The Ultimate Guide to Project Tracking

Project Tracking is a key activity that should be instilled from the beginning of every project in order to have the best chance of success. Everyone from senior management to team members become aligned with project goals and updates. Let us see what exactly project tracking is and how do you do it?

What is Project Tracking?

Project Tracking is a method of project management for following the progress (or lack thereof) of activities involved in projects. Potential issues can be spotted and  solved by team members and leaders. Tracking projects from the beginning, dealing with problems quickly and proactively making decisions is what successful project managers do. Managing all tasks and activities involved, handling multiple files involved and most importantly, the people who make up the team make this incredibly challenging.

Project tracking begins early in the project with planning and goes on until the completion of a project. Monitoring project progress to identify potential problems in a timely manner and take corrective action. Measuring project performance regularly to identify variances from the project management plan to make sure projects are on track. Simple project management software is designed with everything in one place in real time to keep projects visible across teams and stakeholders efficiently.

Why use Project Management Tracking?

There are multiple benefits and many reasons to engage with project tracking, from increased chances of project success to creating a united team. Keeping up to date on the progress of the project and awareness of  project status, it is easy to spot any potential issues that could prevent project success. Complete transparency is essential for accurate decision-making. Project tracking  keeps all team members and stakeholders in touch with deadlines and goals. Enabling the project lead to manage with confidence.

There are four key benefits that effective project tracking should deliver:

1. Real Time Information

Firstly, stay up to date and get the most accurate information available. Everyone involved in the project needs to see the status and progress of the project in an instant. This is crucial for senior management to make decisions at the top level of the project along with team leaders on behalf of the team. Using cloud based simple project management software, reporting to senior management should be painless. By tracking projects, teams can be aligned, along with project objectives and activities. Stay in touch and watch goals become reality.

2. Problem Identifiers

With project tracking there is no place for problems or issues to hide. Any budding issues are recognizable in an instant. This allows leaders to act and take back control of the situation. Team members can offer assistance and keep each other motivated to get jobs done. Problem solving maintains the structure of the project and allows resources to spend time on the things that matter. Once the issues are gone, the project is back on track and success is on the horizon.

3. Team Motivation

Collaboration is a key factor of every project. If every member has clarity on their role, they can work toward the group objectives. As projects progress and the task list diminishes with every day, team motivation to carry on and complete the project intensifies. By working together and creating an empowered team, project tracking keeps everyone in the loop and on the same page.

4. Easy and Accurate Reporting

Reporting is often a painful task that project managers are required to do. Senior management want an overall view of each of the projects in an instant. Using one system in order to manage and track projects makes reporting quick and simple. Time is valuable so having all information in one place with more detail available if needed, perfect for reporting to senior executives.

Maintain confidence with data and facts

Credibility with poor project management tracking can easily be eroded. This is especially true if one project after another has a bad surprise when it is too late to recover. Project executives soon think projects are out of control and question everything. The solution is to present hard-edged data, not guesses, in status reports. Allowing problems to be spotted early when they are small and easier to fix.

Project managers and executives too often track data that hides big problems. They eventually surface when it is too late to fix the delays and overruns this caused. Bad surprises late in a project make executives crazy and ruin credibility. Why does this happen? It is a combination of the following:

• Inability to precisely measure progress
• Vague project checkpoints
• Team members not reporting bad news when they first see it
• Too much status report optimism.

Inability to precisely measure progress

The first step to correct the situation is to use metrics to quantify the scope and major deliverables for every task. Those metrics provide unambiguous checkpoints against which to measure progress and show any slippage. The next thing to do is work with the team to develop estimates of how long the work will take. Do not use finish dates only in your schedule. Tracking actual work versus the estimated work gives another measure of how far along each task is. In combination, those two metrics will spot problems earlier. Solving them early is a real credibility builder with executives, stakeholders and team members.

Vague project checkpoints

Project managers and executives should build a firm foundation for project management tracking in the planning process. Unfortunately, planning often does not force stakeholders to decide exactly what they want. Therefore, the project’s foundation are built upon vague wishes that cannot be measured. Those wishes do not give you tracking metrics to measure progress. They only give due dates. Moreover, it is impossible to decide what is in the project and what it not. Those flaky definitions of scope and deliverables let people avoid hard decisions. Plans and structures that are merely “To Do lists” let everyone think they are getting everything wanted from the project.

