Project Monitoring: How Project Managers Can Predict the Progress of Projects More Accurately

Image: Dotshock/
Image: Dotshock/

If, as the communication expert Ute Sommer confirmed in one of our recent blog posts, only one in two projects achieve the desired goals, then something is going thoroughly wrong when it comes to project monitoring. There are many reasons why projects fail. However, today we’ll be focusing on a different question: How do projects reach a point at all where they can no longer be saved? If half of all projects are unsuccessful, project managers obviously don’t have the right methods and tools that would help them better monitor the progress of projects and prevent catastrophic project outcomes before it’s too late.

Monitoring and Planning – the Yin and Yang of Project Management

The idea of project monitoring sounds as simple as it does logical. By continuously monitoring the progress of their projects compared to the original plan, project managers can assess their projects’ chances of success more accurately. The ongoing comparison of “what should be” to “what is” reveals bottlenecks and risks and takes over where planning alone is no longer enough and the project situation is more complex than can be outlined in a project plan. Especially with demanding projects that involve multiple organisational units within a company and may even span across different geographies, even the most elaborate project plans tend to fall short.

Project monitoring is the shirt-sleeved counterpart to a neatly designed project plan, so to speak, and helps project managers check whether a project is on the right track. In case of deviations, the project manager develops new measures and coordinates these with his client. At least that’s the theory. In practice, project monitoring usually fails due to a lack of continuity and insufficient transparency. If the project environment is subject to rapid changes, weekly or even monthly review meetings no longer suffice to react promptly to imminent deviations from the project plan.


When Everyone Knows a Lot, but Only One Person Speaks

Moreover, only one person tends to speak during review meetings: the project manager. While he maintains an overview, the devil is notoriously in the details. The project manager quickly leads the meeting participants through PowerPoint slides about the status of the project. The lecture-style presentation turns into a didactic nightmare, and, as always, there’s too little time set aside for discussion. Team members who could also make valuable contributions regarding the project’s state of affairs don’t feel comfortable speaking up – either because of the lack of time or due to hierarchical hurdles.

You’re likely familiar with such situations from your own project experience. As a result, possible risks to critical success factors that aren’t written on the slides but are running through the minds of the participants don’t come to light. After a more or less satisfying discussion, the review meeting is abruptly ended after a glance at the clock – after all, the next project milestone is calling, and there’s no time to linger over coffee.


Closing the Project Monitoring Cycle Is a Must

The fact that large meetings aren’t suitable for resolving matters of detail is undisputed. Nevertheless (or precisely for this reason), project managers should ask themselves how they can obtain and evaluate the detailed knowledge held in the minds of employees – and not just once, but on an ongoing basis. It’s about transparency regarding potential weak spots in the project and about creative solutions such as the ones found by the mining company Anglo American Platinum through recurring polls. With a series of IT projects, the world’s largest platinum producer wants to equip the technology landscape of its HR division for the digital age. Around 1,500 employees are affected by this and are asked about their assessment of the project at regular intervals – enabled by Surwayne, of course :-)  Based on this feedback, Surwayne suggests project optimisation measures and analyses whether the implemented measures were successful – a fully closed project monitoring cycle.

Roland Berger’s Heiko Ammermann speaks of a “multi-dimensional puzzle in a constantly changing environment” that must be solved. The growing complexity of projects and the increasing volatility of the overall economic environment cause the focus of project management to shift from planning to project monitoring. Or as Howard H. Stevenson and Mihnea C. Moldoveanu described it as early as 1995 in their highly readable Harvard Business Review article The Power of Predictability: “What is happening to predictability in an intensely competitive, rapidly changing global economy? It is being destroyed.”


Summary: The outcome of projects is becoming increasingly difficult to predict in a volatile economic environment – a tremendous challenge for project managers responsible for their project’s success. Project monitoring compensates for this growing complexity by identifying risks early on and initiating optimisation measures. This requires flexible and intelligent solutions that support the continuous monitoring process and integrate the feedback of as many employees as possible. Or as the communication expert Ute Sommer puts it: “Regularly surveying project participants can help reduce the project duration by up to 35 percent and increase the success rate by 50 percent.” How do you run your project monitoring? Contact us and request a free live demo of Surwayne today!

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Jasmin Daneschumand

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