Project failure is costly. With progress tracking, you can anticipate problems and take the necessary steps to steer a project back on course.
According to the Project Management Institute’s 2020 “Pulse of the Profession,” on average, organizations waste 11.4% of their total investments because of poor project performance. Additionally, of those that undervalue the significance of sound project management, 67% see their projects failing outright.
Every project involves several moving parts, including people, timelines, budgets, acceptance criteria, risks and stakeholder satisfaction. Each affects the other, and it’s the project manager’s duty to ensure the project goes according to plan. This is where project tracking comes in.
Benefits of project tracking
Project tracking is the process of monitoring a project’s progress against the original project plan. The goal is to make corrective actions as soon as you spot deviations (or occurrences that may lead to deviations) so the team stays on track.
When done right, project tracking empowers your team to:
Stay on schedule
When you track progress on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, you know whether milestones are being met or not. If you foresee a possible delay in project delivery, you can:
- Bring in more people
- Reduce the project’s scope
If these options are unavailable because of budget constraints or stringent quality requirements, sit down with the client or project sponsor to negotiate a deadline extension.
Stay on budget
Cost overruns are one of the primary reasons projects fail. For example, according to data from Statista, global enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations in 2011 and 2017 overran project budgets by 74%; between 2012 and 2016, more than 50%; and in 2020, 66%.
In general, a project’s journey from point A to point B is never smooth sailing because of uncertainties and changing expectations. But when you diligently track and maintain tight control of project spending, you’re more likely to stay within budget limits.
Knowing who’s doing what and which tasks are falling behind enables you to make the necessary resource adjustments. Perhaps employee A is not the best person to tackle a certain task. Maybe employee B’s plate is a little too full while employee C is sitting around waiting for a task to be sent their way.
When you have clear visibility into your team’s workload, tasks are more evenly distributed and help can be made available when and where it’s needed.
How to track project progress
Tracking project progress involves a combination of several approaches:
Schedule daily or weekly meetings, whether physically in the same room or virtually via video conferencing. Use these to chat through updates on task statuses, any difficulties team members may be experiencing and potential risks that can derail progress.
How Slack fits in
For when you can’t be in the same place, Slack works seamlessly with Zoom and Microsoft Teams Calls so you don’t have to switch between apps to start or join meetings.
Taking time to meet with team members individually not only strengthens relationships but also enables project managers to understand whether or not they’re in alignment with their teams in terms of goals and expectations.
How Slack fits in
If meeting face to face is not an option, Slack supports private messaging and one-on-one video calling via its built-in messaging feature.
Timesheets record how much time employees are spending on tasks, which, in turn, allow project managers to:
- Understand which employees are better suited for which tasks
- Identify employee availability to more evenly distribute the workload
- Pinpoint which employees may need additional training
- Anticipate delays
- Estimate expected costs
How Slack fits in
Slack integrates with timesheet tools like TrackingTime and Quidlo Timesheets for easy time tracking and sharing.
Timely task updates allow project managers to gauge what percent of the project is complete, whether employees follow quality guidelines, which team members need help, whether project spending is on track and if the overall goals of the project have been efficiently communicated.
How Slack fits in
Slack works with task-management tools such as Asana, Wrike and Flow so teams can easily post relevant task and project updates without leaving the platform.
Weekly or monthly status reports allow project managers to step back and reflect on what went right or wrong during the previous week or month. They can then apply the lessons learned to the segment of the project that’s yet to be completed.
How Slack fits in
Slack supports collaborative file and document sharing and integrates with cloud-storage tools like Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox so you can upload and retrieve reports from anywhere 24/7.
Common methods and metrics for tracking project progress
Project managers use a variety of methods, tools and metrics to track progress. Some of the most common include:
Milestones are points in the project timeline that mark significant events that may positively or negatively impact the project schedule, such as start/end dates of different phases, completion of key deliverables and client approvals.
Gantt charts in project-management tools such as Microsoft Project, TeamGantt and Teamwork track the progress at the individual-task level. Week after week, as tasks are started and completed, the percent complete of the overall project automatically adjusts.
Earned value (EV) measures how much work has been completed versus the plan. To calculate the earned value, multiply percent complete by the project’s total budget.
If your budget is $10,000 and your percent complete is 40%, the earned value is $4,000.
- EV = % complete x total budget
- EV = 40% x $10,000
- EV = $4,000
However, to fully appreciate earned value, other metrics have to be calculated as well, such as:
Schedule variance (SV)
SV is the difference between the expected and actual progress to date. The project is behind schedule if the resulting SV is negative, on schedule if zero and ahead of schedule if positive.
To get SV, calculate the difference between earned value and planned value (PV), which is the budgeted amount for the work scheduled for completion.
- SV = EV – PV
If the planned value to date is $5,000—meaning 50% of the project should have already been completed—SV will be computed as follows:
- SV = $4,000 – $5,000
- SV = –$1,000
SV is negative, so the project is behind schedule.
Cost variance (CV)
This measures the difference between the budgeted amount and the actual costs to date. To calculate cost variance, subtract the actual cost (AC) from EV. A negative CV means the project is over budget; zero, on budget; and positive, under budget.
Let’s say your AC is $4,500.
- CV = EV – AC
- CV = $4,000 – $4,500
- CV = –$500
CV is negative, so the project is over budget.
Schedule performance index (SPI)
Just like SV, SPI indicates whether a project is on, behind or ahead of schedule, but also by how much. To calculate SPI, divide EV by PV. Using the same example:
- SPI = EV/PV
- SPI = $4,000/$5,000
- SPI = 0.8
The project is 20% behind schedule.
Cost performance index (CPI)
Much like CV, CPI indicates project cost efficiency and also provides an estimate of the variance.
- CPI = EV/AC
- CPI = $4,000/$4,500
- CPI = 0.89
The project is 11% over budget.
Track your projects for success
Project failure comes in many forms: botched timelines, budget overruns, poor quality deliverables, end-user dissatisfaction, inefficient processes, miscommunication—the list can go on. This is why tracking project progress is extremely critical for success. With the right methods, tools and metrics, project tracking can guide your team’s actions and even warn you of problems before they materialize.