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Control – part 10 - Progress reporting - General

Individual reports for summary

You cannot control a project without assessing progress against a schedule.
In order to make judgements about the progress of a schedule you must collect data on a regular basis.
This can be done in several ways.

Individuals can produce a report at intervals which is based upon exception; only raising issues and known changes.

One to one progress meetings

Information can be gathered on a one to one basis.
This can be advantageous in that the person collecting the information may know of other changes elsewhere and is therefore in a good position to ask relevant questions.

This can be more time consuming but very rewarding.
Another advantage of one to one communication is there is less chance of ambiguity in a statement.
The written word, in a memo, may have different meanings to different people.
Personal communication is usually backed up with non verbal cues and the statement can be challenged there and then.

Group / project meetings

Group or project team meetings can be the focus for raising issues.
These are usually formal affairs arranged at set intervals or when particular milestones are met.

Properly run meetings will have an agenda that is pre-circulated so that all participants know what to expect at the meeting.
Although official, they may still have certain disadvantages in that some individuals may not give their full attention.
Others will be a little reticent to speak and will withhold important information.
It is the responsibility of the Chairperson to make sure all members of the meeting contribute.

Discussions at meetings can sometimes lose focus.
The Chairperson (probably the Project Manger) must make it clear exactly what he or she wants from project management team meetings.

Try to arrange meetings when there is something to discuss.
Don’t hold meetings for the sake of it.
Keep the numbers at meetings to a low level, only invite key personnel.
For regular meetings there should be an agreed list of attendees.

The person actually running the meeting will be the Chairperson whose role is to encourage openness and participation in the meeting so that there is a full discussion of the issues raised.
The Chairperson is trying to resolve an issue by consensus.
An individual may note that he does not accept a certain decision but should abide by it.
If the meeting is called by a member of the senior management team then that individual may well have the right to veto any decisions or decide on the final solution based upon the discussions.
The Chairperson should also make sure that the discussions are to the point and do not meander off track.
He should clarify any action points together with the person responsible for its execution.
Minutes of a meeting should be circulated as soon as possible after the meeting.
It is a good idea to circulate a draft copy for individuals to clarify any points first.
However, minutes are no substitute for taking ones own notes at the meeting and acting upon them.

Wandering about

Data can be gathered by ‘wandering about’ on an ad hoc basis.
This is an extremely powerful leadership technique but should be used carefully [see 'The Complete Leadership package‘].

It can be misconstrued as interference, checking up and snooping.
Whenever you visit a particular department make sure the local manager knows you are going to be there and if possible get the manager to take you round. Unless you have a particular goal speak to the higher performing workers first.
These will be known by the manager and help to influence standards by recognition.
There are many other tips using this technique in [see 'The Complete Leadership package‘].

Always show interest in what is happening and ask relevant questions.
This technique allows you to find out exactly what is happening at the sharp end of the project schedule and will cement relationships and trust.

Use of standard forms / e-mail

Standard forms or e-mail can be used to update activities.

These can be rather impersonal and need careful design to ensure there is no misunderstanding.
They can result in many more questions than answers as clarification is sought.
The form or information sought can be ambiguous and the replies even more so.

Regular intervals and at milestones

Whatever the formal reporting process it must be agreed.
For example, via project management team meetings at regular intervals.
The format and the expectations of the members should be discussed, understood and agreed.

Formal milestone reporting for management meetings

Major milestones can trigger a more formal review for senior management (Project Board) as well as the normal regular reports.

What ever the system employed the process should be documented as part of a Quality Plan.
Try to get a balance between too much data collection and doing the work!

Meetings will be hierarchical, in that, as you move down the management levels each will need to maintain control with appropriate progress meetings.

Under PRINCE2® 2005 assessing progress is about knowing what has happened and comparing it with what you expected to happen.
A simple robust monitoring system is required that provides a steady flow of information o n the project progress.
[see Controlling a Stage (CS) - part 3 - Assessing Progress (CS2) and Controls - part 1]

PRINCE2 2009 the theme Progress is used.
The purpose of the Progress theme is to establish mechanisms to monitor and compare actual achievements against those planned; provide a forecast for the project objectives and the project’s continued viability; and control any unacceptable deviations.
Two of the principles of PRINCE2 [see ‘The Complete Project Management plus PRINCE2’] are managing by stages and continued business justification.
The Progress theme provides the mechanisms for monitoring and control, enabling the critical assessment of ongoing viability.
[see Progress - purpose]

PRINCE2® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.