2.6 Maintaining balance
Monitoring is also concerned with achieving a balance of the three dimensions of the project:
cost – the resources available;
time – the schedule;
quality – the scope and appropriateness of the outputs or outcomes.
Many of the difficulties in implementing a project are caused by poor time management. This will have a direct effect on the costs of the project, as well as on the quality of what is achieved. So there need to be systems for monitoring:
the time spent on project tasks;
the resources used (people, materials and equipment);
compliance with applicable quality standards.
These are the three dynamics that are always key to keeping a balance in managing a project. There are a number of options for how you might take action to maintain this balance, once monitoring has provided you with information that suggests that action is needed.
Splitting the key stages to avoid each following another when there is no necessity to have one in place before the next: If it is possible to carry out two or more key stages concurrently, you will speed the project up, but you will need to resource all the concurrent stages rather than waiting for one to finish so that staff can be moved to the next stage.
Making savings by removing or reducing contingencies from estimates: as the project work progresses you could review the contingency time and budgets that had been estimated. You will be in a better position to judge how much contingency is likely to be needed as the project progresses.
Re-evaluating the dependencies in the logic diagram: You may have been over-cautious in making the first judgements about the sequence of activities. As some outcomes are achieved, you may find that you can avoid some of the dependencies.
You may find that you can make more use of slack time to speed up completion of tasks.
Avoiding duplication of effort: If you can minimise duplication you can make savings of time and effort.
Re-negotiating lengthened time-scales if an unanticipated problem causes a delay that cannot be recovered: If this is the situation, it is worth calculating whether lengthening the time-scale would be more cost-effective than increasing the resources to enable completion on time.
Increasing the resources available will usually increase the costs, so this should be considered alongside other options. It may be possible to increase resources at a limited cost by reviewing the use of existing staff. For example, instead of getting new people with appropriate expertise assigned to a key stage which is falling behind schedule, you may already have such people within the team but carrying out activities that have less need of that expertise.
If a project is facing serious delays or is running over budgeted costs, it is worth considering the quality targets. Reducing the quality or scope of specified outputs or outcomes may be possible. In considering this option, it is worth reviewing what quality means to each of the key stakeholders. Additional features may have been included in the project and these add very little value for the majority of stakeholders.
Monitoring expenditure is usually exercised through regular reports. In many organisations the financial aspects of a project would be subject to their usual financial procedures. There may be decisions to make about the number and levels of budgets, and about how frequently budget-holders should receive information about expenditure and reports on their current position.