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PM Essence
Seven practical tips for effective Project Monitoring and Controlling

Chetana Koulagi, PMP
From a process standpoint, monitoring and control of a project seems straightforward. Nonetheless, the implementation of this process calls for far more maturity and skill from the project manager. While a diligent plan and good execution makes monitoring and controlling a much simpler job, there are many aspects which if unattended to, can lead to pitfalls - such as not knowing the true status of project, not able to predict realistic timelines and in turn not meeting project objectives and losing the confidence of stakeholders.

Listed below are seven practical tips that come in handy during this exercise.

1. Hope is good
- but is not a strategyYou are working towards a stringent project timeline. You and your team are sincerely trying hard to meet those timelines. But there are things which have not worked out; there are things which may not work out. You are hopeful that you will make it. However, every time you are extending a timeline by 3-4 days, and not able to meet it again.

“Unless it is usable by the next step in the process, it is not complete. Define what means 'complete' for every deliverable.”

Stop – take a moment – take an honest accounting and fair assessment of the situation. How realistic are the timelines considering the current issues and risks? Do not assume the status quo as 'way of work'. Challenge the constraints - see if they can be relaxed or released. Negotiate. Communicate. Build a plan. Develop a realistic schedule.

2. Get into Details - Devil is in the details
Do you and your project team understand all the activities and their dependencies? There is a lot more to everything! Lack of clarity is what gets the project out of control. While a certain amount of lack of clarity is affordable at the beginning, many projects are unclear about the activities even during execution, monitoring and control. While there is something amiss during planning if you find yourself in this state, that's something that can be fixed with a little more attention to details.

Take your head out of laptop! Sit with a paper and pen, draw those charts, draw those dependencies, review that work breakdown structure. Talk to people. Get into details.

3. It's complete - Be sure what means 'complete’
Take some of your status reports out. See if some deliverables were mentioned as complete in the previous status report and in a subsequent status report, you see work in progress against the same one or another deliverable waiting for the one which was
reported complete couple of weeks earlier!

Unless it is usable by the next step in the process, it is not complete. Define what means 'complete' for every deliverable. Unless the deliverable is complete - the status is not 'green' - just because you have done your part. If the client or other party has not done their part, it is still not complete – it is 'red'. Likewise, a point discussed is not a point agreed. Make sure you have concurrence on all key decisions and agreements with key stakeholders. And if none of the activities in future is waiting for this deliverable, action or decision, check whether you really need it!

4. Don't let go - hit the nail on its head
During many status meetings, all you get to hear is work in progress, discussions are in progress, will get done, etc. Surprisingly, many people can get away with having unclear actions, past dates for closure of actions in the status reports and such updates without having to commit to a closure date.

When will it get done? Is there any bottleneck? What's required to get it done? How will it impact if it gets delayed? Ask those critical and tough questions. Get the answers. Get commitment.

5. Prioritize, Focus - but don't ignore future
When there are many things vying for your attention, it's just human to ignore the future challenges. Project teams tend to be short sighted – work on them if they are affecting the project now, more in a reactive mode rather than proactive. Even if a proactive soul tries to highlight some risks, those are ignored in the interest of the current issues. This loses the essence of risk management, planning, and proactive management, leading to yet another crisis situation and does not get you out of firefighting loop. The status should not become 'red' as we get closer to the deadline date. It should be identified as 'red' if it has the potential to affect the committed date and ideally get 'greener' as we near the date – with all the proactive actions that you have taken.

While you prioritize and focus on current issues, do not lose sight of future challenges. Do not miss an opportunity to plan ahead and manage better.

6. Try your best – but with a sense of timeliness

Another concern is 'waiting' – even if it means indefinitely! If you or any team member finds oneself wanting some clarification, action, help to get things done, do not wait until an opportunity for you all to get together – such as weekly meetings etc. Speak up. Call up. Get in touch. Escalate timely. Take decisions timely. Make sure you have the right stakeholders in discussion who can take decisions. Communicate to the team and customer timely.

7. It's about people finally – Lead them

Last on the list, but definitely not the least, do not ignore people factor. Especially during monitoring and controlling of project, especially if things are not going as per plan, there may be many reasons to point fingers at; there may be many reasons to misunderstand or to be misunderstood. Intention of discussing any problem is not to blame anyone. The objective should be to address the issue. Many a time you would find people in status meetings debating over a point for hours only to realize later that they were never in disagreement!

Seek clarification before debating on your interpretation. As much as it might sound a cliché, attack the problem rather than the person. Lead them to the solution rather than create another problem.


Conclusion

The right approach with a right attitude can help the Project Manager to gather and comprehend the true status of project and plan ahead considering the
realities on the ground.