Successful project management has never relied on a “set it and forget it” mentality. In order to run efficient projects, PMs need to not only launch said projects, but monitor and track their progress. While project monitoring is regularly overlooked or viewed as just another box to check off on the PM’s task list, it’s a vital part of the project lifespan.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- What project monitoring is, and why it’s important
- How to monitor projects easily and effectively
- Project monitoring tips and best practices you can implement today
Let’s get started.
What is project monitoring?
When considering the project management process, project monitoring (also referred to as “project monitoring and control”) comes as step four — following initiation, the planning phase, and the beginning of execution. Once the project execution begins, project monitoring also commences. But, what exactly is project monitoring?
Project monitoring involves tracking a project’s metrics, progress, and associated tasks to ensure everything is completed on time, on budget, and according to project requirements and standards. It’s also about making sure work doesn’t go beyond the initial project scope. Project monitoring also includes recognizing and identifying roadblocks or issues that might arise during the project’s execution, and taking action to rectify these problems.
Project managers are typically responsible for this process, like many other aspects of project management. Depending on the organization — and the project — the project monitoring and controlling process can involve a number of status reports, regular meetings, and keeping tasks up to date in the team’s project management software.
Why is project monitoring important?
To put it simply, the success of a project relies on complete and dynamic project monitoring. Careful project monitoring empowers PMs to gather valuable data regarding how a project is going — and to use this data to make intelligent decisions. But there are some other key benefits PMs and their project team can get from project monitoring.
Better quality control
One of the biggest challenges in project management is ensuring that a project hits all requirements that were established during the project planning phase. That’s because PMs need to constantly evaluate a project’s progress and compare it to those requirements. Project monitoring is essential for doing that.
When no one’s carefully monitoring a project’s progress, it’s easy for one deadline to slip, then two, then more. Even if you have a regular stand-up, those deadlines might still go unnoticed. That’s why project monitoring and control is such an important part of getting a project across the finish line on time.
Monitoring team workloads
A project’s success is dependent on your team being able to consistently deliver, and they can’t do that if they’re overworked. At least, not in the long term. One of the key benefits when implementing project monitoring is being able to more closely monitor workloads and ensure no one’s overworked.
Faster reaction to variance
Variance describes any situation where your project deviates from its plan. That can mean going overbudget, slipping on deadlines, or going beyond the project scope. With project monitoring, a PM is more likely to pick up on any variance before it becomes a bigger problem.
Easier management of the project budget
Keeping a project on-budget is both a key responsibility of project managers and a benefit of project monitoring and control. Without proper monitoring, it’s too easy to just keep adding costs to a project’s tab, and all too easy to go over-budget. Project monitoring is a great way to avoid that.
In project management, accountability is just about encouraging both team members to be transparent about their work and stakeholders to be clear about their requirements. Project monitoring is the best way to ensure these match up and everyone’s clear on what needs to get done.
Now that you understand what project monitoring is and why it’s beneficial for project management, it’s time for a high-level overview of the project monitoring process.
How to monitor projects
In order to implement the project monitoring and control process effectively and efficiently, there are a number of commonly accepted elements involved.
Project baseline confirmation
Before you actually get started with any active monitoring, the PM will want to understand the project’s scope, budget, and timeline. This helps provide a benchmark for success throughout the completion of the project.
Work monitoring and control
This involves keeping stakeholders up to date as well as regularly assessing the status of the project, the quality of the deliverables, and measuring these against baseline goals and metrics.
Change control integration
As you know by now, even the most organized projects can require changes now and then. You must be keeping track of resource considerations (budget, timeline, etc.) throughout the monitoring process. Ensure you’re creating and recording ongoing documentation and any required follow-ups regarding project changes.
Before you started working on your project, you likely defined its scope; how much work you planned to get done. In order to keep a record and ensure stakeholders and your team are on the same page, it’s important to secure documentation related to each phase of the project’s completion. This shows that the project is accepted at each stage of execution.
