Measuring and Controlling Project Processes - Project Management

The Controlling life-cycle process involves monitoring the project outcomes to make certain that they're in keeping with the project plans and that the project continues according to the plan throughout the life of the project. This includes managing and controlling change (as we've already discussed), measuring and inspecting the project performance for adherence to the project plans, taking action to get the project back on track when variances occur, and evaluating the effectiveness of corrective actions.

Successful projects are those that fulfill the requirements of the project to the stakeholders' satisfaction while keeping the project on time and on budget. In order to maintain the schedule and the budget, you'll have to monitor the performance of the project. We've already discussed managing change; now we'll look at how you'll measure outcomes and control performance.

As you might imagine, there are several ways to monitor the performance of the project. Communication between you and the project team is certainly one of your biggest defenses against unforeseen problems or problems running out of control. There are other tools and techniques you can use as well to monitor project outcomes, and we'll look those at in this section.

Obviously, the project plan will serve as your measurement baseline for all project performance. We've spent a great deal of time discussing the project plan and its importance, and it comes into play again in this life-cycle phase as our baseline for project performance. During the Controlling phase, you'll regularly monitor the project's outcomes against the plan to make certain everything progresses according to plan. The four things you'll monitor closely for performance during this phase are the project schedule, budget, scope, and quality.

Performance-Reporting Tools

Several techniques are available that you can use to monitor project outcomes. We'll take a brief look at each of these techniques below. It's beyond the scope of this book to go into the details of these techniques because many of them involve complex math calculations, graphs, and methods that are at the advanced level of project management. If you're interested in further study, there are several books on the market that deal with these techniques.

Note:Monitoring project outcomes and taking measurements occurs during the Controlling phase. However, you should establish what to measure, how to measure, and what project outcomes to monitor during the Planning phase of the project. If you have waited until the Controlling phase to determine what to measure, you may be too late; you could end up measuring on-the-fly and producing results with little value or meaning. Or you may have already missed opportunities to correct poor project performance because some of the work is already completed.

Status review meetings Project status meetings allow you to collect information from the project team members regarding progress. We discussed status review meetings in Chapter, "Executing the Project." Don't forget to visit informally with your team members as well to maintain up-to-date information on project performance.

Variance analysis:This technique compares the expected project plan results with the actual results to determine whether variances exist. You'll use this technique primarily to determine schedule variances, budget variances, and quality variances. Variance analysis can be used for risks, scope, and performance specification measurements as well.

Trend analysis: Trend analysis involves analyzing project results periodically to determine whether the project performance is improving or getting worse. Mathematical formulas are used in this technique to forecast project outcomes based on historical information.

Earned value analysis: Earned value analysis is the technique used most often to determine project performance. Earned value is unique because it calculates cost, schedule, and scope measurements together to determine various indexes, performance measures, and variances. Several formulas and measurements are used in this technique to determine forecasted costs of the project at completion, the actual costs of the project to date versus what was budgeted, schedule variances, performance indexes, and so on. There are entire books available on this technique alone.

Inspection: Inspection is most often used in quality control. This involves physically looking at the results and measuring them or testing them to determine whether the results meet the requirements or quality standards outlined in the plan.

Control charts: Control charts are used to measure and plot the results of processes over time. You can measure and display variances, track measurements, compare variables, and so on. There are several forms of control charts including variance control charts, flowcharts, Pareto diagrams, scatter diagrams, and numerous industry-specific controls.

The goal of gathering data and measuring the results is to control the project outcomes so that they conform to the requirements and so that the project process conforms to the project plan. When you've taken some of these measurements and determined that variances do exist, you'll need to take corrective action to put the project back on track.

Corrective actions: involve a variety of options and depend on the project and the problem you've encountered. For example, say you've performed some variance analysis on your project schedule. Prior to conducting the analysis, you determined that the control limit for schedule variances for this project is 10 days. If schedule variances are less than 10 days, no action is needed. If you discover that the variances are greater than 10 days, you'll have to take action to get the project performance back in line with the plan so that the variances are minimized or eliminated. You could add resources to the project, move some deliverables to phase two, eliminate some of the requirements and the tasks associated with them, and so on to get the schedule back on track. Remember that updates to the project Planning documents will be required when corrective actions are taken.

corrective actions

Actions taken to align project performance with the project plan.

Note:After you've taken corrective action, it's important to measure the results to make certain that the action was effective and that you're getting the outcome you planned.

The project Planning, Executing, and Controlling phases are revisited several times throughout the project. Updates to the plan require the execution of the new plans. Controls and corrective actions require changes to the plan that require new tasks to be carried out and measured against the plan. Corrective actions may not always require new project plan updates, but they will require a trip back through the Executing phase as the corrective actions are put into place.

Not all projects require formal measurement techniques. However, the most important Controlling technique you can use is to regularly gather information regarding the project status, meet with team members formally and informally, and remain aware of all the activity on your project. This all goes back to communication. Taking an active role in knowing where the project is compared to the project schedule and other project plans is your best defense against project problems taking you by surprise.

Risk Monitoring

Another important part of the Controlling process is monitoring the project for the occurrence of potential risk events. (We identified risks and developed risk response plans in Chapter, "Assessing Risk.") Schedule periodic reviews to check the risks identified in the risk plan and reexamine their impacts. Monitor the risks and their status to determine whether the impacts you identified in the risk response plan are still realistic. It could be that some of the risk events now have reduced impacts while others have increased impacts.

Tip:Be on the alert throughout the Controlling process for risk events. Actively review all the identified risks, and remind your project team members to keep you informed of any risk triggers.

New risks might come to light as a result of measuring and monitoring project performance. When this occurs, document the risks in the risk plan and create response plans for them. Remember to update the existing risk response plan with the newly created responses.

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