Project monitoring and controlling has become far easier in the past twenty years thanks to technology. The most widely used program is Microsoft Project® 2010, but many project managers also use Primavera and Open Workbench. These programs help a team track and consolidate numbers involved with budget, time, and work. They can export these numbers into graphic presentations, reports that go automatically to project stakeholders, databases that can be analyzed by other software, analytical measurements such as cost variance, and project planning tools such as Gantt and PERT/CPM charts.
Primavera – Oracle based project management tool.
A scheduling tool that displays the tasks of a project and where each task falls in the overall execution of a project—the start and end dates of each task are usually conveyed both in a table and a bar chart.
PERT/CPM Program Evaluation Review Technique/Critical Path Method
A set of WBS techniques, now generally used together, that represent projects as branched networks of arrows and nodes to show the critical path each task must take.
Example of a CPM Network Plan. CPM charts are a project planning tool and software programs can export information into these tools.
A Gantt chart looks like a horizontal bar graph. Time is plotted on the horizontal axis, and tasks are plotted on the vertical axis. Each task’s bar is followed by a line showing its slack (also called float), the amount of time the task can be delayed without upsetting other aspects of the schedule. The top-to-bottom order of tasks usually reflects their sequence within the project. Some Gantt charts also specify whether an activity has a predecessor that must be completed before that activity can begin.
In practice, a simple Gantt chart looks like the figure below. Notice the table of the variables used for each task. Reading the chart from left to right shows how the project is supposed to unfold in time.
Monitoring and Controlling Software
Time and expense reporting is one of the most valuable uses of project technology. At many worksites, the day is gone when “timesheet” referred to an actual sheet of paper. Now a timesheet is often a computer file, arranged something like a spreadsheet, on which employees track their work according to project and task codes. This information can then be fed directly into the billing system to generate client bills. It can also go into the project planning system to allow project managers to assess progress against goals and performance against schedule and budget.
Technology also allows project managers to keep tabs on their projects and generate reports to stakeholders. A project manager may no longer need to know how to calculate the cost performance index—merely how to interpret that number. Earned value reports, budget reports, and progress reports might now take minutes rather than hours. If the time and expense reporting is accurate, project managers have little excuse not to keep the team informed.
Issues when using Software
Software does raise certain issues. One is cost; much time and expense software must be customized, and project management software is a specialized product for a niche audience, which means it is typically pricey. Another problem can be that some people do not process information well in certain media. Their eyes may glaze over whenever they read on a computer monitor. Relying too heavily on software can alienate team members who prefer other means of communication.
Another issue is security. Any information online is at risk of being stolen or compromised. If employee timesheets feed into project management reports, project managers need to make sure that the reports exclude employees’ personal information, such as their social security number or home address. Information can also be breached through simple human error. If the team status meeting notes feed directly into a reporting system, the client might learn someone thinks he or she is a pain. The same thing happens if someone forwards an e-mail containing a sensitive attachment. Official e-mail letterhead frequently contains a disclaimer absolving the sender from legal liability for the contents of attachments, but this may do little to counteract the actual damage caused by the information leak.
Most Gantt charts depict how one task is linked to others with arrows. Milestones are often indicated with symbols as well. Tracking the resources relevant for different project tasks is also made easier with Gantt charts. Software programs such as Microsoft Project® 2010 are especially adept at creating powerful Gantt charts that are easy to create and read.
One drawback of Gantt charts surfaces with lengthy and complicated projects. They can become so large that they are difficult to duplicate, display, or share. Two other types of charts, CPM and PERT, were created to fill these needs. Over time, they have merged into a single method.