A Project Plan Tool to Monitor Schedule Performance
I recently had a friend who had a brief stint in the hospital. I was able to visit her in the recovery room as she was coming out of the anesthesia-based stupor. She was groggy, inarticulate, and could barely keep her eyes open. But, I had a sense of how she was doing thanks to the machine that was wheeled right up next to the bed. This machine displayed her heart rate, breathing level, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and a host of other information without her even saying a word.
Even if you didn’t look at the monitor, there was an incessant beeping that would alert anyone within 10 feet as to the steadiness of her breathing. I wasn’t aware of what the different numbers on the monitor meant. But, the nurses and doctors would come in and take a glance and shake their head in a knowing manner. That was all the reassurance I needed to know she was going to be just fine.
Sometimes you may feel as if your projects need to be hooked up to life support in order to survive. That may or may not be the case depending upon your particular circumstances. But, there is a project plan tool you can use that can help prevent a project from slipping into a coma. This project tool is called a Milestone Report. The Milestone Report does just that…it reports out on milestones that have been reached, are about to be reached, or may even be running behind on a project.
A Milestone Report: Where Can This Project Plan Tool Be Utilized?
There are a number of useful applications of this project plan tool:
- Identify Resource Constraints: A common theme you hear across most companies is that there are not enough people to get the work done. It’s almost as if everyone has gone to the same class somewhere where they learned to say “we can’t do this because we don’t have enough people” as the first words out of their mouths. Sometimes this may be the case. Often it is not quite true. People may feel as if they don’t have enough time to get the work done, but with a bit of focus and careful planning they can pull it off. One of the benefits of the Milestone report is that it can objectively identify those legitimate circumstances where a resource or team is so taxed that they really can’t get everything done that needs to be accomplished.
- Identify Problems with Project Coordination: A second benefit of using the Milestone report as a project plan tool is that it can help identify problems with project coordination. What can occur on most projects is that a key deliverable may be finished. But, it stalls out because the next team was not aware that it was ready. This can cause a delay of hours, days, and sometimes weeks as something sits on the shelf waiting to be worked on. The milestone report can eliminate this from happening as everyone will know the exact date that a key deliverable will be complete.
- Uncover Cost and Budget Issues Early On: A budget can quickly be blown if the project manager does not stay on top of the expenditure details. A few modifications to this report will enable everyone to know whether project expenses are on track or if they need to be reined in a bit.
Defining Milestones with this Project Plan Tool
The first thing you need to do in putting together the Milestone report is define what you consider to be a milestone. A rule of thumb is that the higher up the executive ladder this report is being used, the higher the level of milestones that have been reached. For example, milestones that could be reported out at an executive level could be Phase based. These would be the major phases such as Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control, etc. If there are no problems with the project, all an executive really needs to know is which phases are done, what percentage is complete in the current phase, and when is that expected to be complete.
You may want to make your milestones a bit more granular if the Milestone report is being utilized by middle management or team members. The milestone they may be concerned about is whether or not a certain document has been complete (such as a Business Requirements document) or if QA has finished the first cycle of testing.
Just make sure that whatever you come up with as a milestone is as tangible as possible, simple to track, and easy for people to understand.
How Does this Project Plan Tool Look?
There are myriad variations of this project plan tool. Below is one implementation of this tool you may consider.
Down the left side of the report you will include the milestones you have defined as important. This is why it is important to think through your definition of a milestone. It is these milestones that you are going to track your project against. Across the top of the project report and for each milestone, you will then include:
- Brief Description (if necessary): Ideally, the title of the deliverable you have chosen should be sufficient in describing this particular item or task. If not, you can include a brief sentence or two describing the activity. This will be helpful if there are a number of people that come and go on the project.
- Who is Responsible: This is the “throat to choke” column. While not a particular fan of that expression, it does have some meaning in the context of this project plan tool. This is the person who is ultimately responsible for that milestone to be met. If it’s an entire Phase of a project that is being reported on then it may be a functional manager. If it’s a document, test plan, or coding that needs to be complete then it can be the resource themselves. This is the person that can answer any questions about that particular deliverable or will have more details as to why it may be running behind.
- Planned Start Date: Include the original date this task, deliverable, phase, or milestone was to begin. This can be pulled directly from the original project plan. This original date serves as a benchmark to compare the other dates against.
- Actual Start Date: This field reports on when the task or milestone actually began. This does not need to be taken as a negative or assumed that it’s always going to be late. It could be that this particular item began before the planned start date. That’s good news that the rest of the team will want to know about as this affects when they will be able to start working on the deliverable themselves.
- Planned Finish Date: This can be updated from the original project plan as well. This will reflect on when that particular phase, deliverable, or milestone was originally thought to be complete.
- Actual Finish Date: This is the date that the milestone was met. This is important to know as it affects the start date of any activities that were linked to this particular deliverable.
- Notes: It’s always good to have a column for Notes to shed any further color on the situation, provide insight into the budget, or other relevant information that will help the recipient of the report.
Something else you may want to include in this project plan tool is projected start and finish dates. These would be your best estimates of when a deliverable that may be either ahead of or behind schedule could begin or end. You can use the Milestone report as a project plan tool to monitor the health of your project schedule. By keeping up with the dates in such a way you’ll be able to keep your project out of Intensive Care and well on its way to a complete recovery!
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