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Nicole Tiefensee

How to Track Project Progress & Deliver Projects on Time

Knowing how to track project progress is an all-important skill in project management. It ensures you don’t go off course or hit any delays or setbacks along the way.

As a project manager, one of the first things you’ll do at the start of any project is make a plan for it. You’ll aim to understand what needs to be done, when, and by whom.

However, having a project plan isn’t enough to ensure your project will be a success! A project's health is co-dependent on so many other factors. So what do you do to make sure your next project doesn't go south? The answer is simple: you'll have to constantly measure its progress.

According to the Project Management Institute, 14% of projects fail. Of those that succeed, nearly 50% aren’t completed on time, 43% go over budget, and 32% deliver a product that doesn’t meet expectations.

Tracking project progress allows project managers to stay informed and up to date, and react when things don’t go according to plan.

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What is project tracking?

Project tracking is the act of monitoring the actual progress of a project. It involves assessing the rate of progress in terms of time and money, as well as the delivery of a successful result.

As part of the project control process, it also involves monitoring related resources that have been used at any point in time having visibility over the tasks and milestones that have been completed. At this point, project managers build project status reports or pull them from the project tracking systems they use.

project tracking tool
Runn is a project and resource planning tool that helps you build high-level project timelines, spot resource bottlenecks, and monitor the financial performance of your project to avoid cost overruns.

Crucially, project tracking aims to help project managers adjust deliverables such as budgets and timelines based on what you learn throughout a project.

For example, if one stage of a project takes much longer than expected, a project manager can re-book resources for the following stage until when they’re going to be needed, and adjust the timeline for project delivery.

Challenges in tracking the progress of a project

Project managers can face a range of different challenges as they get to track project progress and create reports:

  • Lack of communication. Without timely and effective communication in project management, it can be hard to get an accurate picture of how a project is progressing.
  • Unclear goals or criteria. If you don’t know what constitutes success in your project, it’s hard to gauge how close you are to being finished.
  • Scope creep. If the scope of a project changes mid-way through, that can affect a wide range of budgets, timelines, resource requirements, and more.
  • Inadequate risk management. If you haven’t fully accounted for a project risk, that can present a number of unforeseen issues.

If you’re involved in project management and delivery, you’ll know that your initial plan can only take you so far. If your team members don’t work the hours scheduled, it can hugely impact your project budget and deadlines.

With Runn, you’ll get important metrics to see how your projects are tracking and how your plans compare with reality.

Starting with a new project, you can:

  • Create budgets for different types of projects including Time and Materials and Fixed Price, and create budgets for each role too.
  • Once you have set a budget, you can then add people and see the real-time budget tracker move as you create work assignments

Each project has its own dashboard, where you'll get valuable project insights. You can track both time based and financial metrics, and get a forecast of how your project will land.

If the graph tells you you’re going to go over budget, you’ll know to adjust your plans early.

If you use timesheets, you’ll also be able to compare project actuals with your plan. You can bring actuals into Runn through our native integrations, using our API to create your own integration, or by using Runn’s built-in timesheets and time tracker extension.

Looking at the  Variance chart you’ll be able to see how much time was actually worked versus what was scheduled per day, week or month.

To make any changes to your plans, you can always head back to the Runn planner to add or delete assignments or to shift your project timeframes. 

How do you measure project progress? (12 tips)

There are a few simple tips to monitor progress effectively and share it with a wider team managing projects from start to completion. It doesn't matter whether you view progress on Kanban boards or use Gantt charts to get a bird's eye view, communication is key to keep everyone on the same page. Exchanging the information throughout the project makes tracking easier - from assignment to project phase to budget to the entire schedule.

However, it's important to remember that moving forward with the right project management tool can help you measure progress more effectively. As teams collaborate, you don't want to collect data too often and nag them for no reason. With access to the project management tool, other members can view the project schedule and update their progress. Read more tips for successful project tracking and reporting on future projects below!

1. Decide on your project progress tracking method

You can monitor progress using both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Quantitative project tracking methods look at numerical metrics such as cost, time, and milestones. Qualitative methods, on the other hand, use survey data and regular team meetings to track progress.

What’s notable here is that you need to keep track of your project progress both quantitatively and qualitatively. Where one method gives you solid data to share with stakeholders minus the human bias, the other one gives you subjective data that assists in identifying project bottlenecks.

project progress tip

2. Make project tracking a team effort

Successful project completion is always a team sport! As much as it takes a full team effort to complete the project, the same can be said about tracking project progress. You’ll need to consult with your team members and different contributors and get regular updates to report to the higher ups, so it’s crucial you have the buy-in from everyone involved.

