Ketura Tour Step 5: Keeping Projects On-Track

‘How does a project get to be a year late? One day at a time.’

So said Frederick Brooks in his landmark book, The Mythical Man-Month.

Keeping a project on schedule therefore typically requires daily action by the project’s manager. Since a project can be a very large undertaking, it can be easier for a manager to focus on keeping project milestones on track. If all the milestones are on schedule, the project as a whole will also be on schedule. Ketura gives project managers the information they need, both for individual milestones and for projects as a whole.

Ketura is not a silver bullet that enables impossible project deadlines to be met. However, it does provide tools for a diligent project manager to understand what is happening on the projects that he or she is managing, and to take sensible and timely corrective action.

Six ways to keep a project on track

There are six courses of action available to a project manager when a project or milestone starts to slip:

  • Reduce the amount of work to do by removing non-essential issues from the project, or otherwise deferring them. This is straightforward to do in Ketura, but can be difficult if a project’s goals are inflexible.
  • Re-balance work between users, for example, by re-assigning an issue’s tasks from one user to another. This can be effective if one user is due to finish a milestone or project before the others. Ketura shows the predicted end dates for every user involved in a project and milestone, so it is easy to see whether any users could readily accept more work. This course of action might not be possible if all the users are behind schedule, or if it is not easily possible to re-assign work between users. This might be the case if the work requires specialist skills or training.
  • Screenshot showing issues being moved between milestones**Re-balance work between milestones.** This approach is helpful where it is important to meet a particular milestone, but where some of the work currently planned for that milestone can be postponed to a later milestone. Of course, this does not bring forward the completion date of the project as a whole, but that may be of secondary importance. Ketura facilitates such re-balancing by enabling project managers to compare two or more of a project’s milestones, showing all the issues in each milestone. Each issue can then be moved between milestones with a single mouse click. The effects on the milestone schedules can then be previewed, before the changes are committed.
  • Add more users to the project and re-assign tasks to those users. For some kinds of project, this can be an effective (but expensive) way of bringing a project back on schedule. However, there are many types of project where adding extra workers will slow things down, due partly to the increased communications overhead needed to run larger projects, but also because the new workers need to be trained and managed, often by existing project members.
  • Accept the slip, and do nothing. This requires no action by the project manager, other than to update the official plan accordingly.
  • Revise downwards estimates of the amount of work remaining. Unless there is a genuine reason to believe that there is less work outstanding than previously believed (perhaps unlikely, given that the project is already slipping), this approach is nearly always inadvisable and risks masking the problem. When endeavouring to keep a project on track, it is nearly always easier to tackle problems properly at the earliest opportunity.

Keeping a project within budget

Keeping a project within schedule is one thing; keeping it within budget is another. Some methods of taming a project schedule (for example, adding more workers) can significantly increase the cost of the project. Others (such as deciding not to do some issues) can make it cheaper. Either way, the project manager needs to be aware of the financial cost of resolving issues and completing milestones and projects. As each user of a Ketura system has an associated hourly cost, Ketura is able to provide cost information for issues, milestones and projects, based on work done and both the expected work remaining and planned work estimates of the relevant tasks.

The hourly cost of a user is potentially sensitive, as it could be related to that user’s salary. Ketura accommodates this sensitivity in two ways:

  • By making it possible to restrict cost information to certain users, such as project managers. This avoids the problem of sensitivity, but means that users do not have an idea of how much the issues upon which they are working cost the company. This deprives users of potentially valuable feedback. For example, if a user knows the cost of fixing a problem for which they were originally responsible, that user will better understand the need to avoid such problems in the future (although managers could still selectively communicate particular cost information to team members).
  • By setting averaged hourly costs for each user, based only broadly on that user’s remuneration. For example, an accountancy or consultancy firm might set users’ hourly costs in Ketura to the cost that is billed to the customer. This gives a realistic idea of cost information, but as the cost set for each user is an average and not therefore directly related to the user’s salary, it is less sensitive and so can be made more widely available.

Tracking long-term project trends to refine the project management process

Screenshot showing work and cost trends for a projectThe previous step of this tour described how Ketura can provide up-to-date schedules. However, such predictions are merely the best estimate at a particular point in time. To truly know whether a project is being managed effectively (and therefore, to know whether changes in the project management process itself are required), it is necessary to view project trends over a period of time and answer questions such as:

  • Has the total amount of work estimated for a project or milestone remained fairly constant over time? If so, the initial project plan was probably quite accurate. However, if it has it steadily increased as the project progressed, that could well cast doubt on the efficacy of the planning process and therefore on the current schedule dates.
  • Is the total amount of work remaining on a project or milestone steadily decreasing over time? If the project or milestone is going to finish, the expected work remaining should trend towards zero. Such a trend can be mentally extrapolated to provide an alternative estimate of the completion date. If, however, the trend is constant or upwards, the project is in danger of over-running and may never complete.
  • Does the schedule based on team members’ expectations diverge over time from that based on the project manager’s plan? If so, the project manager may wish to revise his or her estimation procedures to better reflect the abilities of the team to implement the project plan.
  • How are the cost predictions for the project changing over time? Has the project been correctly budgeted?

Ketura provides answers to these questions by providing graphs of work and cost trends for all projects and milestones. Project managers can also choose to compare schedule estimates with those at any given date in the project’s past. Informed by such information, project managers can gradually refine their project management techniques, helping them to manage projects even more effectively with Ketura in the future.

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