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Monitoring and Controlling Projects: A “How to” Guide

By: Dr. Michael Shick, MSPM, PMP, CSM

Project management isn’t just about hitting milestones and meeting deadlines. It’s about leading a team through the trenches, keeping them motivated, and ensuring smooth progress while preventing burnout.

You might wonder if it’s possible to keep a keen eye on every project detail without overburdening yourself and your team. Can you truly have a well-monitored project and a motivated team working harmoniously? The answer is a resounding YES!

Explore the world of project monitoring and controlling, where we’ll guide you through project oversight without overwhelming your team. Learn to use advanced analytics, leverage integrated systems, and adopt flexible methodologies. With these tools, you can envision challenges, streamline project workflows, and, most importantly, keep your team inspired and engaged.

Ready to transform the way you manage projects? This article will help you balance diligent project monitoring and foster a less stressful team environment.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Effective monitoring is proactive, not reactive. Regularly tracking, observing, and analyzing project performance against planned objectives enables project managers to identify variances early and take proactive measures. Implementing tools such as earned value analysis, variance analysis, and risk assessment ensures that potential problems are addressed before they escalate, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of reactive management.
  2. Communication and Engagement Are Critical for Success: Clear, transparent communication and stakeholder engagement throughout the project’s lifecycle is critical. Ensure all stakeholders remain informed and involved, which fosters trust, helps manage expectations, and ensures project deliverables align with the customer/client’s needs. A successful project execution phase, monitoring and controlling phase relies heavily on flexibility and effective communication. The notion that “bad news doesn’t get better over time” underscores the value of timely updates.
  3. Continuous Improvement Drives Project Excellence: The iterative process of monitoring and controlling, characterized by feedback loops and regular quality checks, is necessary as the project progresses. By soliciting feedback, analyzing it, and refining processes, project teams can improve their practices, enhancing efficiency and effectiveness.

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What is Monitoring and Controlling in Project Management?

Monitoring and Controlling in project management refers to the systematic process of observing, tracking, measuring, and making necessary adjustments to a project. This is so a project manager and team may ensure the project remains on track to meet customer/client goals and objectives. This process group regularly compares actual project performance with planned performance, identifies variances, and implements corrective or preventive actions when necessary. It provides information about where the project stands, while the controlling aspect involves making informed decisions to keep the project on track. Together, monitoring and the controlling process group ensures that the project stays within scope, time, cost, and quality constraints, ultimately leading to successful project outcomes.

In short:

Monitoring and controlling in project management is the process of regularly observing and tracking the progress of a project and making any necessary proactive corrections. It is vital to ensure that a project stays on track, within budget, and within quality specifications, playing a key role in project success.

Reasons You Need to Know Monitoring and Controlling in Project Management

Monitoring and controlling ongoing tasks, expenditures, resources, and so on is critical. This is because it helps project teams prevent their endeavor from going off the rails, prevents costs from skyrocketing unexpectedly, and ensures the project meets the customer/client’s intended outcomes. The process group enables the oversite of:

  • Risk Management: Regular monitoring and control can help identify and react to risks early, mitigating them before they escalate.
  • Cost Adherence: It ensures the project stays within budget, preventing unwanted financial surprises.
  • Quality Assurance & Control: The project meets the required standards and quality criteria the customer/client established.
  • Stakeholder Satisfaction: Keeping a project on track ensures stakeholder requirements are met, leading to increased trust and satisfaction.
  • Time Management: Regular time checks promote a proactive approach to preventing delays and ensuring the project stays on schedule.

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Step-by-Step Instructions to Monitor and Control Your Project Effectively

Introducing our unique, tried-and-tested process to monitor and control your projects—combines best practices with innovative strategies and tactics to ensure your projects remain on track.

  1. Vision Validation: Begin the execution phase by revisiting the project’s objectives and goals. Ensure the project deliverables and vision align with your customer/client’s expectations and organizational objectives.
  2. Data dive: Collect all relevant work performance data, including costs incurred, time spent, and resources used.
  3. Analyze & Assess: Assess the collected data against the project plan using tools such as Earned Value Analysis. Identify deviations from the project schedule and understand their root causes.
  4. Course Correct: Implement corrective actions for identified deviations. This might involve reallocating resources, revising schedules, or modifying project priorities.
  5. Engage & Communicate: Regularly update stakeholders about the project’s progress and status. Ensure transparency in the communications, monitoring and control phase, especially if there may be changes or potential risks. Note: Bad news doesn’t get better over time.
  6. Risks & Response: Continuously scan the project to identify potential threats. Develop and implement response strategies to accept, mitigate, transfer, or avoid these risks.
  7. Quality Checks: Routinely audit the project’s outputs to ensure they meet quality standards and assign particular individual project tasks where they are responsible for the quality assurance and quality control processes.
  8. Feedback Loop: Encourage team members and stakeholders to provide feedback, which is invaluable for continuous improvement.
  9. Iterate & Improve: Based on feedback, refine your monitoring and controlling processes to be more effective in future projects.

