Time tracking. Invoicing. Success metrics. Key Contacts. Managing a project can become overwhelming quickly. And the tools we use to track these aspects of projects can quickly become too time-consuming. That inclination project managers have to track any critical or risky component requires moderation and thought. As we know, with the addition of every tracker (and data point for that matter), comes exponentially more work in maintaining it.
Track Your Trackers
Like so many approaches to successful project execution, upfront planning and risk-mitigation is critical. Rarely, however, is the risk of complex and misaligned tracking considered and discussed. At the start of a new project or phase then, the Project Manager should have the right conversations in order to craft an effective Tracking Plan. Essentially, this document will track your trackers.
Before exploring the components to your ‘Tracking Plan’, let’s take a minute to reflect on the dangers of tracking. Why is tracking a high-risk activity?
The rise of technology has made data and information capture remarkably easy. Oftentimes for no money at all, anyone can store gigabytes of data for almost nothing. As a result, a “Why not?” mentality has risen, when it comes to storing data. There is a danger to all this. Let’s try not waste anyone’s time (including our own) by keeping track of too much data that no one will consume.
• “Will this data help someone make a business decision?”
• “Will knowing this actively mitigate risk?”
• “Am I already capturing this information elsewhere? In another tracker or some other database?
Which Are Your SLAs?
Firstly, when you or your organization made the agreement to deliver a project, you (hopefully) agreed upon Service Level Agreements (SLAs). These SLAs are those items that, if you don’t deliver, can be deemed a breach of contract and lead to legal action. No one wants that situation, so include tracking of your SLAs in your Tracking Plan. I have unfortunately, seen too many instances of well-run projects being unable to report metrics against their SLAs. It is crucial to identify proper metrics and discuss them with the client so there are no unpleasant surprises.
Consider what your organization requires from an operational standpoint. There are certain trackers you won’t be able to avoid that your company might require to operate successfully. Fine, those are needed. After addressing what your organization needs, think about the project. Would it be disastrous to not track vacations with a large deployment in December? Maybe. And after determining what your team needs to function, think, too, about what your team needs to be happy. Metrics that boost team morale can make the difference between a good project and a great project.
Mind the Gap (and the Overlap!)
Once you have defined what needs to be tracked, look for overlaps. Look for gaps. You do not want to waste time tracking the same information in several places. That sounds like a sure-fire way to have out of sync information. For those out there tracking with MS Excel, it may be worth the effort of learning how to use Macros if that means better data quality.
In summary: applying our planning expertise to project tracking will provide the framework we need to succeed. No more trackers that repeat the same information from a different lens. If a gap arises, let us be flexible, make an amendment, and improve our Tracking Plan.
For more resources, see the Library topic Project Management.
Cristian is currently a Consultant with SapientNitro and pursuing a Master’s degree at Columbia University. He has consulted as an IT Project Manager in the aerospace, education, non-profit, consumer products, and financial industries.