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The Project Tracking Template That Aligns With Your Strategic Plan
What are the makings of a solid project tracking template? Check out these key elements, along with some food for thought before project kickoff.
Your strategy should be the key driver of your organization’s success—it should clearly describe your goals, how to achieve them, and in what time period. But when it comes to executing your strategy, your projects may not be contributing toward your overarching goals; in some cases, projects may even be a detriment to progress. That’s why it’s essential you link your projects to your strategy.
For example, let’s say you’re an airline company with a strategic objective to increase shareholder value. You measure progress by tracking net profit, and have implemented several projects, including purchasing new planes and building a business class program that provides higher-margin sales. Notice how the strategy, measurements, and projects are all clearly linked?
Now you can have projects that fall outside the scope of your strategy—such as a project that focuses on gaining a required safety accreditation. But the majority of your project portfolio should align directly with your strategy, and each initiative you undertake should have clear project tracking to ensure continued strategic alignment. Below we cover a template you can use to track your projects effectively.
Project Tracking Tools: Before You Dive In
Regardless of the project tracking system you use, it’s important to establish some fundamentals, including determining your project management approach and ensuring all stakeholders are on the same page before project kickoff.
For starters, what information are you going to track? The complexity of the project and expectations of your leadership will likely dictate these elements.
You’ll also need to consider the different audiences you’ll be reporting to:
- Senior leadership—Your senior leaders will likely want a rolled-up summary of project tracking elements such as a description of overall status, budget, major milestones, upcoming deliverables, and the like. Visuals will be beneficial for them as well, such as a pie chart showing how many projects are completed, on track, off track, and pending.
- Department leadership—Department leaders will probably also want summary information about the projects, but may look for additional details to dig a bit deeper. For example, they may want to explore why certain projects are behind schedule. They may also want to see Gantt charts showing the timing and progress of several projects.
- Project team members—As collaborators in day-to-day project efforts, your team will be interested in all the details. You can walk them through individual action items to identify what can be done to keep your projects moving.
You should also consider roles and responsibilities for stakeholders—be clear on the expectations of your executive team, department leadership, project management office, project team, and so on.
Of course, the project tracking system you choose should enable you to employ all of the above. For the project tracking template below, we’re using ClearPoint, strategy execution software you can customize to fit your organizational context.
Do your projects actually support your strategy? Download our project management field guide to find out—and take steps to remedy any disconnects.
Project Tracking Template
A key element of your project tracking template is a project summary that helps you see the impact your projects are having on your strategic objectives.
Seen in the screenshot above, the Project Evaluation Overview page showcases three key components:
- Objectives—The overall strategic objectives your projects are linked to. The objectives serve as a constant reminder that your team’s work is supporting broader organizational needs.
- Initiatives—The projects meant to align with the preceding objectives. As your team progresses with milestones, the statuses of your initiatives and objectives continually update to reflect the new reality.
- Milestones—Phases of your project that help keep things organized. Colored icons help you visualize which milestones are in the clear and which ones may require intervention. For more complex projects, you can add sub-milestones.
When managing projects, you should be able to easily see progress. You can accomplish this with a mix of descriptive commentary, visuals, and tables.
The Project Dashboard page includes this mix of elements:
- Status description—You can use this description to paint a clear picture about the progress of your project portfolio, and remind reviewers about the importance of these initiatives.
- Status chart—At a glance, reviewers can see how projects are coming along. A lot of yellow and red may indicate underlying issues you can dig into.
- Status table—This table provides a rundown of projects and their owners, when they’re scheduled to complete, their corresponding budget, a list of relevant milestones, and the status of each.
A project tracking tool should include a Gantt chart, essential for tracking status and resource management. ClearPoint has built-in Gantt charts—one for each project, and one for summarizing all projects—that automatically update based on underlying project data. Colors indicate status, and shading represents percent complete.
Your project tracking system should provide a way to dig deeper into data points. You can do this in ClearPoint by clicking on any hyperlinked item, which will take you to a page with corresponding details.
For example, clicking on the initiative relating to the construction of new airplane seats brings you to a page with more information. Here you can see details like the owner of the initiative, associated milestones, percent complete, start and end dates, descriptive commentary, measure data, and relevant charts.
Clicking on the individual milestones would provide a similar page specific to that project phase. If the milestone is behind schedule, your team could use the analysis box to explain the delay and the recommendation field to share what’s being done to remedy the situation.
It's also important to make sure you have an easy way to manage your project when it changes, or to change the dates for all of your project elements when you create a new project from your template. Projects are constantly changing, it's the nature of project management. So if you have to extend your milestones, your end date for your project should extend as well. And if you need to move an entire project forward in time because the start is delayed, all of your milestones should move with it.
In ClearPoint, it's really easy to duplicate a project template, set the start and end date for your new project, and have the milestones automatically update. Once your initiative is underway, if you change the date of any milestones, the project end date adjusts as well.
Another important part of your project tracking template is the ability to customize report details to suit your needs. Even if you’ve spent the time prior to project kickoff agreeing on elements that need to be tracked, business needs often change. You may realize new aspects that should be tracked, and your project tracking system should let you make such changes easily.
For example, you may need additional charts to display the new data, or your senior leaders may want you to rework charts to display the same data in a different way.
You may also need a way to discuss a specific milestone in context. In ClearPoint, you can add a discussion box that enables threaded conversation that’s tracked by users and a timestamp. You can use this feature to make sure everyone is on the same page, or even for tracking approvals.
The ability to add attachments, such as floor plans for a new office, contact information for key stakeholders, a communication plan, and more is also helpful. You can then keep everything in one place for a given project.
Lastly, reminders and alerts add value to your template—not all project tracking tools have these elements. You should be able to schedule reminders for project team members to update information related to their assigned milestones so you don’t have to hunt down people yourself.
Alerts are useful for times when there’s an upcoming end date for a milestone, when the status for a project has fallen below plan, when the budget has been modified, or when there’s been a change in ownership. In ClearPoint, you can set up alerts for whatever data you’re tracking.
The more thought and effort you put in on the front end in designing your project template, the better off you’ll be in the long run. You’ll avoid having to make significant changes to the way you manage your projects and, subsequently, your template.
But even if you find yourself in a pinch and need to alter your template, ClearPoint makes this process easy to manage. Our solution is highly customizable, enabling you to evolve your template over time as business needs change.