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Monitoring Many Small Projects

Steering committees tend to focus on large, high profile projects. Yet senior managers have a responsibility to ensure that all projects align with corporate direction and that the benefits projects promise are indeed realized.

The concern is that in most organizations there are usually many smaller projects that consume a significant portion of the overall project budget.
This means senior management must monitor progress of smaller projects as well and act accordingly in response to issues and risks.

A steering or oversight committee is one means of achieving this. These are usually reserved for larger initiatives or a collection of projects belonging to the same program but can be very effective in monitoring all projects in a portfolio.

So the question becomes:

In organizations with a hundred projects, and there are many of these, how can monitoring best be achieved?

In these situations, monitoring controls by senior management are usually achieved through a reporting structure. Reports from individual projects are aggregated into summary reports which are presented and tabled for discussion during period oversight review meetings.

These summary reports or ‘dashboards’ vary considerably from one organization to the next. Generally they all include some basic metrics such as the number of projects in each phase, the status by project (i.e. red, amber, green), cost to date/variance and estimate to complete by project, project scope changes and key issues.

Depending on the maturity of the project practices, these reports might include trend indicators giving management visibility on other key controls over projects. These might include a running measure of the number of projects that hit (or missed) key milestones. Items like risks and the status of risk indicators, schedule variance and resource trending by project tend to be more involved. Increasingly, managers are seeing the value of monitoring these items in the context of the project portfolio.

The key controls to watch for over a project’s life might include attaining approvals for project funding, project closure or for key project documentation such as business case, scope, verification strategy, user acceptance test results and deployment plan. Other controls take the form of reviews and decision gates and give rise to decisions to proceed with the project, to advance the product of the project into production or to deliver to customers.

Of course there are many considerations in managing and monitoring a large project portfolio budget. Having a means to assemble and review relevant, consistent and accurate information on active projects should be a first priority for good project governance.

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