Project monitoring is an integral part of the project management. It provides understanding of the progress of the project so that appropriate corrective actions can be taken when the performance deviates significantly from the planned path. It consists of regular systematic collection and analysis of information to track the progress of the project implementation against pre-set targets and objectives. It is an important management tool which, if used properly, provides continuous feedback on the project implementation progress as well assists in the identification of potential successes and constraints to facilitate timely decisions.
Effective monitoring of the project is a critical element of good project management. It supports informed and timely decision making by the management and provides accountability for achieving results. It is a key part of project cycle management. It is to be built into the project at the planning stage. It is not an ‘add on’ tool which can be used during mid-way of the project implementation. On the other hand, it is to be woven throughout the project.
Project monitoring clarifies project objectives, links activities and their resources to objectives, translates objectives into performance indicators and sets targets, routinely collects data on these indicators, compares actual results with targets, and reports progress to the management and alerts the management about the problems which frequently gets cropped up during the implementation of the project. It provides information to the management whether the project is proceeding as per schedule relative to the targets or there is time over run in the project implementation. It also focuses, in particular, on the efficiency and the use of resources during the project implementation. It provides support to the management in its efforts to complete the project in time and within the budget.
Project monitoring activities take place in parallel with the project execution activities so that, while the project work is being executed, the project is being monitored by implementing the appropriate level of oversight for the purpose of the mid-way corrective actions. High quality monitoring of the project progress encourages timely decision making, ensures project accountability, and provides a robust foundation for successful completion of the project. It is through the continuous monitoring of project performance that the management has an opportunity to learn about what is working well, what is lagging behind, and what challenges are arising.
Definition of project monitoring
Project monitoring is defined as a process which is performed to track the progress of project execution so that potential problems can be identified well in time for the taking of the corrective actions for the purpose of controlling the execution of the project. It is a continuing function during project implementation which provides management of an ongoing development intervention with indications of the extent of progress and achievement of objectives and progress in the use of allocated funds. It provides information and ensures the use of such information by management to assess project effects – both intentional and unintentional – and their impact. It aims at determining whether or not the intended project goals and objectives are being on the track.
Project monitoring can also be defined as the ongoing process by which management gets regular feedback on the progress being made towards achieving the goals and objectives of the project. It focuses on reviewing of progress against achieving of goals. In other words, monitoring is not only concerned with the taking of the actions but is also concerned with making the progress towards achievement of the results. In the more limited approach, monitoring can focus on tracking project with regards to the use of the resources. In the broader approach, monitoring also involves tracking strategies and actions being taken by management, and figuring out what new strategies and actions need to be taken to ensure progress towards the project objectives.
General aspects of project monitoring
Project monitoring provides opportunities at regular predetermined points to validate the logical progress of the project, its activities and their implementation and to make adjustments as needed. Good planning and designs alone do not ensure results in the execution of the project. Progress towards achieving results needs to be monitored. Equally, no amount of good monitoring alone can correct poor project designs, plans and results. Information from monitoring needs to be used to encourage improvements or reinforce plans. Information from systematic monitoring also provides critical input for project evaluation. It is very difficult to evaluate project progress which is not well designed and which is not systematically monitored.
Project monitoring provides records of activities and results, and signals problems to be remedied along the way. It is normally descriptive in nature and does not explain why a particular problem has arisen, or why a particular outcome has occurred or failed to occur. It helps the management for the fine-tuning of the implementation activities, reorientation of the project implementation by making appropriate changes in future planning. Without effective monitoring it is normally impossible to judge if work is going in the right direction, whether progress and success can be claimed and how further efforts can be improved.
Project monitoring activities
Project monitoring activities involve (i) the monitoring of actual project progress as compared to the planned project progress and the collection of key progress metrics such as risks, issues, changes and dependencies, and (ii) the reporting of project status, costs and outputs and other relevant information, at a summary level, to the management. The format and timing of project monitoring and reporting varies in each organization and also depends upon such items as the size, duration, risk and complexity of the project.
Project monitoring is carried out (i) measuring progress of project activities against established schedules and indicators of success, (ii) identifying factors affecting the progress of project activities, (iii) measuring the response of the decision taken on the project activities and its effect on the progress of project implementation, and (iv) to minimize the risks of project failure.
