You’ve finished the Project Plan and you have the baseline approval. Hopefully the project didn’t start already. If so, it is time to collect progress accordingly and prepare the reports. The golden rules below present the main steps in collecting project progress data and preparing reports for management:
Know what, how and from where to update
Choosing the reporting software
Define the reporting interval
Collecting the progress and forecast data
Updating actual progress and forecasting schedule
Analyzing the progress report
Project planning & reporting best practices #2
Golden Rules of updating and reporting projects
By: Virgil ANDREI
PMP, Senior Project Planning and Risk Management Consultant
1. Know what, how and from where to update
As soon as your project has started, you have to start monitoring the progress. It is important to know the Progress Measurement Procedure rules. If you don’t have such a document, you need to clarify with the PM what is the rule for measuring the progress (physical, duration, units, cost). In the end the PM is accountable for the project progress. Be aware of the project scope packages, or WBS levels to be updated. Ensure you have an approved baseline to compare progress, otherwise you will not know how far you are from your initial plan.
2.Choosing the reporting software
Usually, the software to be used is mentioned in the Progress Measurement Procedure. The current international trend is to have cloud based, team collaboration tools, where progress is automatically collected from all team members. (E.g: Project Server Plus, Clarizen, Planisware, Office Planner…). Despite this, depending the project’s complexity, you can collect and report progress with Microsoft Excel, Project, Primavera or other tools. Before starting the update, each tool has basic settings to be checked (Calendar, Default activities, Auto Schedule, Financial Periods, display options for units…). If you do not have the right settings, the schedule can display unexpected results or it might move activities to undesired dates or increase the units or duration value!
3.Define the reporting interval
Depending the project’s overall duration, the reporting interval should be sufficient to have time to collect progress and not too long for losing the project out of sight. Depending the reporting interval, task’ s duration should be smaller than this interval, to allow a better project control. For a monthly project report, usually, the team has 5-10 days to collect progress data and report.
By using different tools, you can filter the activities to be updated in the reporting interval and give these “to be filled” documents to the relevant site engineers’/ team members.
4.Collecting the progress and forecast data
There are different ways to collect progress, depending the project requirements and the activities to be updated. Don’t confuse weighting and progress! Weighting represents a pre-established value/amount/importance for each project WBS package/ scope, it can be based on cost, man-hours, technical experience, etc. (E.g.: for an EPCC Project- Engineering 10%, Procurement 20%, Construction 50%, Commissioning 20% = Total 100%). Progress represents how much of each work package is completed, depending different data: duration, units, cost… (E.g.: Engineering -based on document’s status of approval or man-hours; Procurement- based on contract’s status: Bidding; Po Issued…; Construction- based on physical progress/ actual site quantities…). For simplification, sometimes the rule 0/100 or 50/100 applies for measuring progress (0-not started, 50- in progress, 100 completed).
Progress is collected through reports, the usually workflow is: Planner gives a report to be filled in by PM/Site Manager->the report is completed on site according real status-> the progress is verified and approved-> the planner receives progress data and starts to update the schedule.
Forecasting projects is often done poorly, frequently is confused with planning and goals/targets. It is important to understand that forecasting is predicting the future as accurately as possible, according to the available information, including historical data and any possible risks. Goals/targets are imposed or constrained by the contract; goals should be linked to forecasts to provide a realistic view, but often these are just added to the schedule without any links.
Forecasting is required to prepare future human resources needs, to ensure a positive Cash Flow, to arrange transports, deliveries, commissioning activities, etc.
5.Updating actual progress and forecasting schedule
Usually, the reports to be prepared contains data about cost, duration, scope(units) and human resources (man-hours). The reports received by the planning engineer should contain all this data. Further, the updating steps are:
Highlight activities to be updated according to the updating interval, from last update to current update date;
Update each activity’s info including forecasts (actual start/finish dates, physical % complete, actual costs, actual units, remaining duration, expected finish date, new activity links, constraints…);
Update project data (Calculate Schedule at the new date), depending the software used this name differs, but is the same thing, you are moving the progress line to the new date, respecting the links and the info that was previously introduced;
Verify the schedule for potential errors (date might be moved, total/remaining units might change, Critical Path might change…). Some tools like Primavera allow for a fast Schedule Check through Schedule Log; It is advisable to review the new obtained dates with the project team for approving the new forecasts as achievable.
Prepare and issue the report according to the project needs, meaning comparison to the baseline, cost info, actual vs. planned, Critical Path, resource usage, etc. Usually all project data is summarized into an Overall S Curve, containing data about time scope and cost. This allows PM to take fast corrective measures and report project performance.
6.Analyzing the progress report
Remember what Churchill said: This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read. Funny but still very real. Many reports are so enormous that the intended reader will just have a brief overview, missing maybe valuable project information. As mentioned, reporting the overall progress in an S Curve is a good option, it provides a comprehensive view of the project status. The best report would fit into one page, including main data about scope, time, cost, risks, quality and current issues. It should reflect the actual progress against baseline and next period forecasts.
Following best industry’s practices in updating and reporting a project is a key element to ensure the accuracy of reports and forecasts. Despite these, having the project team “buy in” is essential for updating progress and controlling a project.