Schedule and cost control
This is where schedules and costs are monitored closely. When you think of project monitoring, this is most likely what you think of first. Deadlines are tracked and followed up on if necessary, and budgets are consistently watched. Updates to cost and timeline estimates are made here.
A project can be done on-time and on-budget, but if it’s not what the stakeholder wants or the quality of the work is poor, it’s of little value to anyone. Quality control is an essential part of the project monitoring process. This is where specific project results and deliverables are looked at in comparison to established quality standards. If issues are found, changes are requested and made.
This is like a report card for the project. Performance reporting consists of collecting and sharing any data related to project performance in relation to baseline goals and standards. Here you’ll create and find status reports, progress notes, and future forecasts (using collected data).
Tips and best practices for project monitoring
Upon understanding what the project monitoring and control process generally includes, you’ll want to know how to best implement your new knowledge. Here are some tips and best practices for the project monitoring process.
Use the right project monitoring tools
While the monitoring process can feel overwhelming, the right tool can definitely help. Whether you want to use Trello, which lets you view and combine timelines along with a Gantt Chart all in one place, or something like Wrike which offers multiple, customizable Dashboards to track processes, there are many options when it comes to monitoring your projects with with project management software.
If you know you’ll want to use more than one tool, Unito offers a streamlined solution. When projects span multiple tools, it can be tough to track performance and ensure everything’s going the way it should. With dozens of deep integrations for the market’s top work management tools, Unito ensures you can monitor projects no matter what tool they’re in.
Effectively track KPIs
Monitoring a project without knowing what you’re monitoring for can be a fruitless task. To ensure the success of a project, you’ll need to track some key performance indicators (or KPIs). These act like milestones along the course of the project and help make sure everything is on track.
Recognized KPIs include your project objectives (ie. a project that is on-time and on-budget), quality deliverables (if the quality standards are being met), effort and cost tracking (resourcing and budget), and project performance (changes in the project and number and importance of issues that arose).
Encourage effective communication
Trying to determine a project’s status without proper communication methods is a challenge. All of your team members and stakeholders need to understand the procedures, goals, and expectations prior to the project starting — and how to communicate these to you.
Whether it’s through marking a Wrike task complete or participating in weekly check-ins, it’s always a good idea to have a communications plan in place throughout your projects.
Conduct a retrospective
Not only does a project post-mortem let your team members air any grievances, but it provides you with valuable information you can use to fine-tune future projects. Once the project is complete, take time to schedule an hour or so to run through the project.
This is where you’ll reflect on any issues that arose, any deadlines that were missed, or anything else worth mentioning that came up as you monitored the project.
The biggest challenges of managing any project
If project management was easy, everyone would do it. As a project manager, you need to keep everyone aligned, keep projects inching toward the finish line, and constantly field questions from stakeholders. But another part of the job is putting out fires and dealing with common project management problems as they come up. A few are speed bumps, others might force a slight course correction, and some might bring your project to a screeching halt until they’re fixed.
Here are eight of the most common project management problems and explore how they’re dealt with.
Project management problem #1: scope creep
Your project’s scope determines how much work is going to get done and sets clear expectations for stakeholders. It’s also a great reference tool for when you need to say “no” to additional work that falls outside your project’s scope. But whether that scope is clearly defined at the beginning of your project or not, you’ll inevitably run into this first project management problem: scope creep.
Scope creep is what happens when your project’s boundaries get fuzzy. Suddenly, it’s not clear what is or isn’t part of your project, and various stakeholders start piling on more work. When that happens, deadlines become less realistic, your budget dries up, and your teams start feeling overworked.
How to prevent it
Define your project’s scope as early as you can, and communicate it in multiple ways. Put it in the brief, link to it in every task, and mention it to stakeholders when they ask for more work. Use your project’s scope as a reference point whenever someone suggests a new task.
Project management problem #2: unclear goals
Going hand-in-hand with a project’s scope are its goals. Goals say what you’re going to do, while your project’s scope communicates how much you’re hoping to accomplish. So a common project management problem arises when everyone isn’t quite sure what they’re shooting for.
