Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tracking Project Performance with Spreadsheets

There are dozens of project management software applications available in the market.  But many project teams have found them either too difficult to use, or limited in their capability; so teams revert back to using basic spreadsheets or action item lists.  That’s OK!  When I am managing small projects, I normally do all my project performance tracking using a spreadsheet.

There is a project planning table or spreadsheet that is ideally suited for this and it is called a WBS Dictionary.  WBS stands for Work Breakdown Structure and is an organized list of all the tasks, activities and deliverables in the project.  It represents all of the “work” of the project.  I have no clue why the table is called a dictionary – you definitely don’t want to organize the project tasks alphabetically!
Let’s talk about how to create the WBS Dictionary and some of the uses.
1.     Develop your project plan using your normal scope planning, schedule planning and resource planning tools.
2.     Document the plan in the spreadsheet. First, create the column headings you will use for each of the project planning elements. There should be at least one column for the task description, normally at least two columns for the schedule – those being the start and finish date for the task, and at least one column for resources – either personnel or budget.  I will often have a second scope column which describes the quality criteria for task completion – the “definition of done.”  And I will sometimes include multiple resource columns such as estimates or the requirement for a tightly constrained resource.   
3.  Then add additional columns that will be used for managing the project.  There should be at least one column for current status.  Often I include columns for items such as risk factors, variance, or relationships with other tasks.
4.     Now organize the project work based upon how you intend to manage the project.  If the project will be managed by deliverables, organize the tasks and activities into groups that support each project deliverables.  If the project is managed in phases, list each phase and the deliverables for that phase.  Then organize the tasks into the phase categories.  If the project is to be managed by departments or functions, organize the tasks by the department responsible for leading or completing the task.
5.     Take your organized list and insert it into the spreadsheet.  Fill in the information for each column and each task.  (I often will create the spreadsheet columns and structure first, and then as I create the plan I document it immediately in the spreadsheet and don’t bother with any other planning tools.)
6.     As the project progresses, insert the status information into the appropriate cell in the spreadsheet.  A technique that I often use is to “gray out” the lines that represent tasks that are completed and change the background colour to yellow for the tasks that are late.
7.     If there is a replan or update to the project, copy the spreadsheet into a new tab and give it a revision name or number.  Then update the project plan in the new tab and use the new tab for tracking status.  The old tab is then a historical record that you can use during Lessons Learned sessions at the end of the project.
8.     I share the spreadsheet with the entire team so that everyone can see our status and I run the team status meetings from the spreadsheet.     
When to use WBS Dictionary
Small/Focused Projects: The WBS Dictionary is an ideal tool for consolidating and communicating the project plan on small or focused projects.  The entire project plan can be presented in one table.  This minimizes the paperwork and documentation effort required.  In addition it is easy for everyone to follow and understand.

Large/Complex Projects: The WBS Dictionary is useful on large or complex projects for managing sub-projects within the larger project.  Examples of how I have used this are for summarizing a portion of the project such as a phase or tracking all the activities required to support a major deliverable.  The technique becomes unwieldy when the table grows to include hundreds of tasks.   


  1. Tag: PM202A54. Let me share all of you about #5 Tips for Project Management Success,, I hope you enjoy it

    1. Plan your day using time management techniques

    As a project manager, time management skills are essential because you are dealing with a wide range of tasks that demand a quick turnaround time. Planning your day will go a long way in keeping you organized and increasing your productivity. Assist your task planning by using project management software which helps you track the work of you and your team.

    If you are not very tech savvy, a simple to-do list can also be a great organizational tool. Prioritize your most important tasks by putting them at the top of the list and less important ones at the bottom. Having a visual plan of your daily tasks helps to keep you on track and aware of time.

    Related post: Free ebook 104 secrets to become a great project manager

    2. Include stakeholders in important project conversations

    While you will have plenty of responsibilities regarding the project, don’t neglect your clients.

    Good communication is essential is keeping both parties informed of project progression, curtailing scope creep, and apprised of changing requirements. Some clients may have different expectations when it comes to communication, so make sure to establish the frequency and type of communication (like emails, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations) at the beginning of your project.

    Establishing communication expectations early helps alleviate stakeholder uncertainty about communication frequency and delivery.

    3. Regularly communicate with your team

    Daily team communication helps keep misunderstandings and unclear requirements under control. Keeping your team informed in every step of the project is essential to project management success.

    For example, a study published by Procedia Technology found that good communication skills were the cornerstone of project management. The study examined over 300 “construction project managers, architects, construction managers, engineers and quantity surveyors” and their successes and failures on various construction projects.

    4. Anticipate project setbacks

    Even the best-laid plans often go awry.

    Remember that even with a high amount of planning and attention to detail, your project may still encounter some challenges. Pay attention to complaints from stakeholders or colleagues, and other warning signs, like a missed deadline or cost overrun, that there may be a problem.

    Preventing a crisis will keep your project running smoothly, save you a lot of time, and keep you, your team, and your stakeholders confident in progressing with the project.

    Unfortunately not every complication can be avoided. Crisis management skills are essential for dealing with the unexpected. Project managers need to be flexible and pragmatic. Improvise and make sharp decisions when needed.

    Related post: 92 free project management templates

    5. Stay focused on the details

    A common problem project managers encounter is having the project aims not aligned with the organization’s objectives. A great project manager will strategize a plan for the project to lead back to the overall success of the business.

    Know your project’s scope by heart and avoid wandering outside of the project’s requirements. It’s too easy to get lost in minor details and forget what your focus is, so a well-planned project scope is essential for success.

    And final, you should use KPI to measure effectiveness of the project, here are full list: 76 project management KPIs

  2. Thanks for sharing, nice post! Post really provice useful information!

    An Thái Sơn với website chuyên sản phẩm máy đưa võng hay máy đưa võng tự động tốt cho bé là địa chỉ bán máy đưa võng giá rẻ tại TP.HCM và giúp bạn tìm máy đưa võng loại nào tốt hiện nay.