The best way to do that is to bring the entire team together at the beginning and get them involved in tracking. If they understand the significance of tracking projects, and feel responsibility for doing it correctly, then it becomes a measure of success for their role.

At the same time, when you get to the end of the project and it’s all gone well (hopefully), then you can celebrate that success together with your team members.

3. Use the right project tracking tools

Project tracking software takes away a lot of the manual work of project tracking, and can be a real time saver when viewing project status. A project manager can generate reports quickly and get a deeper level of understanding as to how your project is tracking against your goals.

There are a whole lot of different options, and each has different strengths and suitabilities. Tools you've chosen for project management have to be equipped with real-time features that help you view actual progress.

Runn project management software is user-friendly and widely applicable for measuring key objectives. It has the right tools to manage projects, resources, and finances:

  • Project schedules include visibility over resourcing so you understand what resources you have and what more you need.
  • Project tracking celebrates milestones and allows everyone to see where things are at.
  • You can create tentative projects to see how they would impact your business before committing to them.
  • Tracking shows performance to KPIs so you know if you’re on target or not.
how to tracking project progress
Note that Runn's high-level People Planner and Project Planner make it easier to track project progress without having to look into the detail of specific tasks.

4. Identify project goals and stick to them

If you don’t have goals for a project, you can’t track how you’re performing. The key is to have goals that help your team members to deliver on your overall objective. That means they should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

  • Specific - if the goal is vague, it is hard to know how to move it forward, or indeed how to keep the scope under control. To combat this, be specific about what successful completion of this goal needs to look like. For example, rather than saying "improve relationship with clients", you could say "improve Net Promoter Score by ten points". Which leads into the next theme...
  • Measurable - attach a metric or clear success criteria to your goal, so it's easy to track how progress is being made, and to see when the goal has been completed
  • Achievable - your goals should be challenging, but not unobtainable
  • Relevant - the goals you set should clearly feed into the bigger picture of what you want your team to achieve
  • Time-bound - ambiguity around timings is a dangerous thing. Not having a clear deadline can lead to the goal being deprioritized and stuck on the back-burner. Avoid this by attaching a clear time limit to your goal. Instead of saying “finish stage one in a timely manner”, for instance, set the goal: “finish stage one by March 15th.”

Once you have those goals, share them with your team members and make sure you stick to them.

5. Use checklists and milestones

Every time you take on a project, break it down into phases marked by milestones. For example, you can generally divide projects into the following phases:

  • Client onboarding
  • Project ideation and planning
  • Project execution (further divided into numbered or named phases)
  • Project submission
  • Project final review and edits

Divide each phase further into actionable tasks — assigned to different team members. Create a checklist for each of these tasks.

This way, you can track progress by looking at which phase a project is in and how much work is completed under each phase (based on the work completed in the checklist).

6. Make project stakeholders aware of the progress

As you track project progress, it’s important to share your findings and project information with all relevant stakeholders. This has a range of benefits for both you as the project manager, and the project itself.

  • It makes you accountable, and gives you more reason to keep the project on track.
  • It makes stakeholders aware of any issues as they arise.
  • It manages expectations for when the project will be completed and what it will look like when it is.
  • It gives a project manager more options to reassess budgets or timelines in real time if need be.

You can send project reports to stakeholders weekly, fortnightly, monthly or at any other cadence that suits both you and your project.

7. Make effective communication a priority

This goes hand in hand with making stakeholders aware of overall project progress. There’s no use updating stakeholders on the project status if they don’t understand your updates. At the same time, keeping track of projects is much harder if you’re not communicating well with your team.

A communication strategy works in a similar way to the project goals discussed above. By defining what effective communication is, and creating clear expectations around communication, you’ll go a long way to being able to easily track your project.

At the same time, it’s important for a project manager not to overwhelm people with communications either. Effective communication is about giving and receiving information as efficiently as possible, not just sharing your Gantt chart and expecting everyone will get the gist of it.

8. Host regular project update meetings

This is a purely qualitative way of measuring project progress.

Set a project update schedule and get responsible teams to report to their project manager(s) on the work completed. For instance, conduct weekly or monthly meetings. These shouldn’t be so often as to constantly interrupt work, but often enough so you always understand what stage things are at and how tasks are progressing. 

The best part about hosting these update meetings? It gives you a chance to talk to your team, which is much better than just getting an email update at every deadline. It allows you to understand what’s contributing to the progress you’re making — whether it’s on target or not — and shows you’re interested and involved in the project.

You can also learn about any hurdles that your team may be struggling with and understand how well the project is staying within its set scope and budget.

project progress tip 2

9. Establish clear project and task deadlines

Many projects are large pieces of work that take months, or even years, to complete. Without a project timeline and clear deadlines within that time period, it can be hard to know if you’re on track or not.

