project Management Copyright © 2021 by Adam Farag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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