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From the Archives: 4 Key Project Monitoring Steps to Help You Succeed

Trust, but verify.

Whether you believe this sound piece of advice first came from former President Ronald Reagan or derives from an old

Russian proverb, the fact is that for decades these three words have become a mantra for both corporations and government agencies that want to affect meaningful change in their organizations and need to know that it is really and truly taking place.

Given the pace of change, and the necessary steps to make meaningful, long-term change happen—especially in a large organization—verification typically needs to take place frequently,  throughout the lifecycle of any project. In other words, organizations could just as easily embrace the motto: “Trust, but monitor.”

Project monitoring is a necessary component of all project management plans. Without project monitoring, organizations may fail to understand why projects go awry, and even successful projects may have insufficient impact. The project coordinator (or project leader) and their supervisor should plan from the start on project monitoring being an important, integrated, and continuous part of the project management cycle.

Within the project monitoring feedback loop, the information and results from the ongoing project should not only be reported back up the chain (to supervisors, managers, the top executives and potentially the board or other invested parties) on a regular basis, but also back down to the project participants.  When necessary, information should also go out to the frontline employees as well. It is the role of the project coordinator and the project coordinator’s supervisor to monitor project information and use this two-way flow of project monitoring to ensure the implementation of projects as efficiently and effectively as possible.

By following these four steps, project leaders can better ensure the successful flow of information, results, feedback and advice throughout the project monitoring process:

1.    Begin with a plan for project monitoring.

It may sound simplistic, but many an important project was started in a hurry and bluster, with the plans for any kind of project monitoring pushed to the side (to an undecided ‘later date’) in the interests of quickly moving forward. This kind of ‘act first, think later’ strategy has led to myriad of planning challenges, and can ultimately lead to ineffectual results or a lack of learning or benefit from the project in the long-term.

Project leaders must begin with at least a basic plan for how, when, and what about the project they plan to monitor. Base the plan on realistic targets.  If the project leader cannot commit to monitoring and reporting results back on a bi-weekly basis, plan from the start to report back findings on a monthly basis. The project leader should make sure to consider the resources they will need to monitor adequately and report back information about the progress of the project.  Resources may include technological resources and personnel (on the project team or potentially outside of it)— ensuring those resources can be available to them as needed for the purpose of project monitoring. Monitoring a project is often not a linear endeavor. Oftentimes, the project will require more frequent monitoring, results review, and feedback early on to ensure that the progress is moving along, that all the participants know their roles, and that the project is generally meeting its objectives in general.

Related Article: Project Check-Ups to Keep Your Projects Healthy

Increasingly there is a greater emphasis on demonstrating performance rather than simply producing outputs, which could change the way monitoring and reporting on projects is handled. But, it is important to remember that monitoring is the continuous process of assessing the status of the project and how it is developing in relation to the approved work plan and budget. Successful project monitoring plans, while they may seem superfluous, actually help to improve performance and achieve results.

2.  Report to management.

Project monitoring may be carried out informally through weekly meetings, or formally through written reports. But what is most important is that there is a regularly scheduled time each week, month, or quarter when results or progress about on-going projects is expected.

Regular monitoring enables the project leader to identify actual or potential problems as early as possible so that they can make timely adjustments to project plans and move forward. In addition to tracking the outputs and measures of their project team’s contributions and periodic results, project leaders should be mindful of spending and milestone tracking. Particularly in today’s budget-conscious environment, the C-suite must be cognizant of the bottom line. If a project looks like it may go over budget, or if earlier results are indicating a need for greater spending or extending the project, top managers must be alerted.

imilarly, it is important for the top brass to be made aware of how the project is faring in meeting its prime objectives, and the milestones that lead up to these goals. When reporting to organizational leadership, project leaders should focus on results that indicate whether a strategy is relevant and efficient or not.

3.  Recommend actions to improve on the project.

This is the step that tends to come to mind first when people think of monitoring a project. It’s important to remember that recommendations without the previous foundation of solid planning and feedback from management and the project team itself, based on budgeting and meaningful goal-setting, will be relatively pointless.

Project leaders should think in terms of priorities—reference the project plan or the mission statement to keep focus on the ultimate goals of the project. What are the key process improvements that will offer the greatest bang for the buck in terms of keeping that project running smoothly, efficiently, and on-time? Recommendations could include corrective actions, preventative actions, or changes in the plan or the project execution.

When making recommendations, guidance should be as specific as possible: direct the project team member deemed responsible to make a specific action by a specific date, and make certain they are slated to report back to the project leader on the results of their action. Keep in mind the team’s own health and feedback: offer constructive criticism and praise when it makes sense to strengthen the goals of the project and the team individuals’ work too.

4.   Confirm that actions are being followed.

Trust that your team, with proper guidance and oversight, will make the appropriate corrections as needed. But again, the project leader must verify that recommendations are being followed and the project as a whole is staying on track.

Project leaders should consider the use of automated tools and technologies in order to track team members’ performance and response; share documents, feedback, on-going recommendations and suggestions, and forecasts; and communicate among team members about meetings, and updates in the project management plan. At the most basic level, the project leader must track the differences between what was planned, and what is actually happening to ensure that project objectives are being met, the accuracy of initial cost estimates and planned resource requirements, and whether the expected outputs are being created.

**This article originally appeared on our site on October 15, 2015

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