I’ll admit that project management can seem like paperwork at times, particularly the schedule part. Creating, managing, and controlling the schedule can seem like a whole bunch of needless number crunching when the project success seems to depend on strange, hard to control metrics such as unexpected delays, or relationships with multiple client stakeholders.
If you are one of those people that can always make a few phone calls and straighten everything out, then koodos to you. But some of us have alot on our plate as well as managing a few projects (or whatever your situation is) and we need a system.
Thankfully, there is a way to use project management practices to make projects run effortlessly. No joke. At my engineering firm, I hold a monday morning progress meeting for each project, and the agenda contains the following 5 items:
- Schedule Variance
- Cost Variance
- Recent Milestones
- Current Tasks
- Review to End of Project
This represents the difference between the project schedule and the current progress, expressed in dollar terms. It’s not as hard to calculate as you think, and my article about calculating project variances gives you the details. Essentially, for each work item (or phase, etc.) of the project you need to find two numbers:
- Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS): The required progress of the task according to the schedule. For example, let’s say the Design phase should last from April 1 to April 30 and cost $10,000, and it’s April 10 right now. The BCWS is $3,333. In other words, the schedule says you should be one third complete a $10k item. That’s not too hard is it?
- Budget Cost of Work Performed (BCWP): The actual progress of the task. For example, if you are 20% complete the Design phase, BCWP = $2,000.
Schedule variance is the difference, (BCWP – BCWS), or -$1,333 in the example. Negative means behind schedule. Also, the size of the number tells you alot. If your project is worth $5,000, the schedule variance of -$1,333 is concerning. If it’s worth $100,000, not as much.
You can be behind of schedule but still make money on a project. For example, if you need to design a bridge by April 30, but you design it by July 31, you are late. But if you carried out the project efficiently and use less hours than allotted, the project has made money.
Thus, a second metric measures how much money the project made (or is making). The cost variance requires one other measurement:
- Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP): The actual cost of a task (or phase). This is usually the easiest one because it gets tracked in invoicing software.
|Team Member A||$100/hr||1||$100|
|Team Member B||$150/hr||2||$300|
The cost variance is (BCWP – ACWP), or in this example, $2,683. Just like a said earlier, this example is behind schedule but making alot of money.
A few years ago, a group I was involved with did a personality test with Strengthsfinder, which is focused on finding one’s strengths. One of the things I learned was that some people look only forward, some look only backward, and some a bit of both. I am one of those that look forward, because I’m always thinking about the next step, but the opposite also exist.
I have come to believe that every project needs that backward look – A discussion about what milestones have been achieved, when, and what lessons were learned.
If the project manager never looks backward, changes to the project scope and other details turn the project into “just a job.” Team members get the attitude that they just do the work until the job is done, and pride in the completion of the project is destroyed.
Also, it gives people a chance to talk about their accomplishments, thus building morale.
My weekly progress meetings contain a short discussion of what was accomplished last week.
Of course, one of the most fundamental conversations is what is happening right now and how it’s going. Questions like whether more help is needed, or if subconsultants are performing up to standards, should be asked. Projects needs focus on the tasks at hand, and make sure communication lines are open.
Review to End of Project
A project manager should have the end of the project in sight at all times. Thus, a discussion of what is required until the project is complete is important to have regularly.
Essentially the last three items contain
- A backward look
- A current status
- A forward look
Each of these are indispensible to successful projects. I’ve seen alot of projects go south over my engineering career, and almost all of the problems would have been prevented if the project manager had taken a good look at how far they’ve come, where they are now, and where they are going.
One last thought. Although I am a big proponent of the weekly progress meeting where the above five things are discussed, meetings should be used sparingly. A project progress meeting can look to team members like an excuse to chat about your weekend, which can create an atmosphere of laziness.
I have been using the weekly progress meeting for several years, and I have found this simple trick to cause projects to run effortlessly. Not every project requires it to be weekly, and you might even add or subtract a few things from this agenda. But if you want your projects to run smoothly, you need it in one form or another.
Let me know what you think or if you have any other experiences with this.