Monitoring schedule performance

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Regularly monitoring your project's schedule performance can provide early indications of possible activity-coordination problems, resource conflicts, and cost overruns that may occur in the future. The following sections show you what information you need to monitor schedule performance, how to collect and evaluate it, and how to ensure its accuracy.

Defining the data to collect

You can describe an activity's status either by noting whether it's started, in progress, or finished, or by indicating the portion of the activity that's been completed.

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Be careful if you decide to use percent completed to indicate an activity's progress. Most often, this measure represents only a guess because you have no clear way to determine this percentage. For example, saying that your new product design is 30 percent complete is virtually meaningless because you can't determine how much of the thinking and creating is actually done.

Suggesting that you have completed 30 percent of your design because you have expended 30 of the 100 hours budgeted for the task or because three of the ten days allotted for its performance have passed is equally incorrect. The first indicator is a measure of resource use, and the second is a measure of time elapsed. Neither measure indicates the amount of substantive work completed.

On the other hand, if your activity has clear segments that take roughly the same amount of time and effort, you may be able to determine an accurate measure of percent complete. For example, if you planned to conduct telephone interviews with 20 different people and you have completed 10, you can argue that the activity is 50 percent complete.

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

^ The start and end dates for each lowest-level activity in your project's Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

^ The dates key events (such as contract signed, materials received, or environmental test completed) are reached

See Chapter 4 for a discussion of the WBS and Chapter 5 for the definitions of an activity and an event.

Analyzing schedule performance

Assess your project's schedule status by comparing actual activity start/end dates and actual key-event dates to their planned dates. Figures 12-1 and 12-2 present formats that support ready comparisons of these data.

Figure 12-1 depicts a combined activities and key-events report. The following information in this report comes from your project plan:

1 The activity or key event identifier and description 1 The person responsible for ensuring that the activity or event occurs 1 The dates the activity should start and end or the event should occur

These data describe performance during the period of the report:

i The dates the activity actually starts and ends or the event actually occurs i Relevant comments about the event

Figure 12-1:

A combined activities and keyevents report.

Activity

Person

Start Date

End Date

Comments

Responsible

Planned

Actual

Planned

Actual

2.1.1.

F. Smith

Feb 14

Feb 15

Feb 28

Feb 28

Design

questionnaire

KE 2.1.1.

F. Smith

-

-

Feb 28

Feb 28

Questionnaire

design

approved

F. Smith

Apr 20

Apr 21

Apr 30

Apr 25

Critical Path

2.2.2.

Pilot test

questionnaire

Figure 12-2 illustrates a progress Gantt chart. You shade an appropriate portion of each bar to represent activity progress. This sample chart presents project performance as of June 30. According to the chart, the design phase is complete, the develop phase is one month behind schedule, and the conduct test phase is one month ahead of schedule.

Figure 12-2:

A progress Gantt chart.

Activity/Event

Design

Initial design completed Final design completed Develop

Development c ompleted Conduct test Test plan completed Initial test completed Final Test completed

Progress report as of June 30

Figure 12-2 illustrates a progress Gantt chart. You shade an appropriate portion of each bar to represent activity progress. This sample chart presents project performance as of June 30. According to the chart, the design phase is complete, the develop phase is one month behind schedule, and the conduct test phase is one month ahead of schedule.

Progress report as of June 30

Date

The most meaningful way to assess activity progress is to consider the activity's intermediate events that you've achieved to date. The progress Gantt chart in Figure 12-2 really says that on June 30 you achieved all the intermediate events of Task 2 that you had planned to reach by May 31 or, as noted in the previous paragraph, that Task 2 is one month ahead of schedule.

Note: You may think I violated my own guideline by reporting on four-month activities. (I suggest in Chapter 4 that your lowest-level activities should last no more than two weeks.) However, you can prepare these reports with any level of detail you choose, depending on your audiences' interests and needs This high-level report presents information for four-month activities, but the detailed plan would break these activities into subelements of two weeks or less.

Not everyone interprets a progress Gantt chart the same way. I intended the chart to suggest that Task 2 is one month behind schedule. However, some people have told me that they interpret the report to mean Task 2 is 25 percent complete because one of the four segments for Task 2 is shaded. And one person said that the chart indicated Task 2 actually ended on June 30, although I've never figured out how he justified that interpretation. The message is: Be sure you include a legend with your graph that explains clearly how you want people to interpret it.

Collecting schedule performance data

In order 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. I frequently use the combined activities report and key-events report format.

Consider the following factors when you schedule activity monitoring.

1 Is the activity on a critical path? Delayed activities on a critical path will delay your overall project schedule (see Chapter 5 for a detailed discussion of critical paths). Therefore, consider monitoring critical-path activities more often to identify potential problems as soon as possible and minimize their effect on the project schedule.

1 Is the activity on a path that's close to being critical? Activities on non-critical paths can have some delays before their path becomes critical. The maximum delay for noncritical activities is called slack time or float (see Chapter 5). If an activity's slack time is very short, a small delay can cause the path to become critical. Therefore, consider monitoring activities that have very small slack times more often (again to identify potential problems as soon as possible).

1 Is the activity risk high? If you feel that an activity is very likely to encounter problems, consider monitoring it more frequently to identify those problems as soon as they occur.

1 Have you already encountered problems with this activity? Consider monitoring activities more frequently if you've already had problems with them. All things being equal, past problems increase the chances of future problems.

iPLE At the beginning of a performance period, I print separate reports for each team member that include their activities and events for the period. I ask team raatt ) members to record actual activity start and end dates and actual key-event "•<ñ J dates in the appropriate columns, along with any comments they want to share. I ask them to send me a copy of the completed report on the first business day after the performance period.

Recording and reporting on progress this way has several advantages:

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

1 The agreed-upon schedule for submitting information to me reduces the chance that I'll surprise people with unexpected requests for progress data.

1 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.

i The purpose of 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.

I also use the combined activities and key-events report format to reaffirm people's commitments at the start of a performance period. When I give them the report detailing their activities and events for the coming period, I ask them to verify the information and reaffirm their commitments. We discuss and resolve any issues that they identify.

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

i Allows people to lose focus and commitment to the activity and increases the chances that the activity won't end on schedule i Provides more time for small problems to go undetected and thus evolve into bigger problems

Improving the accuracy of your schedule performance data

Collecting the right data items is the first requirement for effectively controlling your project's schedule. However, your analyses will be meaningless unless the data are correct.

Do the following to improve the accuracy of your schedule performance data:

i Tell the team members how you plan to use their schedule performance data. People are always more motivated to perform a task if they understand the reasons for it.

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