However, if you can split up your project into phases or create milestones, or have a final deadline for key pieces of work within that project, then you’ll find it much easier to track progress.

Deadlines are really motivating for both you and your team. If you’re working on a project that is due to be completed in three months' time, you may lose your sense of urgency. However, if you have a task within that project that you know needs to be completed within a week, that provides added impetus to get it done.

As with goals, your deadlines should be realistic, clear and measurable, and shared with your project team.

10. Measure progress by determining client satisfaction

Where many people look to track progress using numbers-based metrics such as cost and time invested, it's important not to forget that client satisfaction is also an effective measure.

This is particularly helpful for projects expanding over a long duration. The plan? Directly ask your client how satisfied they are with the work completed so far.

To this end, you can choose from either of the two methods or combine them both:

  • Host monthly or quarterly meetings to chat with your client to learn their feedback. This helps with building client relationships too.
  • Send feedback or satisfaction surveys to clients. Ask them to rate the quality of your work, service, and communication. Be sure to keep this survey short and add a section for written client feedback as well.

11. Build project status reports for tracking project progress

Project progress reports are an excellent way to stay updated on the status of your project. Many projects require weekly reporting while others require less frequent updates. Start by figuring out what information would be useful for your own purposes in measuring your progress, and consider how likely it is to be useful for someone else.

The goal of the status report is to give an overview of what's happening on the project and why. The report should be easily understandable by almost anyone, especially those on the team who will be making decisions on how to proceed on the project and those who need to understand how the project is progressing.

12. Focus on the right project management data

A common challenge that project managers may experience when they get to track and report on project progress is missing the forest for the trees. It's vital to be able to go into details and communicate how the team members complete tasks on projects, but usually there can be more important data to focus on.

Examples of important projects data to track include time to completion, budget, scope creep, and risk assessment. In addition, every project manager needs to keep tabs on resources and their workloads (speaking of agencies!).

project progress report
You can now see how your projects are going in terms of time, revenue, and costs in Runn.

How to write a project progress report

One of the most effective ways to track and document your project progress is by creating a project status report.

Such a progress report helps project managers in various ways including:

  • Keeping clients, executives, and other stakeholders up to date
  • Aligning your team on a project’s overall health and progress
  • Making informed decisions around saving at-risk and off-track projects
  • Centralizing all project updates in one place so you can effectively reflect on the overall performance

A project status report’s usefulness, however, depends on how clearly and succinctly it showcases progress. Pour in too many details, for example, and you’ll make the report hard to read. The result? It ends up gathering dust (think of it really: who has the time to read text-heavy reports!)

To write a clear and easy-to-digest project progress report, make sure you include these seven details that signify a project’s health:

  • Milestones achieved (key accomplishments made) and major upcoming milestones
  • Project budget, the overall budget in terms of the hours of work that’ll go into it.
  • Budget remaining (whatever is remaining from the predetermined, baseline amount).
  • Labor costs or the costs of resources that go into completing the project.
  • Project revenue or the overall amount you’ll make from the project.
  • Project gross profit or a measure of the money that you earn after deducting all operating costs
  • Project margin or percentage of the profit that you’ll make

All this information shows the work completed and remaining, and the percentage of the budget spent and remaining.

In turn, by reviewing these project health metrics, you can review how on- or off-track a project is and if you need to take corrective measures in case the project is at risk.

Making it easy to create project progress reports

With the basics out of the way, let’s look at how you can speed-create these reports so you aren’t spending hours digging out project health metrics to create a simple report.

Two things will help you here: 

  • Using a project management software that centralizes all project-related information so you simply have to pull what you’re looking for rather than juggling your way through email threads and update spreadsheets.
  • Using a project progress report template. This way, each time you need to write an update report, you’ll only have to drop in health metrics and charts from the project manager you’re using into your report template.

There’s also a third, far more efficient way to draft these reports within minutes: create them using your project management software.

For example, if you plan your projects in Runn, you can quickly generate detailed and easily readable progress reports that:

  • Show you essential project health metrics such as the project budget, revenue, budget remaining, people’s cost, and more.
  • Give you easy-to-digest graphs showing how the project is coming along in comparison with the actual plan. 

Here’s how they look:

project status report

Dig deeper ➡️ Writing project progress reports and how to use Runn to create them.

Final thoughts

When you’re working on a project, it’s not enough to simply deliver a good end result. Among other things, it needs to be on time and on budget, and you’re much more able to deliver on those goals when you’ve been actively tracking project progress all the way along.

Runn project tracking software allows you to set your goals and expectations at the beginning of a project and monitor your progress throughout. You’ll get real time visibility over your project so you can make informed decisions and maximize your chances of delivering an outstanding end result that satisfies all requirements.

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