change management

Get a Fast Start to Your Project – Track the Essentials

October 10, 2017 by

In this blog post, I will explore how you can track projects before you start fully managing them! And this ironically will help you manage them!

 

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” ~ Mark Twain

Why Only Project Tracking?

Why would we resort to, or maybe start with, merely tracking projects as distinct from fully managing projects? Well, there are at least two reasons:

  1. The project might be quite small or perhaps it’s a project that you find very easy to deliver as you have done it many times before. In these scenarios, it doesn’t make sense to deploy a very large amount of project management.
  2. You and the team may not be ready to deploy a large amount of project management. This can be the case even when the project deserves and needs lots of project management. Could be a lack of experience, a lack of time, a lack of budget, but in any event the team is just not ready for large amounts of project management.

 

In both of these cases, it seems wise to start with project tracking and do that well.

A Project Management Spectrum

Here is a very simple project management spectrum. In this spectrum, we have four levels. The levels go left to right, from ultra-lite to lite to standard and then to structured. You will note that there are arrows on both ends of the spectrum. This denotes the fact that even though you start in one place, for example, lite, you might go left to ultra-lite at a later point or you may go right on the spectrum toward standard.

This spectrum is depicting the reality that different projects require differing amounts of project management at different times.

 

 

Project Management Spectrum

 

 

Two questions for you:

  1. Where would you say are your projects on this project management spectrum?
  2. Where do you think they are and where do you think they should be?

 

We at BrightWork and our customers find this spectrum very honest and very real.

 

A Natural Order

A natural companion to the project management spectrum is the Start – Evolve process. Many of our BrightWork customers will start with a reasonable amount of project management, enough to give their organizations immediate visibility into what’s going on by tracking the projects. Later, they can evolve with more processes.

They will then gradually work from this point and evolve to improve and mature their project management practices with a high degree of flexibility. This is reminiscent of the agile approach to project delivery, which advocates delivering little and often, so that customer feedback can be frequent.

 

Suggestion: Track the Essentials

So if we’re going to start on the lite or even ultra-lite side of the project management spectrum, then we’re going to be tracking the essentials about the project. Some of the essentials might include:

  1. The project name
  2. Project manager
  3. The type of project
  4. The customer or department that the project is for
  5. The current project status
  6. The required finish date from the customer
  7. The likely finish date based on the progress
  8. The overall health of the project, as determined by the project manager
  9. And lastly is this a project that’s in trouble, is it a problem project? Yes or no.

 

Just tracking these essential key items and reporting on them, even if it’s only to yourself, will help you better manage the project. If you track them and report them to the other stakeholders in the project, the team members, senior management and also the customer, you will inevitably get feedback to better manage the project.

It’s not that the other items like tasks, issues, risks, and change requests are not happening; it’s that they’re not formally being tracked in a consistent, central, and transparent manner. Here we are suggesting that you begin by more formally tracking the essentials.

 

Project Tracking in SharePoint

If I were to ask you “what are the most common project management tools in use in your organization”, you might well reply some combination of Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Outlook.

It makes sense that these are in widespread use for project management because they’re so easy to use. You will often see a status report typed into an Excel file and sent around on email.

While these Excel project status files have many advantages, they also have many disadvantages. Can you tell if the Excel file you’re looking at is the latest version? Maybe you are not sure who updated it and when it was last updated. You’re not sure if other Excel files are floating around. Are other people looking at a different version of the file and making decisions based on this?

There is also the disadvantage that multiple people can’t safely make updates at the same time. But despite the disadvantages, the ease of use makes Excel arguably the most popular project management tracking tool on the planet. As they say, if you can’t beat them, why not join them!

Many of our BrightWork customers will use a ‘Projects Tracker‘ inside of SharePoint that mimics the ease of use of Microsoft Excel. With this Projects Tracker approach, you can track the essentials of the project in a grid that looks and acts like Microsoft Excel.

 

project tracker

 

This approach has many advantages. There is a single source of project truth. The tracker is as easy to use as Microsoft Excel in its grid style and shape. It also has a version history and an audit trail, so you can go back to prior versions and see who made what changes to the project status and when. In this instance, you’re not in the Excel hell that can sometimes happen with project tracking.

The other advantage is that when you save work on this tracker, it transforms into a dashboard, which is more attractive and looks the way people would expect a project management dashboard to appear.

 

 

Traffic lights icons and high priority signs are depicted graphically. You can see multiple projects in one place and click to get more detail. You can also click to get the version history associated with this project. You’re essentially getting the benefits of Excel in terms of ease of use without the associated disadvantages that are presented for project tracking.

If you subscribe to this project spectrum approach for any of the aforementioned reasons, then why not use a Projects Tracker inside of SharePoint in the same manner as you use Excel? It’s a great way to get a lot of projects reported and get project management started in a consistent manner. It gives a quick win without a lot of fuss. If your organization is currently submitting project updates on Excel, it’s an easy transition to make.

 

Conclusion

If you start on the left-hand side of the spectrum in an Ultra-Lite way and you’re tracking the essentials of a project, you can then move more easily to the right-hand side into a Lite way and start adding in work items for your projects such as tasks or deliverables or even issues.

You get the quick start via projects tracking with the option to add in the tracking of work items on the project. This way, you get both project and work tracking. This is a very easy transition for people to make in an organization.

The key point to remember is by tracking these key items about your project and reporting on them, even if it’s only to yourself, you and the rest of the team will better manage the project. It’s an effective and easy start on the road to collaborative project management.

Eamonn McGuinness

Éamonn McGuinness is the CEO and founder of BrightWork. From 1995, Éamonn has been involved in the development of commercial software products on Lotus Notes, Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365, with the same basic product mission (process-driven and people inspired collaborative project management).
Eamonn McGuinness

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