As a project manager, you’ll realize this is a problem if you’re constantly answering the same questions and struggling to keep teams aligned. This can be a huge obstacle to making progress on your project, since no one really knows what they’re supposed to work towards.
Clearing things up
There are multiple ways to set clear goals at the beginning of a project. You can use SMART goals to make sure everyone’s clear on what success and progress look like. Combine them with key performance indicators (KPIs) and you’ll have defined metrics the whole team can use to track their progress.
Project management problem #3: different methodologies
Project managers usually wear a number of hats and interact with a number of different teams. They might spend part of their day managing sprints or iterations with the development team and then have to translate this into the project management methodology the marketers are using.
This can involve a ton of work.
With most tools, this is basically impossible. While some tools, like Asana or Jira, can accommodate multiple methodologies others — like Trello — are built around a single one. That means your project manager is going to have to do a ton of manual work so everything makes sense in both contexts.
How to fix this
You could try to force everyone to adopt a single methodology across your project — say Kanban or Agile. That’s a low-cost solution, but it’s also not going to be very popular. Alternatively, you can use a tool like Unito to automatically sync work items back and forth between tasks, populating projects and tools regardless of the methodology they use.
Project management problem #4: budget
Sometimes you’re spending too much money too quickly, sometimes you were never given enough to begin with. No matter how it happened, running out of budget is a common project management problem. One of the most important things to define in your project’s brief, your budget determines what you can and can’t do. So when you see a ton of work still left to do and no money left to do it, things can understandably seem pretty dire.
When you run out of money for a project, there’s not much that you can do beyond asking for more or reducing the scope of your project. This is one of those project management problems where prevention is the name of the game.
How to prevent budget issues
First, make sure that the budget you quote in your brief is as accurate as possible. That means doing research beforehand, like looking into similar projects your company has run in the past, asking stakeholders for their input, and reaching out to the teams doing the work. Once you’ve set the budget, ask yourself how you could complete your project for even less money. By doing that, you leave yourself a margin of error you can take advantage of should something go wrong.
Project management problem #5: team conflicts
Even the best teams run into conflict once in a while. When the pressure’s on and everyone’s trying to hit their deadlines, this project management problem can rear its ugly head. A miscommunication here, a missed deadline there, and all of a sudden you have a team that’s taking sides around an issues. People stop talking, hurtful comments slip out, or progress stops completely!
For a project manager, avoiding conflict is a top priority, as is squashing it when it does happen. Small conflicts can be a speed bump that threatens your deadlines. But, sometimes, a conflict can grow to the point that someone actually ends up leaving!
How to manage this project management problem
A project manager needs to have solid conflict resolution skills to ensure that any conflict that does arise gets squashed as quickly as possible — and to the satisfaction of everyone involved. But sidestepping potential conflict is important too. Make sure that everyone working on your project knows exactly what’s expected of them and how they’re supposed to communicate that with others. After all, miscommunication is often the source of these conflicts.
Project management problem #6: creating multiple reports
Reporting on the status and progress of projects is a huge part of any project manager’s job. But it shouldn’t take up a huge part of their day.
Any good tool should allow you to automatically generate the exact reports that you need without spending hours hunting down data or manually creating charts and graphs.
Unfortunately, since project managers often have to juggle so many different tools, they are often left cobbling together reports by hand, consolidating data that should have been readily available and accessible all in one place.
What to do about this
Take as much time choosing your reporting tools as you would picking out your project management platform of choice. You can even consider adding a tool like Unito to your stack so you can automatically export and standardize data from multiple tools in one place.
Project management problem #7: Jilted communication
As project managers often hop back and forth between many different tools, they are also often flooded with incoming messages, alerts, and notifications. Comments on a task, reminders about upcoming features, and feature requests flood in through separate gates, twenty-four hours per day.
Defining processes around communication isn’t always a standard part of the project manager’s tasks, meaning that individual team members often use whatever communication methods best suit them. Some might use a chat app like Slack for everything from asking for help to giving updates on their progress. Others might prefer communicating directly in their project management tool of choice. Others still might use email.