Timing and method of project monitoring are significant aspects of the project management. Important steps in project monitoring (Fig 1) include the following.
- Study of the project, its schedule, and costs.
- Selection of the parameters to be monitored.
- Selection of the frequency of reporting and its format.
- Collection of data for the parameters being monitored.
- Analysis of the data by using appropriate monitoring technique.
- Presentation of the analyzed data and reporting it to the management.
- Review of the presented data by the management for decision making.
Integrity and accuracy of the data and its proper analysis is very important in the project monitoring since it helps in taking of proper decisions for the project.
Fig 1 Steps in project monitoring
Project monitoring process
Process of the project monitoring is required to fulfill certain criteria. It is to be relevant towards meeting the needs of the project. It is to be efficient so that it facilitates the progress of the project. It is to be effective so that it helps the management to take the right decisions regarding the project. It has to impact the project in the positive manner by being responsive to the mid-way changes in the project. And above all it is to be sustainable and is to meet the project requirements during the life cycle of the project.
Each project is unique and differs from other project. It is therefore necessary the process of the project monitoring is suitably designed and is suitably aligned to the requirements necessary for the project implementation. However, the process of the project monitoring is to be simple, quick in providing the information for corrective action, cost-effective, flexible, accurate, comprehensive, relevant, and accessible. Project monitoring process is expected to lead to learning. It is to be transparent and consists of sharing of the information up and down.
One of the greatest weaknesses of project monitoring is the lack of effective and timely communication of information to the users. The employees monitoring the project frequently invest too much time and resources in gathering data which they frequently fail to interpret and present in a form that which conveys the meaning of the progress made. The project monitoring is effective only if the collected data is properly analyzed and presented timely in a concise manner to the management for decision making.
The importance of communication in process of project monitoring is equally critical. Communication in project monitoring process acts as a lubricant facilitating and speeding up the project movement for the achievement the stated goals and objectives of the project.
There are various processes and tools which are normally used to assist the project monitoring. The process of project monitoring generally involve obtaining, analyzing and reporting of monitoring data. Specific processes and tools used for monitoring can vary from project to project and also to meet the requirements of the monitoring, but there are some overall best practices, which are summarized below.
- Monitoring of the project is to be well-focused to meet the needs of the project, the specific audiences and uses. It is to be sufficient and limited to what is necessary.
- Monitoring is to be systematic, based upon predetermined indicators and assumptions.
- Monitoring is also to look for unanticipated changes occurring in the project and its context, including any changes in project assumptions/risks. This information is useful for adjusting project implementation plans.
- Monitoring needs to be timely, so that it informs timely the progress made towards project implementation.
- As far as possible, monitoring is to participatory with the involvement of key players. This helps in the understanding and ownership of the analyzed data of the project monitoring.
- Monitoring information is not only meant for the project management but need to be shared with all the key players of the project.
Some of the most widely used tools for project monitoring, and their limitations include the following.
- Verbal communication – This is probably the most effective mode of communication. Among its advantages is that it is quick, and its presentation can be adapted to concerns and questions of the audience. However, this type of tool to communicate monitoring information can lead to misunderstandings and sometimes denial of information.
- Written communication – This is probably the most reliable mode of communication. Among its advantages is that it provides clear data and removes the possibility of any misunderstandings. However, it requires time and generally frequent follow up to receive monitoring data through written mode of communication.
- Meetings – The very nature of project management makes it inevitable that certain meetings are convened to communicate and share project information. Collection of data for the project monitoring can even require meetings with different players involved with project implementation. However, meetings to be effective as tools for project monitoring are to be focused for sharing and interchanging information, clarifying, stimulating, and seeking the best solutions regarding project performance.
- Reports – The monitoring reports are important since they are an essential part of project monitoring. Activities undertaken, inputs supplied, funds disbursed etc. have to be recorded and accounted for in the reports. However, reports are only effective if they are submitted to the right people at the right time to facilitate corrective decision making. Further the reports are to be concise and to the point so that they can get the needed attention.
