Part 1: Are you managing your projects or just tracking them?

by Jan Schiller

The word ‘track’ originated in the 15th century; usage of the word ‘track’ started to take off in the 1950s at a time when the world was recovering from many conflicts, and television usage began to rise. By definition, ‘track’ involves following a course or trail and noting the location at various points. According to Henri Fayol, “to manage is to forecast and to plan, to organize, to command, to coordinate and to control.” In other words, managing involves much more than tracking. Here are three indicators that the project managers contributing to your project portfolio are tracking their projects instead of managing them.

What plan?

If the path to the result is more than three weeks long, ask your project managers to show you their work plan. No work plan means there is nothing to manage or control; your project manager can only tell where their project is today. They are not able to manage risks, changes, or expectations, much less the path to the result.

If they produce a work plan, you are in good shape because there are many ways to evaluate the quality of the work plan, as will be discussed in part two of this series.

When did your project managers last provide the communication about the project? Was the project communication read? Understood? Does the project’s status report only contain information in the “Accomplished” section? We all know that communication is 90 percent of a project manager’s role. No communication about the project makes that portion of your portfolio invisible.

What result?

If your project managers are using an agile approach because the stakeholders will only agree the result is what they want when they see it, this section doesn’t apply. If your stakeholders have clearly articulated the result and you find a project in your portfolio that is currently building or testing without a corresponding clearly articulated scope and requirement statement, your ability to predict the quality of the result and the remainder of the path to that result is compromised.  

What stakeholders?

Go ahead, pull out that list of your portfolio’s stakeholders and the related know/believe/do information for each stakeholder. Got it? Great! You are very likely to not only obtain stakeholder commitment but sustain it throughout the life of your project portfolio. Can’t find it? Ugh. Your road to delivering the strategy your project portfolio is designed to achieve will likely be a rockier one. Understanding who is interested in, paying for, and able to disrupt the portfolio’s result is crucial. Without that insight, the portfolio’s landscape is unknown, and tracking is likely the only option.

Remember to check out part two of this series to learn how to evaluate a work plan to determine if your project managers are managing their projects or just tracking them.


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