PM Foundations – Updating Schedule Progress

It always amazes me that after project managers put so much time and effort into creating a baseline project schedule, they do not always put the same level of energy and discipline into maintaining it during the execution phase of the project. It is extremely important during this phase of the project that the schedule reflects where you are at currently, as well as how the remaining work is planned to be completed.

During the transition from planning to execution the project manager establishes the progress update processes. These processes are both formal (e.g., submitting updates through a tool) and informal (e.g., soliciting input in one-on-one meetings). A productive project manager will ensure that these update processes are linked to other project related activities, such as time reporting, team meetings, and status reporting.

Progress Update Processes

The progress update processes and tools should fit into the way the team works. Try to avoid implementing processes that are disruptive or redundant. You do not want these processes to end up getting in the way of actual work being completed. In addition, these processes should be timely and consistent. The updates should be completed the same time/date during the reporting period (day/week). Team members should KNOW when information is due and when the schedule updates have been completed.

Based upon the organization and work environment, the project manager either establishes formal or informal processes and tools to collect progress updates. These processes and tools can range from weekly conversations with team members, to utilization of a tool for each team member to submit updates.

The key to this process is that it is linked to other project update activities (timeliness of information is dependent update establishing efficient processes):

  • Time reporting – Usually time reporting is at a higher level than required to update schedule activities, but at a minimum this process can be leveraged to trigger schedule update discussions.
  • Team meetings – Information shared at team meetings should be direct inputs for schedule updates (particularly on smaller projects).
  • Status reporting – It is up to the project manager to ensure that the status report is completed after schedule updates have been completed.

Performing Schedule Analysis

After completing progress updates to the schedule, it is a best practice to review the schedule data in a manner that proactively identifies potential issues. This review is utilized to identify areas where additional information and/or adjustments are required.

I will generally utilize the MS Project feature AUTO-FILTER feature to highlight potential project related issues. The approach helps focus in on specific problem areas:

  • Tasks that are NOT completed
  • Tasks that should have been started or finished already (past due), OR tasks that are scheduled to start or finish in the upcoming 1-2 weeks
  • Task assignments for specific resources (identification of resources that may be over or under allocated in the current time period

As the project manager you should be asking yourself the following questions when reviewing schedule related information:

Why are tasks past due? Most likely you will have run across the answer to this question when gathering progress updates from team members. If not, this is a good opportunity to follow-up with team members on the status of specific tasks. The answer generally falls into one of the following categories:

  • The task is taking longer than expected
  • Other tasks took higher priority
  • I could not start the task because I need another task to be completed first

Are actions required? Based upon review of past due tasks, as well as other tasks scheduled for the upcoming 1-2 weeks, you may identify problem areas that require immediate action. This is particularly true if delays (or anticipated delays) in the tasks will impact an upcoming milestone (or the project end date). Based upon discussions with the team, you may decide that one of the following actions must be taken:

  • Change resource assignments
  • Add a risk and initiate mitigation action planning
  • Change task dependencies to reflect new task sequencing
  • Add a task to reflect new work

Are schedule adjustments required? Some follow-up actions drive additional updates to the schedule. The bottom-line is that if the schedule no longer reflects how work will be performed, you should likely make additional updates to the schedule.

Making the Right Adjustments

Based upon completion of on-going schedule analysis, including follow-up research and discussion with team members, you will often identify adjustments that need to be made to one of the planning artifacts (schedule, issue / risk log, project management plan). The following represent considerations when making common adjustments to the schedule:

Resource assignments: Resource assignments may be proactive resource changes to avoid future problems, or reactive changes to respond to slippage in the project schedule. If material in nature, the resource changes should be made in the schedule. After the changes are completed, the project manager should review the resource usage to ensure that the changes solved the resource utilization issues as anticipated.

Duration / work estimates: When material differences in work effort or duration are identified (plan vs. actual progress), you should consider reflecting the difference in the schedule (particularly when there is significant work or time remaining to complete the task).

Tasks & dependencies: As work gets underway, additional tasks or task dependencies are identified that are required to complete the deliverable. These generally represent clarification of the work to be performed (vs. change in the deliverable to be completed). Again, if these changes are material in nature, and have not already been completed, you should consider reflecting these changes in the schedule.

Risks & issues: Review of the schedule based upon completing progress updates will often result in identification of additional risks or issues. This is the appropriate time to capture these risks/issues, and plan the appropriate actions to close or mitigate the risk/issue.

Project impacts: There is often a question around initiating project impacts based upon schedule changes identified. This topic is discussed further in my blog post on Managing Change, but the following represent the guidelines as to whether or not a project impact should be initiated:

  • Does this change have a material impact on the scope, schedule (end date), or cost of the project?
  • Is this a permanent change (or just a timing issue that will be resolved at some future point in the project)?

Updating Schedule Progress Best Practices

In summary, the following represent the primary best practices relating to updating schedule progress:

  • Establish a timely process (and supporting tools) to update schedule progress. The team should be well aware of how and when schedule updates will be captured, and when the schedule updates will be accurately reflected in the project schedule (to ensure team members are looking at the most current information).
  • Ensure that the processes for updating schedule progress are efficient for the project manager, as well as the rest of the team. Where appropriate, leverage existing communication vehicles or tools to capture this information (e.g., team meetings, timesheets, and personal status reports).
  • The process of updating schedule progress should regularly trigger the project manager to review the schedule to identify current or potential problems, and initiate the appropriate corrective actions.
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About Steve Hart
Practice Manager responsible for project leadership & delivery services for the Cardinal Solutions Group in the RTP area. I am a PMP with 25 years of project management and technical leadership roles, have developed an extensive practical knowledge that spans a wide variety of industries, and project delivery approaches. As a practicing PMP, I am a member of the North Carolina PMI chapter. I am an avid sports fan, particularly the Miami RedHawks, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns, and most recently the NC State Wolfpack.

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