"Group of professionals in a meeting discussing project progress with digital tablet"

Vision Validation

Vision Validation ensures that the project’s objectives and goals align with what was initially intended. As a project progresses, external factors, stakeholder and customer/client expectations, or internal changes may cause the project to drift from its primary vision.

How to Execute Vision Validation:

  1. Revisit Original Documents: Review the project charter, scope, and other initial project documentation to ensure you follow the original vision and objectives. If not, you may need to adjust the initial documents or course-correct.
  2. Stakeholder Check-in: Regularly engage with stakeholders and customer/clients to ensure their expectations and requirements haven’t changed. This can be through email, phone calls, meetings, surveys, or feedback sessions.
  3. Align with Organizational Goals: Ensure your project aligns with the broader organizational goals and strategy. A project that no longer serves the company’s objectives might need to be reevaluated for continuation.

Data Dive

Data Dive is gathering all relevant project data to assess key performance indicators. This information will form the basis for monitoring and controlling project activities.

How to Execute Data Dive:

  1. Identify Key Metrics: Determine which metrics are essential for your project. These include cost metrics, schedule tracking, resource allocation, and deliverable status along the project life cycle.
  2. Data Collection Tools: Gather data at consistent intervals, leveraging project management software, financial tools, or manual tracking methods. Examples are Asana, Wrike, MS Project, etc.
  3. Regular Check-ins: Schedule regular meeting intervals (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) to collect data. Consistency is critical.
  4. Store Data Effectively: Use databases or cloud storage solutions to ensure the data collected is stored securely and can be easily accessed by those who need it for analysis.

Analyze & Assess

Once the data is gathered, compare it with the project’s initial plans to identify deviations. Doing so ensures you’re proactive in your monitoring and control process. You also can identify potential issues before they escalate.

How to Execute Analyze & Assess:

  1. Baseline Comparison: Compare your collected data against your initial project plans and look for any deviations or anomalies.
  2. Use Analysis Tools: Leverage tools such as variance analysis, trend analysis, and earned value management.
  3. Identify Root Causes: If a problem is found, determine the underlying cause(s) (e.g., 5 Whys, Ishikawa Diagram, etc.). Ask yourself why it happened. Was it due to a resource constraint, an external factor, or an internal miscommunication?
  4. Document Findings: Maintain a log of all findings. This is useful for your current project and is a valuable resource for future projects via your lessons learned.

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Course Correct

Once deviations are identified, it’s crucial to take corrective actions to steer the project back on track as quickly as possible.

How to Execute Course Correct:

  1. Action Planning: If not already included in your risk management plan, develop a plan to address the identified issues. This may involve adjusting strategies, reallocating resources, or revising objectives.
  2. Stakeholder Engagement: If a substantial change is required, buy-in from relevant stakeholders must be obtained, particularly if it affects the project’s scope, time, costs, or quality.
  3. Implementation: Apply the corrective measures and monitor and control the change closely.
  4. Documentation: Record all changes made for accountability and future reference.

Engage & Communicate

Effective communication is necessary to keep the project team, stakeholders, and the customer/client informed.

How to Execute Engage & Communicate:

  1. Regular Updates: This can be via email, phone calls, or through routine meeting updates.
  2. Transparency: The objective is to be transparent, especially when sharing challenges or delays. Honesty and authenticity build trust.
  3. Feedback Channels: Establish open channels for feedback from team members, stakeholders, and customer/clients.
  4. Documentation: Keep a record of all communications for reference and clarity.

Risks & Response

If a risk is already identified in your risk management plan, the team should respond according to the prescribed response. While monitoring and controlling a project, the project manager and team should continuously scan for additional risks.

How to Execute Risks & Response:

  1. Risk Identification: Regularly review the project to identify new risks.
  2. Risk Analysis: Assess the identified risks for their potential impact and likelihood.
  3. Response Strategies: Develop strategies to accept, mitigate, transfer, or avoid risks.
  4. Implementation and Monitoring: Implement the risk response strategies and monitor their effectiveness.
  5. Project Documentation: Update the risk register and risk management plan as required.

"Corporate project management team evaluating digital analytics and performance metrics"

Quality Checks

Monitor and control the customer/client-directed standard for project deliverables through regular quality audits, established quality assurance, and quality control measures.

How to Execute Quality Checks:

  1. Define Quality Standards: With the customer/client, clearly define what quality means for the project deliverables.
  2. Regular Audits: Conduct periodic reviews to ensure the outputs meet the established standards.
  3. Corrective Actions: If quality issues are identified, implement corrective actions immediately and error-proof so the problem does not persist.
  4. Record Keeping: Keep detailed records of quality checks, as well as the steps taken for future reference.

