I'm sure everyone has used some sort of mapping application like Google maps at some point to get directions. I love Google maps. I can enter a starting address and an end address and it can chart a route for me. I could even use the street view and find landmarks to help me find my way. I just plug in my addresses, get the approximate time it's going to take me, get in my car and go. It's great. I know exactly where I'm going, all of the streets, exits, and turns I need to make to get me there, and how long it's going to take.
And so off I go.... And then I miss an exit. A road is closed. Traffic is really backed up. Now what?I've got my Google Maps route printed out, but that was essentially rendered useless when someone decided to send a text message doing 65 down the highway bringing all traffic flow to a stand still. I will most assuredly miss my appointment if I continue on the route I charted through Google Maps. Calculating the percent of my trip I've completed so far is helpful, but it won't get me around traffic.
Now, if I was using a GPS navigation system, it'd be a whole different story. Not only do I have the power of a charted route using mapping software like I did with Google Maps, but now, my plan is living. If I miss my exit, take a wrong turn, or run into traffic, it will recalculate my route and let me know what time I'm going to get there so I can still make my appointment. My plan now becomes an evolving one that helps factor in the variables that I was not able to account for by just using Google Maps. Because my arrival time is also being calculated, I can call ahead and give a relatively precise estimate of when I'm going to arrive as soon as I know.
When we talk about taking your project plans to the next level, we're talking about taking it from a map to living navigation. All of the great things that a project planning/scheduling tool does like Gantt charts, network diagrams, critical path, etc. become significantly less useful once the project gets going if you're not able to compare what is actually happening and use that to modify the plan to achieve the end goal of getting your project completed on time, or within budget, or within scope, wherever it is you need to go.
Here are three simple ways to take your project plan from being a map to giving you turn by turn directions to project completion?
1. Incorporate actuals into your project plan. Integrating your project plans with actual work, actual costs, and completion estimates will help you monitor and control your project progress. You need to have an easy and user friendly way for your project team members to see what their assignments are, track their actual time to those assignments, and communicate how much longer it's going to take to complete. Your team members should also be able to record all of their time in one place, production & support, general & administrative, non-project time, time off, etc.All of this affects their ability to deliver project work.
Many people feel that it is enough to track project progress on a percentage complete basis. But this is just not effective as it doesn't tell an accurate or complete story. Remember, I can see that I'm 65% done with my trip to my appointment, but that doesn't help me avoid traffic. If I call my appointment and say “well, I've got another 35% of my trip to go”, well what does that mean?What I need to be able to say is “I've got another 15 miles to go and it should take about 22 minutes to get there”. Tracking actual time, cost and completion estimates helps me do that with my projects. You can't control what you don't' measure.
2. Put an effective resource management process in place. You need to have complete visibility and insight into resource availability. Which means you need to be able to see not just what projects a person is working on, but also factor in production, support, non-project work, overhead, vacation and leave. When you are scheduling a task, you need to be able to quickly find the person or people you are looking for, understand if they are available, and easily assign them to that work. This not only allows you to assign people to tasks, manage their allocation, and minimizes time on the bench, but it also allows you to have insight into your capacity. That big project you've got coming up next quarter, do you have the available resources to take that work on? What happens if this customer puts the project on hold, what will people do next? By effectively managing your resources and gaining that valuable insight into resource availability, you'll be able to know.
3. Incorporate real-time reporting. Tracking and measuring all of this data is useless if you can’t see it and do something with it. No one wants to take time from their busy schedules to sit around and discuss what they are working on, how much is left, and how it is going. They just don’t. Yet this is necessary data for the project manager. If you have a way to have accurate data right at your fingertips, you can avoid the “endless status meetings” and everyone can focus more on actually doing work and less on meetings.
It is impossible to make effective decisions when you don't know what people are working on or how the projects are doing. As Project Managers, we just want to know what's broken or about to be broken. We are problem solvers, and we cannot succeed with bad, late or incomplete information. “What's wrong and what do I need to address?” is usually the first question on our minds at the start of every day.
You need to be able to extract and analyze data. The easiest way to do this is to have some sort of centralized reporting mechanism where each person can organize their data the way they want and produce the analytics they need in order to make effective, informed decisions. You also need to be able to have a “one pane of glass” view into all your projects and resources. By having some sort of dashboard or some other visual status indicators you can easily and quickly see what you need to be concerned about.
Integrating your project schedules with a process and solution that gives you actual time and cost tracking, completion estimates, resource management and detailed reporting provides you with this information. Don’t just look at a picture of how you want the project to be. Get a view of how it really is, so you can step in and fix things when necessary. Don't just use a map, use navigation.