This is the sixth post in an eight part series that covers the fundamental theory of project management. The focus of this post is project monitoring and control. The entire series is based on our online learning course Hands on Project Management Theory and Practice.
In this post we will focus on the management of project progress during its execution. We will discuss the need to process new information as it becomes available during project execution and the options for the design of the monitoring. Finally, we will see how corrective actions can be taken during project execution based on the information provided by the control system.
Project control is needed as part of the effort to deal with uncertainty.
In a deterministic environment, a good plan would guarantee a successful project. In such an environment perfect information about the project scope and the product scope is assumed to be available, as well as complete information about the list of activities, the duration of each activity, and the availability of resources.
In reality, there are many unknowns and project plans are based on partial information, forecasts, and estimates. During project execution more information is made available and can be used to improve the plans and to support decisions regarding corrective actions.
The project control system is designed to identify new information and to use it during project execution as a basis for corrective actions.
The monitoring and control system is designed to detect new information by focusing on deviations between the project plan or baseline and actual progress made during project execution. Deviations are possible in all project dimensions including scheduling, resource availability and usage and budgeting.
The basic building block of the control system is a feedback loop in which a comparison is made between plans and actual outcome. This allows deviations to be detected. These deviations are analyzed in an effort to find the cause of the deviation and to determine the best way to use this new information. In some cases it is best to do nothing, while in other cases corrective actions are needed, such as changing the start time of activities, changing the level of resources, and even changing the mode of execution of some activities.
A simple view for monitoring is a Gantt chart in which actual progress is marked. The Gantt chart is a simple visual display of the current state of each task. In this Gantt chart each bar represents a project task or activity and it’s possible to see for each activity what part is completed.
A few types of reports are used to support monitoring and control. By combining the information in these reports, the current state of the project as well as deviations from the baseline plans, can be analyzed and serve as a basis for the decision to take a corrective action.
A simple way to monitor deviations in the cost and income of the project is to compare the planned cost and planned income for each period with the actual data. Any deviation detected in this simple report should be investigated, as the source may be an activity taken longer than planned or a resource “no show” that translated into a split in activities, and consequently resulted in additional cost. Once the source of the deviation is identified it is possible to decide if a corrective action is needed and what corrective action is most suitable, given the information.
A comparison between planned and actual columns for each activity can reveal activities that took longer than planned or activities that cost more than planned or both.
Based on such information, it is possible to change modes of some activities, to assign additional resources, and to reschedule activities, in order to put the project back on track.
Root cause analysis of cost and schedule deviations is the basis for corrective actions. The essence of project control is deciding if corrective action is needed, the best corrective action, when to apply it, and on what activities or resources.
Corrective actions may take the form of one or more of the following:
- Assign or release resource units
- Change activity mode
- Change activity start time
- Split activities
The combination of good monitoring, root cause analysis, and taking the right corrective actions at the right time is a good recipe for project risk management and the handling of uncertainty in the project environment. We will further discuss project risk management in a later post.
To summarize, project success is a result of good planning and proper monitoring and control during project execution. In this post we discussed the principles of project monitoring and control.