Feedback Loop

Promote and leverage feedback for continuous project and process improvement.

How to Execute Feedback Loop:

  1. Solicit Feedback: Seek qualitative and quantitative feedback from team members, stakeholders, and customers/clients.
  2. Analyze Feedback: Examine the feedback for actionable insights. (e.g., focus group, Pareto Analysis, Control Charts, etc.)
  3. Implement Changes: Use the feedback to make data-informed improvements in the project process.

Iterate & Improve

Project management is rarely static. Continuously refine the monitoring and controlling processes for better outcomes in future projects. If something can be improved, even if it’s not broken, consider refining the process.

How to Execute Iterate & Improve:

  1. Review Processes: Regularly review the monitoring and controlling processes used in the project.
  2. Identify Improvements: Look for areas where the process can be more efficient or effective.
  3. Implement Changes: Apply the improvements in the current or future projects.
  4. Document Changes: Ensure that insights and learnings are recorded. They can be invaluable for future projects or during project planning phases.

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Key Considerations for Successfully Monitoring and Controlling Projects

Stay Flexible: Unforeseen challenges can and will arise in a project, no matter how meticulously it was planned. While these steps are a guide for great project managers and teams, real-world scenarios require flexibility and adaptability. It’s important to approach monitoring and controlling with a mindset that supports the industry’s dynamic nature; therefore, be ready to pivot or adjust your tactics based on new information, emerging risks, or stakeholder feedback.

Engage and Communicate: Effective communication is vital to monitor and control the project lifecycle successfully. This is because customer stakeholders and project team members require project status updates, challenges, and changes so they remain engaged and can provide valuable input. In other words, frequent, transparent communication can preemptively address concerns, mitigate risks, and keep everyone aligned on project objectives and progress.

Embrace Technology and Tools: Technology can significantly enhance project management. Sophisticated project management software can automate, streamline, and improve the project management lifecycle, as well as the monitoring and control process. However, the technologies must be user-friendly and cater to your project’s needs.

Taking it to the Next Level: How to Elevate Your Project Monitoring and Controlling Skills

Integrated Systems and Cross-Functional Collaboration: Elevate your project monitoring and controlling process by integrating other departmental systems into your project management tools. Whether it is Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Computer-Aided Design (CAD), or some other type of software, this holistic view allows for a seamless flow of information across departments, ensuring everyone is working toward the same objectives making incremental project progress. Cross-functional collaboration also fosters a sense of unity to perform integrated change control, where various teams can provide insights and feedback from their unique perspectives, enhancing the whole project team’s overall quality and efficiency.

Continuous Learning and Professional Development: Project management constantly evolves with new methodologies, technologies, and best practices, so it’s important to stay abreast of the current trends. You can do so through continuous learning. Consider enrolling in advanced project management degrees or courses, attending workshops, or obtaining certifications. This will bolster your skill set and position you as a leader and expert in the field.

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Final Thoughts on Project Monitoring and Controlling

Moving through the complexities of monitoring and controlling projects can be challenging, especially while the project team is in the execution phase. That said, it can feel like a work of art when the appropriate balance of expectations with reality and the right strategies and tools are employed. We’ve explored the core concepts and methodologies, and this guide will enable you to lead your projects successfully.

In my journey with monitoring and controlling projects, whether large-scale ventures or nimble startup environments, the principles remain constant: Vigilance, adaptability, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. Your success as a project manager is more than meeting deadlines and budgets; it’s about achieving the customer/client objectives that drive organizational growth. Listen to someone in the trenches, face the storms, and emerge victorious!

References

Greenburg, D., Michalaka, D., & Shick, M. (2023). An Integrated Exercise to Teach Earned Value Management. Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice, 23(13).

Kerzner, H. (2017). Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling – Twelfth Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Meredith, J. R., & Mantel, S. J. Jr. (2009). Project Management: A Managerial Approach – Seventh Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Project Management Institute, Inc. (2017). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – Sixth Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Seventh Edition and The Standard for Project Management (7th ed.). Project Management Institute. ISBN 978-1628256642

Project Management Institute. (2023). Process Groups: A Practice Guide. Project Management Institute.

About the author: Dr. Michael J. Shick, MSPM, PMP, CSM, founder of ROSEMET, is a combat-wounded warrior and retired senior military officer turned esteemed academic and project management expert. Holding a doctorate from Creighton University and serving as an Assistant Professor at Western Carolina University, Dr. Shick’s dedication goes beyond credentials, as he commits to empowering individuals and organizations toward project excellence. With an extensive military, academic, and other project management institute leadership background, he epitomizes resilience, expertise, and a steadfast devotion to fostering growth and success in others.