In order to be a useful decision-making tool, the project work plan must reflect the project’s progress and any changes it is undergoing at any given time. Therefore, project control must begin with the tasks and milestones that were defined in the plan. In order to get an accurate picture of the actual progress of the project, those performing control tasks must continuously collect data regarding the progress achieved on these tasks and milestones.
Task and milestone control must be performed for the following situations:
- Tasks that should have been started but were not and have not yet been rescheduled with a new start date;
- Tasks that should have been completed but were not and have not been assigned a new target completion date;
- Tasks that are in progress, with an estimate of resources and time until completion;
- Tasks that are ahead of schedule.
If a task is progressing according to plan and is on track to being completed on time or even earlier than estimated, then the work plan should be updated with all relevant data so that it reflects the actual situation. Moreover, when a task is on track to be completed earlier than planned, those who are responsible for upcoming tasks must be updated and the work schedule adjusted so that the next sequence of tasks can begin earlier than planned and the project buffer can be increased.
Whenever there is a negative gap between the work plan and its execution in practice, it is necessary to:
Determine what caused the gap between the plan and the project’s status during control evaluation. Such a gap might be the result of a problem with task execution. If so, it must be resolved before the task can be completed. Alternatively, the gap might be due to transfer of necessary resources to other tasks or a mistake in the planning process. Regardless, once the cause is identified, the schedule—as well as the plan for all similar tasks—must be updated to reflect this new understanding in order to prevent such mistakes from recurring.
Identify early indicators of potential problems with task progress before they become significant gaps. For example, the percentage of tasks that were not started or completed on time; the scope of deviation from planned resource utilization or planned budget; the percentage of cases in which evaluations and experiments did not succeed; etc. These types of indicators can point to potential root problems that should be analyzed and dealt with to prevent the same sort of problems occurring repeatedly. Otherwise, any solutions will be temporary and of limited scope, at best.
Identify any trends in planning gaps that might indicate the overall state of the project and form the basis for an updated forecast as to whether or not the project will meet its objectives. Since the past is probably the best and most reliable predictor of the future and as long as no substantial changes are made, the way a project has progressed until the control point is likely to be the way it will continue to progress for the rest of its course. Accordingly, a consistent trend of scheduling delays or resource depletion is likely to indicate a project that will ultimately suffer significant deviations from its goals.
Controls of this type are performed by comparing the actual status of the project with the baseline plan. The results may necessitate creating a new baseline plan in coordination with management and the client. Updating the schedule based on actual progress and establishing new estimates for project completion are essential for obtaining a complete picture of the project status.
When control tasks are performed on an ongoing basis, they do not require significant managerial effort but do guarantee a current and updated view of the project. Implementing these types of controls requires a project management tool suitable for tracking work progress and schedule.