What is tracking a project? (Importance, steps and tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Organisations, project managers and other stakeholders can use various techniques to ensure project execution follows the plan and accomplishes optimal outcomes. Tracking project progress is one project management strategy they can use to determine the actual performance and compare it with the expected performance, highlighting any deviation. Understanding how to track project progress can help you discover a technique to improve execution and management. In this article, we define what tracking a project is, explain the importance of monitoring a project, outline steps to track initiatives and provide tips for tracking projects.

What is tracking a project?

Tracking a project means assessing its performance to determine its actual implementation and ascertain whether it's progressing as you had planned. Project tracking keeps stakeholders and project managers informed about the work the project execution team has done and allows them to identify the resources they used to perform those tasks. Project managers and management can create an earned value analysis by tracking milestones and determining project variance. Organisations and project managers can use project management techniques and project tracking tools. For example, they can use a Gantt chart and status reports to track projects, represent findings or update stakeholders.

Related: 13 project execution best practices for companies to implement

Why is tracking project progress significant?

Project tracking is an essential practice for effective project management. Organisations and project managers may track project progress for these reasons:

Maintain consistent communication

Effective project tracking can facilitate communication between the project team and other stakeholders. The project manager may inform management, clients or other stakeholders about the achieved targets. Effective communication allows every stakeholder to know the project-related intangibles and tangibles. Project managers can manage communications effectively to ensure other issues remain their priorities.

Increase revenue and productivity

Project status tracking can help the organisation manage time and use resources well, increasing productivity and allowing project managers to identify and rectify wastages or delays. If the organisation completes an initiative as per the project plan, the company can undertake more initiatives that can increase the company's cash inflow and boost its overall revenue. Tracking a project can enhance its output, satisfying clients that use the initiative's products or services. Content clients may return or recommend the enterprise to prospects.

Create efficient resource utilisation

Project status tracking can help the organisation and project manager utilise resources well. For example, if a customer requests changes midway, you may allocate new human resources to have an acceptable outcome for the client. You can also track the project's progress to ensure the project team uses finances and labour well to complete tasks. The company can use the remaining resources for other functions that require support.

Create higher satisfaction levels

The quality of the project's outcome can determine whether clients are content. If you can share timely and well-informed status reports, deliver as per the schedule and execute the initiative's activities as planned, you can satisfy clients' needs. Building the company culture around project management practices can empower the project team to deliver exceptional results for clients. Content clients can be repeat customers and can recommend the organisation to prospects.

Related: Project scheduling: definition, benefits, formats and steps

Improve risk control

Project planning, tracking and monitoring can help an organisation manage risks. These practices can help the company discover risk exposure, assess its effects and determine its mitigation strategies. For example, an organisation can identify potential quality issues while planning a manufacturing initiative. Tracking and monitoring enable the company to discover these risks if the risk events happen. They can implement quick solutions to mitigate and control the process, ensuring the project delivers the expected outcomes. In some cases, they can implement avoidance strategies and track whether the measures have helped prevent a potential hazard.

How to track project progress

Tracking a project's progress involves seven essential steps. To do so, follow these steps:

1. Establish a project outline

A project outline is the company's internal document that guides an initiative by stating the tasks to complete during project execution. It highlights the project's timelines and action items. A project manager can engage team members to develop the project outline. Team members can provide helpful insights, such as the ideal way to execute tasks and the duration each task needs. The project manager can also use this period to discuss team expectations with the team, clarifying every team member's roles and tasks.

2. Create measurable goals

You may use your knowledge of team members' skills and capabilities to develop individualised goals for each team member. Matching their targets with their capabilities increases their chances of succeeding. Ensure the goals you develop are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based (SMART). Explain the goals to team members to ensure they understand your expectations and make sure you use measurable goals that include numbers and data. For example, you can say the team finishes a task on a specific date rather than saying they finish the activity quickly.

Read more: How to write SMART goals in 6 Steps (with tips and examples)

3. Have clear deadlines

When establishing deadlines, set clear limits for the initiative and individual activities. When team members get definite deadlines for their tasks for the project, they can prioritise each task to complete their activities and duties within the set timelines. Deadlines may also simplify tracking the project's progress because it highlights what each person does within a given timeframe. You may request the team's input when setting deadlines. They can determine whether the tasks are doable within the set timeframe and are more likely to embrace the deadlines as they helped establish them.

4. Collect data

Choose the appropriate data collection method. You can receive written updates containing the project team's progress or have weekly meetings where each team member shares their update as you capture their data. Track the data using spreadsheets or project management software. Update the information you've captured to have accurate data to review or give stakeholders when they request updates. If many team members input data into the spreadsheets or project management solution, you can develop data input guidelines to ensure the inputs are consistent and accurate throughout the project's duration.

5. Use a kanban board

You can use a visual aid that you can update during the project's execution to track the initiative's progress. Many organisations use scrum boards to track project status. Kanban boards can also help companies organise larger tasks into smaller, manageable ones. Using a kanban board, you group tasks into categories like tasks not started, tasks completed and work in progress. You shift tasks through each category during execution until they reach the tasks completed column. A kanban board allows team members to see each task's status and may help assess whether they're meeting expectations and determining the remaining tasks.

Related: 10 useful project charts to use in project management

6. Adjust expectations

As the project progresses and you capture data, you may notice the project team complete some tasks before or after deadlines. You may also determine if the cost of materials exceeded your expected price. Modify your expectations to reflect these variations and new information. For example, if a team member's task is developing materials for presentation towards the project's end, delays by other team members may impede their work. If someone's actual progress is slower than you expected, you can adjust some goals to help everyone complete their tasks within the set timeline.

7. Engage the team regularly

Having regular check-ins can help you monitor the team's progress and implement measures to ensure they complete their tasks within the set timelines. This can provide the opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate team members' progress. You can also use these meetings to motivate them to continue meeting targets.

Tips for tracking project progress

Consider these tips to effectively track a project's progress and pursue the desired outcomes:

  • Consider the risks the project may face: Evaluate the project to determine risk exposure and develop risk mitigation strategies to avoid, control or manage the risk event.

  • Keep a visual aid: Have an updated visual representation of the project's progress to show everyone what the team has done and what team members can do to complete the project's tasks.

  • Assist the project team: Helping team members can create a more productive workplace. You can advise them, provide resources and answer their questions to ensure they complete their tasks well and within the set timelines.

  • Have a reward system: You can create a reward system for yourself, your teams and team members for when they complete tasks well within the set timelines to motivate them to work harder.

  • Keep a journal. Spare some minutes each day to list your accomplishments and evaluate improvement areas. Reviewing the progress can help you develop strategies for long-term success.

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