Status report optimism

Projects that have scopes like this cannot be successfully managed. Deliverables like, “Less than 10% of customers are on hold for more than 60 seconds.” are required for Projects to be measurable. Then you can break this down into component parts, and clarify to the team members exactly what is expected from them. Objectively defined, so you will not give them just a due date as the only performance measure.

Who should be involved in Project Tracking?

The foundation for effective project management tracking and status reporting is laid during project planning. That is where the project manager and executives define clear deliverables and checkpoints for measuring progress. Team leaders, for the benefit of the whole team should direct project tracking. Poor decision making from senior executives is an issue created from a lack of transparency and up to date information. With effective project tracking this problem is eliminated, allowing for informed and accurate decision-making.

A Typical Scenario: Gathering Status Data from the Team

Each week project managers gather status information to give project management tracking updates to the senior executives. Some project managers conduct status meetings with the aim to report that nothing bad happened during the week. If a team member expresses confusion on their assignment or says that finishing by the due date is impossible, the project manager becomes frustrated. They blame the team member for not asking the right questions, for slacking off or letting down the team. Isn’t it funny how the project manager does not hear any bad news after that? Well, at least not until the finish date draws near.

Everyone working in the dark

In this environment, the team members have to guess about what is expected or run to the project manager daily to ask what they should do. Most people do both. However, because the project manager does not know exactly what the project should produce, their answers are vague. Soon no one admits any problems and everyone says they are on schedule. That is because they quickly learned that to report anything else brings down the wrath of the gods.

The project manager’s experience when reporting to the senior executives is similar. Everything besides good news triggers a snarl. The project manager soon resorts to saying, “Everything is going according to plan,” or “Every task is in ‘green light’ status.” No one is solving problems early. As the due date draws closer, the team members make a wild guess at what they should produce and they frantically slap some junk together.

This is a bad, but common, example of project management tracking. Everyone on the project is wearing blindfolds. No one actually knows what the project is supposed to deliver. The project team members are trying to guess what is expected of them. When they ask questions, they just hear the project due date repeated at louder and louder volume. Moreover, the project manager does not know how the project is really doing.

Empowered teamwork

Project work often consists of individual work that combines to create group work. Often causing work to be sloppy, unorganized and not cohesive. This can potentially cause tension within the team. However, when a team leader that diligently engages in project tracking, these problems become issues of the past. By staying on top of each of the activities involved in the project the team are united, collaborate effectively and work well together.

Poor communication and confusion are key elements in which Team leaders and their teams break down. The foundation of any group work is alignment of goals and absolute clarity. This creates an enjoyable and fast-paced working environment. Project tracking keeps everyone on the same page and allows teams to do what they do best, completing successful projects.

Project tracking can aid to create a team culture of empowerment. Having a group of people working toward a goal creates an environment where by people want to succeed with the end goal in sight. By following the best practices of project tracking any organization can be the team who meet their goals and succeed.

What are the best ways to Track Projects effectively?

We all now know that project tracking is essential for progress and the end goal of accomplishment. So, are there things you can do that to optimize the way you track the project? Of course, here are our six top tips for best practice for project tracking.

1. Plan your project before it starts

The tendency to start the project by jumping in right away without doing the proper preparation is a key reason why project tracking becomes difficult. By having plans and goals you can then know how the project is progressing. Things you need to have before you start a project; Objectives, task lists, team members, duration and possible issues. By having these things laid out from the very beginning, you can track any changes that you have to make. These can change throughout the project but having initial information creates a base line for the project. If, you and the executives define the deliverables with clear outcomes that are measurable. Then you have a high-level framework of deliverables that lead to that result.

2. Look for warning signs & resolve issues

The warning signs are the things that could make or break a project. If you do not witness any warning signs, your project is doomed to fail. Warning signs are presented in Project Central for thing like the one tasks highlighted in red for due dates that approaching. If there are many tasks that are not completed it may be an idea to get others involved. By checking these warning signs and resolving the issues quickly rather than letting them fester and grow, you can get your project back on track!

