Chapter 5 – Project Life Cycle, Scope, Charters, Proposals

5.5. Monitoring

The best project managers succeed through an artful combination of leadership and teamwork, focusing on people and using their emotional intelligence to keep everyone on task and moving forward. HR could provide training in emotional intelligence to ensure the team are aware of, control, and express their emotions.  However, successful project managers also know how to gather data on the health of their projects, analyze that data, and then, based on that analysis, make adjustments to keep their projects on track. In other words, they practice project monitoring, analytics, and control.

Note that most project management publications emphasize the term monitoring and control to refer to this important step of project management, with no mention of the analysis that allows a project manager to use monitoring data to make decisions. But of course, there’s no point in collecting data on a project unless you plan to analyze it for trends that tell you about the current state of the project. Often, monitoring and control is part of the Execution or Implementation Phase.

For simple, brief projects, that analysis can be a simple matter—you’re clearly on schedule, you’re clearly under budget—but for complex projects you’ll need to take advantage of finely calibrated data analytics tools. In this chapter, we’ll focus on tasks related to monitoring and control, and also investigate the kind of thinking required to properly analyze and act on monitoring data.

Generally speaking, project monitoring and control involves reconciling “projected performance stated in your planning documentation with your team’s actual performance” and making changes where necessary to get your project back on track (Peterman, 2016). It occurs simultaneously with project execution because the whole point of monitoring and controlling is making changes as team members perform their tasks.

The monitoring part of the equation consists of collecting progress data and sharing it with the people who need to see it in a way that allows them to understand and respond to it. The controlling part consists of making changes in response to that data to avoid missing major milestones. If done right, monitoring and controlling enables project managers to translate information gleaned by monitoring into the action required to control the project’s outcome. A good monitoring and control system is like a neural network that sends signals from the senses to the brain about what’s going on in the world. The same neural network allows the brain to send signals to the muscles, allowing the body to respond to changing conditions.

Because monitoring and controlling is inextricably tied to accountability, government websites are a good source of suggestions for best practices. According to the state of California, monitoring and controlling involves overseeing all the tasks and metrics necessary to ensure that the approved and authorized project is within scope, on time, and on budget so that the project proceeds with minimal risk. This process involves comparing actual performance with planned performance and taking corrective action to yield the desired outcome when significant differences exist. The monitoring and controlling process is continuously performed throughout the life of the project (California Office of Systems Integration, 2008).

In other words, monitoring is about collecting data. Controlling is about analyzing that data and making decisions about corrective action. Taken as a whole, monitoring and controlling is about gathering intelligence and using it in an effective manner to make changes as necessary. Precise data are worthless unless they are analyzed intelligently and used to improve project execution. At the same time, project execution is uninformed by the latest data on changing currents in the project can lead to disaster.

Active Control takes a two-pronged approach:

  • Controlling what you can by making sure you understand what’s important, taking meaningful measurements, and building an effective team focused on project success.
  • Adapting to what you can’t control through early detection and proactive intervention.

The first step in active control is ensuring that the monitoring information is distributed in the proper form and to the right people so that they can respond as necessary. In this way, you need to function as the project’s nervous system, sending the right signals to the project’s muscles (activity managers, senior managers, clients, and other stakeholders), so they can take action. These actions can take the form of minor adjustments to day-to-day tasks, or of major adjustments, such as changes to project resources, budget, schedule, or scope.

HR in Focus: HR and Monitoring 

Human Resources would be less involved in monitoring the data and analytics of the project. This would be left to the Project Manager and other stakeholders.  However, HR could monitor communication, and performance as stated earlier.

Within the communication plan, it is important to monitor the process and identify where there may be weaknesses and strengths. There may be a need to change the approach to have more impact, improve efficiency, and accountability of the communication plan. This could be accomplished through surveys to team members, individual or team interviews, or discussing the communication channels with stakeholders. Human Resources can help everyone involved find clarity in the relationships between the stakeholders.

Performance monitoring would be conducted by HR on a regular basis to ensure there are no underlying problems that could negatively impact the project. They can collect data if and when a problem arises, and deal with it quickly. They may also gather the data as a baseline to compare with other issues at a later time in the project. Both these monitoring systems, set up at the beginning of the project, is a proactive approach to problem-solving to avoid issues. However, performance monitoring during the project helps to boost productivity and build a successful project by resolving problems quickly and easily.