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Leading Indicators in Project Management
By Randy Wills and Kerry Wills

There are two areas where diligence is important on Projects – (1) Planning and (2) Execution. Let’s assume that planning is done as well as possible and we are now in the midst of running the project. What I often find is that projects turn yellow just before a deadline is due when the PM realizes they won’t hit the date. This is usually less than one week away which really doesn’t give the team much wiggle room to take action and correct the problem. That is why I am a big fan of leading indicators.

The one I think works best is what I call “schedule earned value” which gauges the progress of a project against its ability to meet the commitment. In the simplest definition earned value tracks how much work is performed (earned) against how much time or resources is used (burned) to determine trending. For example, if a project has burned 50% of the time (e.g. on day 20 of a 40 day activity) but only completed 33% of the work then it is fair to assume that work is behind schedule (instead of waiting until day 35 to determine that). You can also use cost as a gauge of burn rate but this is harder sometimes to track and may not be as evenly spread as schedule.

The best way to install this rigor is to set up interim milestones against the plan and track them closely. This way as we risk interim milestones we can still track our progress against the major goals. The key is to track at a granular enough level to be able to see trends before they become issues and set up actions to correct them.

Kerry Wills is a proven Program Manager/Portfolio Manager with an extensive background in Project Management, consulting, and application development. Kerry has consistently demonstrated the ability to plan and implement large and complex projects on time and on/under budget. Kerry runs a blog, Adventures in Project Management.

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