3. Monitor work schedule

Once the project is planned, execution of the work can begin. High-level deliverables can be broken down into smaller tasks providing clarity and direction as to what is required from them. Therefore, knowing what a good job is before they even start work. Reviewing the plan and tasks can determine how the project is going. Being proactive with the work involved in the projects ensures nothing slips through the cracks that could prevent the project from being completed. Constant monitoring is of vital importance if you want to have a successful project. Having a strict work schedule gives the team deadlines and goals to reach.

4. Only count tasks as complete when complete

When progress is slow it can seem like a good idea to start ticking off tasks as being complete when in fact, they are only partially complete. These false reports then make it difficult to see actual progress for the project. Some tasks may then be marked as complete which when it comes to the end of the project are not actually done. It is best to be honest when progress is slow and to main a level of realistic reporting.

5. Be Realistic – Actuals and Estimates

Creating a culture where people can be open and honest allows project estimates and reporting to be accurate so you can measure progress against at regular checkpoints. Deadlines and budgets are often over ambitious and this causes project stress and ultimately failure. Projects should be ran with a base of accurate, fact-based facts, rather than misleading optimism that can arise from the fear of reporting bad news. Projects can only be ran effectively by knowing what is done and what is not.

6. Look to the Future

Always look toward the future when tracking projects. Know that all the current activity is all for the end goal in the future. After the project is completed, reflect on what worked and what did not. This information is key to aid the tracking of future projects. Each project provides a key set of learnings to benefit future endeavours.

These steps allow the project management tracking to show things like this:

Achievement: “The customer history screen lets our service reps answer 90 percent of customer inquiries in less than 120 seconds without referring a question to another department.”

Status: “As of last Friday, this task was 25% complete and not the planned 33% complete. That is due to an outage on our network, which caused a loss of productivity among user personnel. Without corrective action, we will finish this task 5 days late. That will cause three tasks to start late, postpone the project completion by four days, and exceed the budget by $10,000. I propose the following corrective action…”

4 features of a good status report

This project management tracking status report has several good features. First, the project manager is reporting status on an objectively measurable business achievement. They are not going to need a meeting or long debate to decide whether they have reached the goal. Second, it quantitatively compares “where we are as of last Friday” to “where we should be as of last Friday.” Third, our progress assessment is based on the work completed as of last Friday and it estimates the work remaining. Fourth, the executive is receiving data on three quantified dimensions of status tracking (the level of achievement, the duration and the budget), not just the due date.

Options

These project management-tracking elements set up the second half of the status report. In it, the project manager presents data about alternatives for solving the problem. Having three quantified dimensions for each assignment lets the project manager develop quantified options for executive decision-making. These alternatives might continue the status report as follows:
“We have three options for recovery. First, we can hire temporary agents to work on the backlog of tickets. This option would allow us to recapture the lost days of duration but will increase the budget by $5,000. Second,…”

Alternatives

The project manager proposes alternatives that involve trade-offs between the level of achievement, duration and budget. The executive can make a decision from the options because the project manager has seen this problem coming and has plotted corrective action. The most important feature is that all this is happening before the task is actually late.

How can Project Central help you to track projects effectively?

Project Central is designed to make project management as simple as possible. We know projects are complicated things, so we made tools to make it as easy as possible. In addition, project management still has not offered a great solution for small teams. You are wearing many hats and everyone is firing in on tasks, projects and details. You help with everything, as well as having to do the day job. Research has shown that smaller teams, even within larger organizations, make decisions that more quickly affect their customers…but it seems like project management platforms have been slow to embrace that shift.

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, has famously said:

“Any team that needs more than two pizzas is excessive.”

Easy to learn, with no training required

Project Central provides a simple solution for people who find themselves leading or managing a team of people and multiple projects. All of these things are complicated and difficult if you do not monitor each factor. Project Central offers a solution with everything in one place, the visuals are beautiful, and it is simple to use with no training needed.

Microsoft Office 365 integration

Project Central is a simple project management solution that integrates with Office 365. The visual dashboards highlight if your project is on the path to success in real time, tasks are simple to manage and you are able to see if every team member is on course to meet their goals. Files to upload all your project files from Office 365 file libraries like SharePoint Online ensure you are working from one version of the truth, ensuring there are no data silo’s created around the organization.

