Staying on track, on time, and on budget is one of the trickiest parts of project management. Without a clear sense of all the moving pieces of your project, it’s easy for work to fall through the cracks. If this has happened to you before, you’re not alone—in fact, over one quarter (26%) of deadlines are missed each week.
Project tracking can help. When you—and more importantly, everyone on your team—have a clear sense of the status of a project and an easy way to get real-time updates, you can spend more time on high-impact work. Here’s how to get started with project tracking so everyone on your team knows exactly who’s doing what by when.
Project tracking is a set of tools and practices to help project managers monitor the progress of their initiatives. With project tracking, you can help team members stay up to date on the status of a project at the individual, project, and program level. Project tracking tools give you clear insight into the status of work, while minimizing work about work—like attending status meetings or chasing approvals.
Project tracking comes to life through project tracking tools—like real-time dashboards or status updates. These tools are designed to help you and your team stay in the loop on individual tasks and team projects, as well as across multiple projects. These tools help you:
Share task information in real time
Clarify who’s doing what by when
Create shareable progress reports
Help your team with status, time, and budget tracking
Though we refer to these tools as project tracking tools, they’re usually part of a holistic project management solution or work management software. That’s because project tracking tools are only effective when they’re connected to the work your team is doing.
Too often, we split work between tools—like working in documents, communicating over email, and tracking work in a spreadsheet. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. According to the Anatomy of Work Index, knowledge workers switch between 10 tools up to 25 times per day. But app overload reduces efficiency and increases the risk that work will fall through the cracks.
With a siloed system, team members might struggle to find information. To find the most up-to-date document, you have to email a team member or scroll back through your chat messages. If you are trying to track project data in a spreadsheet-style system, that information needs to be manually entered from other tools and information sources.
By managing projects and tasks in a work management tool with project tracking features to stay up to date, your team can get real-time insight—while also reducing duplicative work. The last thing you want to do is give yourself more manual work by having to add all of the information you want to track into a separate tool.
As mentioned above, project tracking is part of a larger set of work management software. When team members refer to project tracking, they’re really talking about three things: tracking work at the individual level, staying up-to-date on project work, or checking work progress across multiple projects.
At the individual task level, project tracking tools can help everyone align on who’s doing what by when. This can give team members clear insight into whether a task is proceeding on schedule and how your project is progressing towards its deliverables.
Tracking work at the individual task level has another value—it prevents duplicative work. When everyone has clarity on who’s doing what by when, you take the guesswork and work about work out of working. This is critical—as it stands, knowledge workers spend 13% of their time on work that’s already been completed.
The most important thing to do while tracking work at the individual level is to ensure there’s only one person directly responsible for each task. Having one individual responsible for each initiative means team members know who to contact about providing updates on task status or answering questions other team members might have.
For example, imagine you and another team member are hosting a virtual event. But because there are two hosts, your guest speakers aren’t sure who to go to with questions. The day before the event, a guest speaker has an emergency, and they contact one team member to cancel. But because of a miscommunication, you didn’t get looped in—and on the day of the event, you’re totally unprepared when that speaker doesn’t show up. With one, clearly responsible point of communication, that type of problem can be easily avoided.
You can also track work at the project level to give cross-functional stakeholders a higher-level view of the project work. Instead of being notified about the day-to-day updates, cross-functional stakeholders and other team members need at-a-glance, real-time updates about the most important project data. That way, they can stay up to date during the lifecycle of a project without being bogged down with the details.
There are two main ways to track work at the project level:
Status updates: Project status reports are updates on the progress of your project that help you keep stakeholders informed. Written status updates also replace status meetings and instead offer a way for team members to view the most up-to-date project information on their own time. For best results, share your status reports in the same tool where you manage the execution of work, so stakeholders can drill down into more detail if necessary.
Dashboards: Dashboards are project progress views that stakeholders can access at any time to get details about a project. Dashboards can include things like burndown charts, work in flight, or tasks that are overdue. Like status updates, make sure you’re creating dashboards in the tool where you’re also doing work so your stakeholders can get more information.
If you’re tracking work across multiple projects, you’ll likely benefit from tracking work at the portfolio level. Project portfolio management (PPM) is the bird’s-eye view that your executive stakeholders or project sponsors want to see. PPM helps stakeholders see the big picture across multiple projects and how those initiatives are tracking against business goals.
At the portfolio level, it’s critical for stakeholders to have clear insight into each project’s status, so they can gauge overall portfolio health and performance.
At this level, you can also use workload management to track team bandwidth and capacity. Workload management provides a way for you to see what each team member is working on—across projects—so you can ensure no one is feeling burnt out or overwhelmed.
According to our research, 71% of knowledge workers experienced burnout at least once in 2020. With workload management and project tracking, you can proactively ensure there are no capacity issues coming up by viewing all tasks on the docket in the coming days or weeks. That way, if a team member has a few big tasks coming up, you can reprioritize smaller requests to other team members who might have a higher capacity.
These three project tracking features can help you get started with project tracking at the individual, project, and portfolio level. Project tracking is part of the larger work management platform, so there are a host of other related tools that you can and should take advantage of at various stages of your project.
A project plan is a blueprint of key elements your project needs to succeed. Project planning happens before the project tracking stage—usually, this is the very first thing you do when you’re starting a project.
By creating a plan, you can give team members and stakeholders a sense of your project timeline. That way, everyone starts off on the same page. Then, maintain that clarity throughout the project with project tracking tools.Read: How to create a project plan that works to keep you on track
A communication plan is an outline of how you and your project team will be communicating over the course of a project. This plan can help you clarify exactly where and when your team can find information. For example, a communication plan will often define the various communication channels you should use—like email, messages, or in-person meetings. You can also use this plan to explain how often you’ll use each channel, or who should be included in different channel communications.
A communication plan can give your team a clear sense of where and when they should be communicating. Typically, your plan should also include information about when you’ll be communicating project tracking details—like status updates.Read: Why a clear communication plan is more important than you think
Once you’re actually working on your project, you can use visual project management tools to track your work more effectively. There are three types of visual project management:
Kanban boards, which are an effective way to track task status. In a Kanban board, work moves through stages, which are represented by columns. For example, you might have To do, Doing, and Done columns in a Kanban board.
Calendars, which give your team a clear sense of when project deliverables are due.
For complex projects, you can also create a project roadmap to give team members a way to easily visualize the overall project schedule. A project roadmap is a high-level project timeline, so stakeholders can get an overview of your project deliverables, key milestones, and overall project goals.Read: Project roadmaps: What they are and why you need them
At the individual task level, it’s helpful to track additional project details, like how long a task will take to complete. Project tracking tools often offer time tracking integrations, to help you accurately track time spent on projects and tasks with less effort.
In project management, a resource is anything that helps you complete a project—including team members, budget, or available tools. A resource management plan can help you clearly define your project resources and their capacity, so everyone understands what resources are available for project work.Read: Your guide to getting started with resource management
Good project tracking—like all the best workflows—can make it easier for your team to collaborate and communicate. Instead of manually inputting project tracking details into spreadsheets or slide decks, online project tracking tools break down silos to help you track work where you actually work. Share all of your important project information—like details, documents, feedback, and messages—in one place. Project tracking makes it easy for team members, stakeholders, and cross-functional collaborators to see and track work from every angle.
Interested in getting started? Learn how Asana can help your team organize work and stay in sync by tracking all of your project information in one place.