Executives and other plan sponsors often have difficulty gauging how well a project is faring. From their somewhat removed vantage point, they likely don’t know if everything is on track at any given time. They don’t typically have detailed insight into how each of the critical paths is being managed from day to day, for example. Funding issues may not hit executives’ radar until the budget is in danger of being blown wide open, let alone other common project plan problems.
In short, the leadership team doesn’t always get the full story.
If an executive wants to be sure they know what’s going on—or for PMs dedicated to maintaining their sponsors’ engagement in the project—a handful of questions can help not only ensure good communication streams, but also reveal where project plan problems may be lurking.
1 – Who developed the project plan? It’s not uncommon to have only narrow involvement during the plan creation phase. Communications are sometimes unwieldy if the team is spread across multiple locations, for instance, and PMs may choose to limit their input to expedite the process. If a third-party partner is executing a significant portion of tasks—often the case during software implementations and technology platform integration—they might simply take a template and fit the project into it without verifying its accuracy or completeness. If the broader team didn’t participate in developing the plan, it should raise concerns.
2 – When was the last time the plan was updated? Projects evolve as the team moves from planning to execution. To accommodate the changes that inevitably occur, the plan needs to be dynamic. Activities will be re-sequenced and time-frames possibly adjusted along the way to maintain alignment with the target completion date. If no one has reviewed the plan since the project launched, or if it’s been a long stretch since the plan was last revisited, it should prompt additional discussions to be sure the team hasn’t lost touch with the schedule.
3 – How does the current progress status compare to the plan? Delays can have far-reaching impacts, from cutting expected production figures to hindering daily operations to eroding long-term revenue potential. It’s critical that progress is continuously monitored and the status communicated across the project team and any other partners whose areas will depend on a successful completion. If the PM or other leaders within the project group don’t know if today’s status aligns with the project plan, that’s a big red flag.
4 – Are the financial and operational impacts of delays or missed goals incorporated into the plan? In most cases, the organization’s leadership has a lot riding on the project’s results. If the team doesn’t keep these considerations in mind as they navigate issues—problems, possible delays, even opportunities—that come up throughout the project, they could develop tunnel vision. They may not make the best strategic decisions, favoring a path that serves the team’s capabilities or limitations, rather than working to ensure the project’s agreed-up scope and outcomes are met.
5 – Has the team deployed a rigorous control process to identify issues and ensure adherence to the plan? A strong risk management strategy is key to project success. One element of that is the use of project controls. The executive group doesn’t need to (and likely doesn’t want to) understand the specifics of how this strategy works in the field, but it’s important that they know the team is leveraging these tools to their advantage. A team that can’t confirm they have a control process in place may not be using a methodology that’s robust enough to adequately manage risks, and it could ultimately doom their project to failure.