3 Ways to Improve Progress Measurement for Better Project Performance
In our business of project controls, we have an underlying philosophy that guides what we are trying to do with regard to project performance: (1) measure, (2) forecast, (3) improve. Today’s topic of progress measurement fits squarely as a critical component of phase 1, measurement. Quite simply, we need to know where we are today in order to discern where we are headed (i.e. forecasting) and if we’re content with that (i.e. what kinds of improvement are needed). Progress measurement (typically measured in percent complete), is often viewed as an art form (at best) or completely haphazard (at worst). Here are three ways to improve progress measurement for better project performance.
1. Devise rules of credit
Take away the subjective measurement (“Hmm, looks to be about 20% done…”) and develop precise, unequivocal “rules of credit.” These rules of credit are essentially defined milestones with a predetermined value. This can be applied to any phase of a project to measure progress – from document development to actual physical construction, based on what has actually been accomplished (e.g. permits granted, 10 of 25 miles of rail track acceptably built, etc.).
2. Data integration
The approach to rules of credit may seem simple. That’s the idea. Move from subjective to precise measures. As projects grow in size and complexity, tracking the progress of potentially hundreds of contractors and sub-contractors becomes unwieldy. This is where the software tools in place become critical. Progress data may be collected in document management systems, scheduling software (like Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project), timesheet records or other systems. To improve data accuracy, your progress measurement software must integrate with these systems. In the engineering and construction industry, where Primavera P6 is a scheduling standard, Primavera integration can allow status and progress updates to be automatically aggregated to facilitate faster and better reporting. Similarly, Primavera integration will capitalize on updates that are likely being made by schedulers or project managers anyway, eliminating the double data entry and potential errors that may be typical of more manual data collection.
3. Use the information to inform decision
Progress measurement is not a statistic unto itself. Great progress measurement is useless if it does not serve as “feeder” data to your forecasting. These forecasts, perhaps through methodologies like Earned Value Management, enable your organization to predict how the project will look (in terms of cost or schedule) at its completion. Progress measurement can be used to calculate productivity and therefore, again, feed into your resource planning software. With an ability to match resource supply with project demand, resource planning software helps resolve how limited resources can be allocated for project execution. Planning, however, makes certain assumptions about how quickly work will progress. Actual results of progress measurement can then translate into productivity and help to inform if resources will be occupied longer than originally anticipated. If forecasted early enough in the process, this can enable managers to take proactive action to address productivity shortfalls or make other plans accordingly to minimize an overrun’s impact on project performance.
Progress measurement is extremely important. Through precise rules of credit, automated bridging of data like Primavera integration with project controls software, and supplying greater intelligence to workforce or resource planning software, progress measurement can be improved so that better information is used to predict outcomes and to effectively control project performance.