Let’s face it there’s only so much value in reporting milestones hit and missed. This often is the sole product of the monitoring activity. Monitoring is much more. When done properly, it keeps abreast of the ever-changing business need and highlights disconnects in project scope as they arise. Monitoring tests the waters on attitudes and confidence that the project will be successful. Monitoring looks down stream and considers trends to highlight potential outcomes and issues.
The real value in having an independent monitor is that they’re more likely to cast light on risk triggers sooner. This can go a long way to paying their way! And we all know the additional overhead of an independent monitor can’t be justified without some payback. Knowing about risk events sooner is sure to improve their treatment, making them easier to avoid or mitigate.
In most organizations the health of projects is reported by the project manager based only on their observations and assessment.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Project managers are usually excited by progress and have a tendency to be optimistic in their reporting. And why shouldn’t they? It’s their job to keep it moving forward, to keep people motivated and spirits high. Yes there are other things they are responsible for, like reporting deviations from the project plan. Project managers can use all the help they can get. Since monitoring is a function that can add so much value, if done well, it seems logical to assign it to someone who can render independent, periodic assessments of health over the life of the project.
When selecting project monitors we should be looking for skills like collaboration, facilitation and observation and not action-based competencies like leadership and motivation. Monitoring is about observation, influence and collaboration. It doesn’t replace or interfere with the leadership provided by the project manager. In fact their relationship should be symbiotic and their skills complementary.
When things go awry a monitor can and should work closely with the project managers and other key stakeholders to influence outcomes and facilitate smooth project progress and alignment to business goals. The monitor confirms and enriches what the project manager reports and serves to broaden the circle of understanding of what is going on with the project and the project environment.
Independent monitoring is a great way to build collaboration into the management level of projects....and it has great payback!
Mike Lecky is a consultant at The Manta Group, a management consulting company specializing in IT governance, Project and Portfolio Management, Service Management, Risk and Compliance. Mike has degrees from the University of Waterloo (BScEng), The University of Western Ontario (MBA) and the University of Liverpool (MScIT). He worked for 12 years in aerospace electronics and as a Project Engineer managed several general aviation and US Military contracts. He teaches project management online with the School of Applied Technology at Humber College. Now, with over 25 years experience, he is a PMP and an information security professional (CISSP) and has a broad range of program and technology implementation experiences in the high tech and service sectors. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.