Keeping projects on track is really all about good task tracking and time tracking. Without constant monitoring, projects stray into areas they don't belong, lollygag around like they don't matter, and consume way more time than they should ever be allowed. Projects live to serve us, not the other way around. They should begin and die as swiftly as possible, without any extra pampering. The project management ideas below may help keep projects on track. And, if you need some help, feel free to download a free trial.
The first step to keeping projects on track is good tasks. Not too many, not too few. Not too specific, not too vague. It is important to build a nice set of phases or sub-projects that represent smaller chunks of the project, and fill those with specific tasks to be completed.
You may consider filling each phase just before executing it. This strategy defers the naming of tasks until you learn the results of the previous phase. Too much future planning can lead to error. Another option is the name all the future tasks for each phase, but revisit them just before starting a new phase. As the project progresses, you will learn more, and the project tasks will change.
Each task should be assigned to one or more employees. Managers should review tasks with each employee to ensure they feel comfortable doing them. Task execution should be as machine-like as possible. Unknowns should be identified, reduced, and eliminated as soon as possible. This allows employees to finish tasks without the burden of indecision. Consider creating a project phase just for resolving unknowns.
One of the reasons projects go off track is because managers don't track the time spent close enough. Some tasks are allowed to linger much longer than they should. New tasks are added or mixed into others. And, sometimes completely new phases are added. You must not permit this to happen. Yes, it is true that sometimes project scope expands as you learn more about the project, but you must try to tie off a project before launching into an expanded version of it. Track the time spend on your core tasks, so accountability is maintained. Finished the project, even if it doesn't meet new expectations for it. Only then should you expand the project scope to include the new tasks. Don't let employees, without the authority to expand the project, add new tasks. Keep them focused.
Shut it down
As alluded to before, you must shut down projects as soon as possible, even if you feel there are more improvements to make. Be as ruthless and short-sighted as possible. Nobody will agree with you, but you'll do the right thing nonetheless. After your finished project rises to the surface, you can collect all those great new ideas, and begin the next phase. But, it is important to come up for air and release the project.
Analyze the results
Since you diligently tracked employee time to project tasks, you now have a body of information you can draw upon. Analyze each task, looking for possible improvements. Did you hit your forecasts? Did you include just enough tasks? Were employees allocated properly? What can you learn about this project to apply to the next?
You may already be using our tool for your project management. If so, you are probably using project tasks and the timesheet hand-in-hand. Tracking projects is probably going smoothly for you. If not, give it a try. You'll probably learn more about your projects, and you'll find a nice steady rhythm to keep future projects on track.