Online project tracking in real time, anywhere

Data is safe and secure, as Project Central uses Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure to manage, store and update your project data at lightning speed, meaning you can relax and never worry about your information being lost if your battery dies or computer crashes. All automatically updated with everything is stored in one place. What’s more using the cloud means your project is accessible anywhere. Whether you are in the office, on a flight for a business trip or sitting on a beach on holidays you can check in and see how your projects are doing.

What makes Project Central the best choice for Project Tracking with Office 365?

Project Central is inspired and designed for teams using Office 365. In just a few clicks, everyone on your team is signed up and assigned to projects. Multiple accounts ensures work spaces are partioned based on who needs to be involved in certain projects. If you have functional, cross-functional teams, portfolios to manage, projects with clients or high priority projects, simply make a new account work space and invite the people you need!

Simple and visual

Other project management solutions with lots of functionality tend to be complicated, need training to use, and are expensive to implement. Project Central requires only a few clicks to setup and no training, it is that easy. Rather than focusing on data input or text heavy pages, our solution prioritizes stunning visuals that are straightforward, uncomplicated and make it effortless to interact for all users. A few clicks to update the project and see any changes, make it extremely easy, efficient and enjoyable to track the project.

Office 365 Integration

Unlike other simple project management solutions and productivity tools in Office 365, Project Central focuses on delivering on five key focuses to track your projects effectively.

1. The Project workspace – The place to the key insights on how each of the project are performing – at a glance in a highly visual card format to get an overview of each project
2. Project Dashboard – The place to get the detail at an individual project level.
3. Project Activity – a powerful feed of real-time data outlining every update made from all team members to the project in real-time.
4. Tasks – A clear and simple view of the steps involved in completing the project with the dates and team members who own the tasks outlined
5. Portfolio Dashboard – provides a roll-up view to outline how all the projects are tracking and to highlight key insights that enable you to focus on key priority information needed to answer questions all stakeholders want to know (e.g. how many projects are at risk, are any projects overdue?)

Project Workspace

This flexible, visual workspace is the hub of activity for all of the projects going on within your teams. Presenting key project tracking intelligence at a high level is seamless with distinctive project cards in Project Central designed to bring transparency to everyone on where projects stand. It is easy to zoom in to the detail of each project explore further, or to take action and keep everything on track.

Project Dashboard

Everything from the project description, due date, project health and project status are shown to highlight every detail on the project. With stunning visuals, dashboards to match the key information are designed to make project tracking simple to do.

Outline the brief of the project, what it is about, why they are doing it, what are the measurable goals and deliverables of the project. The start and end date are clearly defined with the project length also featured. The project status shows clearly if the project is underway, finished or not even started yet and updates to achievements, opportunities, challenges, barriers, options and decisions involved in project can easily be entered. Progress and health indicators align everyone involved to know where the project stands clearly.

Activity

The activity feed tracks all changes to the project card, who made them and when. This is a huge time saver in cutting out emails and meetings. The whole team can see the trail of steps and progress made when and by who immediately and in real time. No longer do project status update meetings need to focus on what everyone has contributed and where things stand with admin. This feed enables meetings to focus on the real project management; exploring opportunities, options and recommendations to nail deadlines and exceed expectations.

Tasks

A simple dynamic list, ordered in how you wish to prioritize the flow. Each task can be given a start and due date and assigned to the team members required to work on completion of the task. Status highlighted clearly; red is overdue, amber highlights if a task goes past the deadline of the project. Having the tasks for each project stored in one place makes the team more productive. Everyone is aware of who is undertaking a task, with each task filed under one of the three sections; in progress, completed or not complete. You can cut through and see quickly who you need updates from. Not only does this keep everyone on track but also inspires team members to keep on top of their tasks to keep the team moving toward project success. 

Portfolio Dashboard

This is the view for everything you need to track across your projects. The insights here help you plan, manage, and monitor progress across projects, teams, and your company. This is extremely valuable to set your team’s priorities as all team’s important projects are in a single view. Monitor progress in real time from the high-level overview of how all projects are progressing, and then drill in for more details to address any risks. Finally, you can share the portfolio dashboard with stakeholders so everyone can see the progress and status of important initiatives.