Do you remember long summer vacations as a kid? Your family would take a trip to visit friends and relatives on the other side of the country.
It was too expensive to fly everyone to the destination so it was decided the trip would be made via car.
Weeks were spent on planning the trip and the big day was finally here! Your dad would pack the station wagon to the gills, cram the entire family into the car, and off you would go! You had your 2 cubic feet of space carved out in the back of the station wagon and you were perfectly content looking out the back window watching where you’ve been and not where you’re going.
No sooner was the car on the Interstate than your younger sibling asked… “Are we there yet?”
“No, we’re not there yet. We’re not even close.” Your dad replied.
“How much longer?” your sibling whined.
“You don’t want to know. Just sit back and find something to occupy your time. We have a long way to go.” Your dad replied. And that’s what you all did. Hour after hour after hour would pass. You lost track of all sense of space and time.
You measured distance by how many signs you saw, license plates from different states you counted, songs you heard, or books you read. You thought you would never get there.
But, finally, you started seeing bright city lights as you were near your destination and all the time that was spent on the road up to this point seemed to disappear as you pulled into your relative’s driveway.
You will quite frequently hear a similar question on the projects you are managing. “Are we there yet?” will come from clients, management, team members, and possibly even yourself as you take to the road with each of your projects.
The distance from project initiation to project closure seems as far as the distance from New York to California packed into a small station wagon with a large family.
Regardless of the software planning tools you may use, you can lose all sense of space and time. You end up measuring progress by how many change requests were executed, arguments were staved, and dates were missed.
You eventually make it to your destination, but it’s been a long ride with some bouts of car sickness along the way. Is there a way that you can use software planning tools to measure progress and make the trip much more enjoyable?
Why Is Project Progress Hard to Measure?
Knowing exactly where you are on the path of a project is hard to measure for a number of reasons. Software planning tools can help simplify the measurement process somewhat, but, you still have to know that measuring project progress is difficult. For example:
- It Is Subjective Measuring a project on progress is harder to measure than just how long you’ve been on the road or how many miles have traveled. Measuring project progress is much more subjective in nature. This is especially true if you work in a technology environment where there is much in the way of the intangible and ethereal deliverables. Developers may work on a piece of functionality for a week with the promise that they are right on the verge of the breakthrough that is needed to finish things up. Without digging into an insane amount of detail or interrogating the developer, you are many times left taking their word for their project progress. This is recorded in your software planning tools and you hope against hope that their assessment is correct.
- Resources Feel They Can Catch Up Resources that are working on a project may get behind from time to time. Rather than reporting this fact, they may know in the back of their head that they’ll be able to catch up. They’ll go ahead and say everything is on track thinking they will be able to spend some extra hours at the end of the day or over the weekend to get things back on track. Circumstances creep up that prevents them from catching up. In the meantime, you have entered erroneous information in your software planning tools.
- Resources Don’t Want to Look Bad Another reason software planning tools may get out of sync with reality is based upon human nature. People don’t like to look bad in front of their peers. Status may be fudged just ‘a little bit’ so peers and colleagues don’t raise their eyebrows a little bit at the weekly status meeting. It may not be a big deal every now and then but week after week it can accumulate and you will quickly find that your software planning tools are no longer reflecting reality.
How can you then use software planning tools to objectively measure project progress?
Effectively Measuring Project Progress The following are five ways you can measure project progress and utilize software planning tools along the way:
- Make Deliverable Objective and Finite Each deliverable or milestone must highlight the ‘end state’ of what is expected. For example, rather than have a deliverable or activity that is an open-ended ‘research solution for implementation, it should be a close-ended ‘decision made on a solution for the implementation. This carries with it the fact that this deliverable needs to be brought to closure and completed within a certain timeframe.
- Break Activities into Small Chunks It is better to break deliverables into smaller discrete chunks of work rather than one large deliverable. You don’t want to have a 6-month deliverable that says “Finish Software”. You will never know what could be off the track over a long period of time. You do want to have a 1-2 week deliverable that says “1st Module Complete”.
- Only Allow for 3 Status Indicators If you have done your job by breaking activities into smaller chunks, then you can expect your team to report on progress using only 3 indicators. These indicators are 1) Not Started 2) In Progress and, 3) Complete. That’s it. Let’s say there is no deliverable that should take more than two weeks to complete. If you have a weekly status meeting, the first time it would be Not Started (start of week 1). The next time it should be In Progress (start of week 2). The next time it should be Complete (as you move into the start of week 3). This black-and-white approach eliminates subjectivity and is less than a scientific approach to percentage-based status updates.
- Find Objective Measurements Another area that can help measure progress using software planning tools is to find objective measurements. For example, there was a project that involved putting cameras on top of 1,000 light poles. Progress became pretty easy to track once that number was zeroed in on as the basis for measuring project progress.
- Don’t Confuse Work Effort with Completion Status Something else to be mindful of is not confusing work effort with completion status. In the example above of putting the cameras on top of 1,000 light poles, there was a certain amount of time allotted for each camera to be placed on each pole. You couldn’t use the work effort as a true effort of completion because it may take longer to put it on some poles than on others. The truest measurement was how many light poles had cameras.
Sometimes you may feel as if you’ll never make it to the end of the projects you’re managing. You may get tired of hearing the same question over and over again “are we there yet?” But, if you hold the course, develop objective measurements for tracking project progress, and use software planning tools to get the job done…you’ll be there in no time.
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