It’s crucial that a project manager standardize communication across teams so that nothing falls through the cracks.
How to fix communication problems
Ironically, it’s with more communication. Before a project begins, make sure to spend time ironing out how the team will communicate. Should progress updates be done in Slack? How about asking for help on specific tasks? With all of this written out in advance, you’ll give the team a frame of reference they can use throughout your project’s lifetime.
Project management problem #8: juggling multiple tools
Rare is a project that can be run entirely within the boundaries of a single tool. Whether it’s a cross-functional effort or kept within a single team, everyone has their own preferred way to work. When you have tasks in Asana, brainstorming in Miro, crucial updates in Slack and important data in Google Sheets, good luck getting a holistic view of everything that’s going on.
For project managers, this is a huge problem. Since they’re responsible for making sure their project goes off without a hitch, they need access to all this information. And unless they have a way to get it all in one place, they’ll be jumping from tool to tool, losing valuable time they could be spending putting out fires.
How to deal with multiple tools
One of the best — if not the best — ways to handle this problem is Unito. Unito is a no-code workflow management solution for the tools you use every day, from project management platforms like Trello and Asana to software development tools like Jira and GitHub — and much more. With Unito, you can automatically sync work items between tools, meaning everyone can work from their platform of choice. No more switching back and forth.
Keep your projects going strong
No project can run effectively without the help of careful project monitoring. Keeping track of timelines, goals, quality of work, and budget are all key responsibilities of any successful project manager. And, with the right tools and some best practices, you can rest assured that your project will be met with satisfied stakeholders — and happy team members.
How to automate project monitoring
With Unito, project managers and other stakeholders can build automated reports for all kinds of projects.
Project monitoring FAQ
Still have some quick questions about project monitoring? Here are all the answers.
What is project monitoring?
Project monitoring is what project managers do after kickstarting a project, and essentially means keeping track of progress throughout. That means doing more than just reading reports and checking in on tasks once in a while. It’s ensuring that deliverables are launched on time. It’s tracking key performance indicators (or KPIs). It’s making sure the project stays in-scope and watching out to ensure there aren’t a ton of additional goals tacked on.
What do project managers monitor?
When monitoring projects, a project manager has to watch for quite a few factors to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch. Here are some examples:
- Project scope: Ensuring that the work being done matches the scope initially set in the planning phase.
- Project progress: Making sure that the project is moving along at the expected pace.
- Performance KPIs: When a project is first being planned, a project manager — or a stakeholder — will usually set out the metrics that will be used to quantify success. It’s the project manager’s job to check on these metrics frequently.
- Resources: It’s a project manager’s responsibility to allocate resources at the beginning of the project and ensure that they’re being spent wisely as tasks get completed.
What are the 4 basic steps of project monitoring?
Project monitoring isn’t just about checking in on your project management tool of choice once in a while and reporting on what you find. Here’s the step-by-step process for getting it right.
Designing your project monitoring plan
That’s right, yet more planning. When first laying out their project, project managers spend some time determining how they’re going to monitor it. What are the metrics they’re going to track? How frequently will they check in on progress? Where will all this information live?
Picking a reporting mechanism
When they’ve figured out what they’re going to monitor, project managers then establish how they’re going to do it. For some projects, a simple word document breaking down the most recent updates might be enough. For others, this might involve business intelligence platforms and automations.
Recommendations for improvement
Project managers don’t just watch the project go along and report on its progress. They’re also expected to make recommendations when problems arise. That can mean helping find creative solutions when resources are being burned through too quickly, for example.
Checking that guidelines are followed
Project management typically involves defined processes and best practices, and the project manager is the one responsible for making sure these are followed.
Why does project monitoring and control matter?
Project monitoring is labor-intensive, but more than worth it. Here are just a few reasons why.
- Facilitates quality control.
- Helps PMs avoid scope creep.
- Keeps project costs down and allows PMs to monitor spending.
- Makes project success more likely.
- Keeps stakeholders in the loop.