- Design and Definition
- Planning (part 1, and part 2 here)
- Monitoring and Measurement
The fourth major stage of LPM, monitoring and measurement, does not have a clearly defined beginning and end. In fact, monitoring and measurement often takes place at the same time as project execution. A good project manager monitors a project as it is ongoing. This real-time monitoring ensures that work is focused, properly scoped, on time, and on budget. To avoid problems, it’s important for a project manager to track several useful metrics during a project.
Metrics are integral to any legal operation. Billing metrics are ubiquitous, as are profit measurements and time logs with task codes. Value is also a vital metric, albeit more difficult to define. Time and dollars are easy to measure, but how do you measure value? The answer lies in what questions you ask yourself and your team as you move through a project.
- Are we meeting the client’s business goals?
- Is our deadline reasonable? Are we sticking to the deadline?
- Are we meeting schedule estimates?
- Is the client satisfied with the work product?
- Are project team members satisfied with the work product?
Metrics need to be easy to understand, easy to teach to team members, and they need to show change over time. If you only recently implemented an LPM model, metrics may seem to have limited use. Over time, though, metrics will give you insight into ways you can improve future projects.
Monitoring and measurement is a persistent stage of any LPM project. For this reason, it also serves as a way of documenting and managing problems that may occur during execution. We explore a few below.
One problem that may occur even in well-managed projects is scope creep. In the absence of a well-defined strategy, or a client with clear goals in mind, the amount of work under a project’s purview may grow in uncontrolled and undesirable ways. Know what the boundaries of the particular matter are, and avoid performing tasks that neither align with your goals nor the client’s. If the project looks like it’s going off the rails, return to your strategy from the design and definition stage to re-align yourself and your team.
Clear performance metrics will help keep team members on task and working as efficiently as possible. Are team members adhering to the project schedule? Are they keeping costs down? Is each team member performing to the best of their abilities and specializations? Without accurate performance metrics, time – and, therefore, money – may needlessly go to waste. Team members might wind up doing the wrong kind of work, or doing the right kind of work but in a counter-productive manner. As always, open channels of communication can help stave off performance problems. At the very least, better communication will lead to timelier response to performance problems before they become too serious. Team members should be encouraged to ask questions, especially about assignments they may not understand or are afraid they may carry out ineffectively.
Remember also that communication doesn’t just occur between a project manager and their team. Establish a reporting protocol with your client. Every client will have their own personal benchmark of how much and how often they want to be looped in on project progress. One thing is pretty much constant, though: when a major problem occurs – like cost overruns or ballooning scope – you shouldn’t wait to inform the client. Remember that nobody likes surprise bad news. A client will appreciate being told about problems so that they in turn can report to the rest of their company. This can potentially help the project team to brainstorm new solutions that meet the client’s goals.
Think about the budget metrics your system uses. For example, you probably track actual-to-budget – what you spend versus what you intended to spend. Accurate metrics like actual-to-budget can show you how to improve your scoping and cost predictions for future projects. Many companies track and forecast their budgets quarterly, monthly, or even task-by-task. This frequency of forecasting may vary by project, depending on how common the project type may be. Whatever system you use, updating budget forecasts clearly and often will help a project run smoother.
Software tools are useful for tracking and updating budgets. These tools usually rely on human entry of billing data, which sometimes is not entered in a timely way. A good monitoring and measurement scheme will utilize task codes to keep track of all those different little project details. The project manager needs to figure out the best task code scheme for the project. As always, the project manager also needs to communicate the scheme to team members, and train them how to use it properly. Everyone should understand why prompt time entry and accurate task code usage are necessary for successful projects.
A project manager can handle cost overruns with relative ease if their team can bring in additional resources and work with the client to find improved solutions. Schedule problems may be trickier, though. Your monitoring and measurement scheme should prepare for schedule delays with the following tactics:
- If scope creep has occurred, step back and look for places to reduce the project’s scope and re-focus on what is most vital to the matter (and the client).
- Expand the resource pool of personnel and technology, possibly shuffling team members to maximize their work product, or finding new ways to use technology tools to cut down on time-sensitive tasks.
- Juggle the order of tasks on the project. Some tasks may be taking longer than expected. Strategize about which tasks can proceed that aren’t contingent on completion of the longer tasks that have taken more time than originally planned.
- Perform tasks in parallel if possible. This will require augmented communication between team members as completion of tasks in parallel may create unforeseen real-time changes.
Ultimately, you may not be able to complete a project without serious change management of scope size, budget fixes, personnel changes, or even outsourcing. Essential to the monitoring and measurement stage is that you log these changes, the factors that led to their implementation, and what might work better on similar projects in the future.