- Diary notes – While many of the people involved in project monitoring do not use this mode of recording information, it remains an important option. It is essential to record key decisions, which may have been made at formal or informal meetings. However while taking diary notes, it is to be ensured that the date, time, place and the names of the people present are included when the decision are being taken.
However, it is often the experience from many projects that there are certain problems faced during the project monitoring. These problems include the following.
- Many of the reports gather dust in offices without being effectively used.
- Sometimes the wrong information is collected and analyzed, which may not be useful in decision-making.
- Some departments or units are not serous in providing the information necessary for the project monitoring. These departments are casual in providing the information.
- Many a times there are no feedback on the reports presented to the management and hence the people involved in monitoring of the project do not get motivation for the preparation of serious reports.
The process of the project monitoring is built up on the project design. It is to help the project management in making and the checking of the work plans, and other management tools used during the project implementation. The project monitoring process is to help the management to assess the quality/capacity of existing project implementing arrangements with a view to providing support where required.
Project monitoring provides information enabling management to assess implementation progress and make timely decisions. It is concerned with verifying that project activities are being undertaken, services are being delivered, and the project is leading to the desired behaviour changes described in the project designs and plans. It is normally an internal organizational activity. It can be externally led though in that case active participation of project employees is needed. It is an essential part of good day-to-day practice for the project management and need to be integrated within the structure of the project management. It is important for making decisions on overall project direction. The activity of the project monitoring takes place during the implementation phase of the project and generally focuses on the implementation progress of the project.
Project monitoring needs a sound project plan which allows an assessment of performance to be made (by comparing actual achievements against plan). In turn, project monitoring fulfills the need to regularly review, update and improve the project implementation plan as per project requirements. Project monitoring requires that appropriate and useful indicators, targets and baseline information requirements are established. A clear project work plan which specifies the sequencing and timing of key activities/tasks facilitates effective project monitoring. Project monitoring helps the management in assessing the implementing agency’s capacity to manage the work of the project assigned to it, and thereby making judgement whether support activities and resources are needed for the project to progress within its plan and budget. Project monitoring also needs management to provide necessary incentives to monitor, so that monitoring is not simply undertaken as a bureaucratic requirement. Project management need to play playing an enhanced role as dialogue partner and thereby supporting the progressive development of effective process for the project monitoring.
The collected data during the project monitoring is normally analyzed and presented to the management with the active use of several tools. These tools include (i) critical path analysis (CPA), (ii) variance analysis, (iii) programme evaluation and review technique (PERT) charts, (iv) Gantt or bar charts, (v) work breakdown structure (WBS) technique, (vi) earned value analysis, (vii) critical ratios, (viii) logical framework matrix, (ix) benchmarking techniques, and (x) specialized information programmes, etc. The progress is usually monitored against certain milestones planned for the project execution. The analyzed data of the project monitoring constitutes critical part of the project management information system (PMIS).
Inadequate resources lead to poor quality of project monitoring. For ensuring effective and quality monitoring, it is critical to set aside adequate financial and human resources at the planning stage. The required financial and human resources for monitoring are to be considered within the overall costs of the project and not as additional costs.
Project monitoring serves several purposes. It brings into focus the problems in the implementation of the projects which are brewing up and which need solutions for the smooth progress of the project. In the absence of effective monitoring, it is very difficult to know whether the intended results are being achieved as planned, what corrective action are needed to ensure achievement of the intended results during project execution, and whether initiatives are making positive contributions towards the project execution. Project monitoring always relate to pre-identified results in the development plan of the project. It is driven by the need to account for the achievement of intended results and provide a fact base to inform corrective decision making. It is an essential management tool to support the project and helps in the management commitment to accountability for results and effective utilization of resources entrusted to it.
Project monitoring is part of the project and project management not an addition to it. It is not to be regarded as merely a management or reporting requirement. Rather, it is to be regarded as an opportunity to (i) engage all the agencies participating in the project so that they feel ownership of results being achieved and are motivated to sustain them, (ii) demonstrate achievement of development results, how they benefit the project and all the agencies involved in addressing the operational challenges faced by them, and (iii) nurture an inclusive and purposeful monitoring culture to make the implementation and management effective and interesting as well as to ease gathering of data and evidence objectively to back achievements and make decisions.