How to Monitor Project-Schedule Performance

Regularly monitoring your project’s schedule performance can provide early indications of possible activity-coordination problems, resource conflicts, and possible cost overruns. To monitor schedule performance, you need to know how to collect information and evaluate it and how to ensure its accuracy.

Your project’s Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a deliverable-oriented decomposition of the work required to produce your project’s deliverables. The lowest level of detail of each branch of the WBS is a work package, and each work package, in turn, is composed of activities (pieces of work performed during the project).

You can describe an activity’s schedule performance either by noting the dates it began and ended or by describing how much of it has been done.

If you choose to describe your project’s schedule performance by noting the status of individual activities, collect either or both of the following data items to support your analyses:

  • The start and end dates for each activity in your project

  • The dates when milestones (such as contract signed, materials received, or environmental test completed) are reached

Be careful if you decide to use percent completed to indicate an activity’s progress, because most often you have no clear way to determine this percentage.

Assess your project’s schedule status by comparing actual activity start/end dates and actual milestone dates to their planned dates:

Create a combined activities and milestones report.
Create a combined activities and milestones report.

A combined activities and milestones report includes information s from your project plan:

  • The activity or milestone identification code and name

  • The person responsible for ensuring the activity or milestone occurs

  • The dates the activity should start and end or the milestone should occur

Alternatively you can use a progress Gantt chart. You shade an appropriate portion of each bar to represent deliverable progress. This sample chart presents project performance as of the end of week 4 of the project. According to the chart, the design phase is complete, the development phase is one week behind schedule, and the testing phase is one week ahead of schedule.

Create a progress Gantt chart.
Create a progress Gantt chart.

The most meaningful way to assess progress on a WBS component is to note the component’s intermediate deliverables that you’ve achieved to date.

Not everyone interprets a progress Gantt chart the same way.

You also need to collect the schedule performance data, develop a standard format and process for recording your work accomplishments. Standard formats and processes improve the accuracy of your information and take less time to complete. I frequently use the combined activities and milestones report format.

Consider the following factors when you schedule your activity monitoring:

  • Is the activity on a critical path?

  • Is the activity on a path that’s close to being critical?

  • Is the activity risk high?

  • Have you already encountered problems with this activity?

  • Are you approaching the activity’s planned completion date?

Recording and reporting on progress this way has several advantages:

  • Recording achievements at the time they occur increases the likelihood that the data are accurate.

  • The agreed-upon submission schedule reduces the chances that I’ll surprise people with unexpected requests for progress data.

  • Having people continuously review their proposed schedules and record their accomplishments heightens their awareness of goals and increases the chances that they’ll meet their commitments.

  • The purpose of project control is to encourage people to perform according to your plan, not just to collect data. The more aware the team members are of their work in relation to the overall schedule, the greater the likelihood that they’ll hit the schedule. If they don’t know or care about the target date, they’re unlikely to hit it.

Monitor schedule performance at least once a month. Experience has shown that waiting longer does the following:

  • Allows people to lose focus and commitment to the activity and increases the chances that the activity won’t end on schedule

  • Provides more time for small problems to go undetected and, thus, evolve into bigger problems

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