Project monitoring: importance and how to do it effectively
Updated 27 March 2023
Project monitoring is an important aspect of project management. For a project to be successful, it ought to be carefully planned and scheduled and monitored throughout. Learning how to monitor a project helps you to identify issues and is a valuable skill for any aspiring project manager. In this article, we explain why project monitoring is an important part of project management and how to do it effectively.
What is project monitoring?
Project monitoring is one of the key project management principles. It's also referred to as 'project monitoring and control'. It's considered the fourth stage of project management and is important in that it comes after the stages of project initiation, project planning and project execution.
Monitoring a project means ensuring that the project is going as planned and that tasks within the project are being completed. There are many metrics that require monitoring, such as the budget, the time taken to completion and the standard of quality. The importance of each depends on the nature of the project. Monitoring a project also involves looking to the future. Thus, an important part of the monitoring stage of a project is identifying potential issues that may arise and how the team involved can avoid them.
Project monitoring's importance
It's valuable to know project monitoring's importance as it can be the difference between a project failing or being successful. It's important that a project manager can closely observe the progress of a project and make intelligent adjustments. This is because projects usually involve many tasks over a long period of time, some of which the team or individual involved can only complete following the completion of a previous task. This means that the delay or poor execution of just one small task can affect all the other tasks in the later stages of the project.
Most projects require the monitoring and control of a common set of metrics. Here is a list of the primary aspects of a project to monitor and control, with examples:
Monitoring the money spent on a project is one of the most important elements of project management. Every project has a budget, which management decides upon during its planning phase. A project manager can monitor spending by observing how the cost of each task differs from the estimations in the project plan. They can then make adjustments to cut corners on specific tasks if the project is running over budget.
It's common for large projects to go over budget and some large organisations may not see budgeting as a priority. Yet, if you were managing a project for a charity using donated funds, monitoring the budget would be a fundamental metric to control.
The timeline of a project is also determined in the project planning phase. A project manager can judge progress against the project plan by using milestones, which entails breaking the project into smaller sections and setting deadlines for notable stages of the project. Just as some ventures may run over budget, larger projects can often take longer than expected. Monitoring timelines is particularly important if the project involves building something for a particular event as the deadline is definite and an extension is not possible.
A project manager can't forget about monitoring and controlling quality standards during a project. This can easily occur if there are pressures on time and budget and a team may rush tasks or make shortcuts to save costs. The project planning phase outlines the expected standards, so a project manager can constantly monitor tasks and prepare to make changes to reach the expected standard of quality.
Resources and scheduling
A project requires adequate resources, whether that be building materials, people or capital. Project managers can monitor and adjust resources as things can change quickly. For example, essential building materials may become damaged, requiring the making of new orders, which could cause lengthy delays. Also, staff on the project could become ill, meaning that work isn't completed. A project manager constantly reallocates resources based on the situation and sometimes changes the order of tasks due to the resources available at certain times.
How to monitor a project
As examined, monitoring is a key stage of project management. Here is a guideline of how project managers can effectively monitor a project:
1. Establish goals and key performance indicators in the planning phase
As mentioned earlier in this article, project planning is indispensable. It's the second stage of project management, after project initiation. Determining the project goals is one of the first aspects of project planning. This means outlining clear objectives and expected results so that everyone involved knows the project's purpose.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) within a project are essentially milestones. KPIs make it easier to monitor performance by breaking the overall goals into smaller achievements so that project managers can see if a project is on track. It can be overwhelming to measure your progress in a long-term project against the overall goals. KPIs can prevent this. Managers can spread them out throughout a project and allocate them to different teams so that individuals can work towards their own milestones and remain focused.
2. Establish and keep in mind the project scope
Project scope refers to a more in-depth plan that's based on the project goals. It includes measurable objectives and details of how to achieve them. It also determines the boundaries of the project. This prevents something called 'scope creep', where individuals may undertake additional work during the project that was not in the project plan. Scope creep can result in a project becoming unmanageable and cause overspending and late completion, so project managers regularly monitor progress against the agreed project scope.
3. Use tools like Gantt charts
There's a multitude of project management tools available to project managers. One of the most popular and trusted tools is the Gantt chart. It's a visualisation tool that contains an ordered list of tasks to complete within a project. It also shows how long each task takes and the dependencies between them. Gantt charts distinguish between tasks that can run simultaneously and dependent tasks that can only begin once a previous task finishes.
Project managers use Gantt charts to allocate resources in an optimal way. They can also see how delays in specific tasks may affect the timelines and can adjust tasks to meet deadlines.
4. Allocate teams and hold them accountable
A project manager can't always monitor and control a large project on their own. Sometimes it's necessary to delegate responsibilities to other managers and teams. A project manager may create a quality control team to ensure the completion of all tasks within a project is to a satisfactory level. A team within a project could have its own KPIs that it's responsible for meeting, leaving the project manager free to monitor and control other aspects of the project.
Other tips for project monitoring
Other tips that may be useful include:
Have good communication within the team
While allocating teams can help share the workload, it's important that this separation does not limit communication. Teams can share information to prevent issues in one area from affecting larger aspects of the project. It's important that project managers are aware of the progress of the project, so it's important that teams be comfortable communicating any issues or concerns to ensure that the project incorporates any necessary adjustments.
Don't be afraid to change direction
Being flexible is a valuable characteristic for a project manager. While monitoring a project, you may discover that particular objectives are unachievable or are no longer realistic. Making the decision to always stick to the original plan could lead to a poor project result, a missed deadline or spending significantly over budget. Sometimes the best decision is to re-evaluate the project scope and make adjustments to ensure that the project remains a success, despite it being slightly different from the original plan.
Learn from mistakes
Upon the completion of a project, it's a good idea to review its outcome. Key questions to ask are 'What went well?' and 'What can we do better next time?'. From the answers to these questions, you can learn from previous mistakes and discover best practices so that the next project is more likely to succeed.
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