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Project managers often have a lot on their plates. Around 60% of PMs are running two to five major projects at a time, and around a quarter are tending to six or more projects. 

Whether you’re running one project full-time or splitting your project management time between multiple efforts, understanding how to keep those projects on track is critical to supporting successful, on-time deliverables.

Keep reading to get some tips for keeping yourself, your projects, and your team members on track.

7 Tips for Keeping Your Projects On Track

A successful project involves teamwork, strong boundaries, and the use of the right resources. Here are seven tips for increasing success with your projects.

1. Understand Project Scope Before You Start

Scope creep is one of the most common reasons for project failure. One survey asked 60 project managers why past projects failed. Respondents said that more than 90% of the time, the culprit was scoop creep.

Prevention goes a long way on this one, so avoid scope creep by:

  • Defining the project well. Make a list of what the project will and won’t do and plan to stick with it.
  • Communicate scope. Make sure everyone involved, including the project team and any sponsors or champions, knows the defined scope and agrees to it. Get agreements in writing, such as responses to emails, whenever possible.
  • Be realistic about potential results. Avoid over-promising. Committing to pie-in-the-sky deliverables sets you and your team up for failure.
  • Use a RACI matrix to define stakeholders. Remove some of the self-proclaimed chefs from your project kitchen by limiting your stakeholders and collaborators to those who are responsible, approvers, consulted, or informed.
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2. Define the Project Goal Using SMART Goals

Ensure challenging but achievable project goals by using the SMART goal model to break down thoughts about potential deliverables. Collaborate with your team, subject-matter experts, and stakeholders to consider what you want and what may be possible.

Make sure your project success can be measured with specific metrics so everyone can agree when success is achieved. Set realistic time boundaries for your project — remember that a project that isn’t bound by time is a process. It can’t be managed and measured using the same tactics as projects are.

3. Create a Project Plan With Realistic Milestones

Once you have a well-defined project goal, and everyone understands—and agrees to—the scope of your deliverables, it’s time to set some due dates.

The main due date for your project will likely come from an external source—an executive project champion or a client, for example.

External customers may also have something to say about the timeline for milestones. Once you understand the needs of external stakeholders, you can fill in the details of your project plan with internal milestones.

Depending on the complexity of your project, planning can be complex. Use visual tools and resources such as Gantt charts to map out the required tasks for your project. 

This helps you see the overall timeline and understand dependencies—a common fail point in projects is misunderstanding what work can be done before other work is accomplished.

By planning ahead for dependencies, you can better allocate project resources at the right time for each effort. That provides huge benefits when you’re managing multiple projects.

4. Use the Right Project Management Tools

On top of setting goals and planning, projects typically call for an intense amount of communication and collaboration. The right project management software and apps can help you stay on top of those efforts while also tracking time for billing or other purposes.

Look for tools with dashboard functionality. When you can create customized dashboards, you can see important project metrics at a glance as the project leader. 

But you can also create views for stakeholders so they can see how things are going without constant emails or requests for information to you or your project team.

The right project management tool is the one that best supports your methodology. If you work mainly with Kanban boards, for example, Trello might be a good solution.

If you want templates that supercharge the concept of a spreadsheet, monday.com might be more appropriate. And if your team is used to working with ticket structures, something like Asana might be the right choice.

5. Plan Regular Check-ins With the Project Team and Stakeholders

Dashboards and other automated communication measures are great, but you should also make good use of project status meetings. The more important a project is to a business, the more likely your champions are to demand this step in project tracking.

Some teams make the mistake of scheduling major check-in meetings every week. This isn’t always productive because there may not be much movement on project initiatives during the span of a few days.

Too many meetings of this type can result in stakeholders becoming anxious and attempting to intervene before they need to, which can result in scope issues.

At the same time, some stakeholders simply want to be reassured on a regular basis that projects are on the right track. For them, a weekly touch base call might feel necessary.

Talk out preferences with stakeholders and set check-in schedules that meet everyone’s needs without taking up valuable project time for little ROI.

6. Use Time Tracking or Other Measurements of Efficiency

A project management position can be difficult because you aren’t usually in a direct supervisory position over the people who are working on the project. You may need to work closely with other leaders to ensure tasks are completed on time and that the project schedule works.

Use time-tracking and other tools to keep up with project progress. Here are a few tips for integrating these into your projects:

  • Use task management tools. Choose a project management software that lets you delegate tasks, assigning them to one person. When everyone can see who has the ball, your team is more likely to pass it around appropriately. Other leaders, such as direct supervisors, can also see that their employee is working on your project and can adjust day-to-day work as necessary.
  • Automate workflows. Simplify processes for everyone by automating what you can. Use tools that allow work to flow from one person to the next without complicated email threads.
  • Ask project team members to track time. Implement time-tracking tools to capture how much time people are spending on each effort. Tracking time often automatically improves time management, and it provides you with the data you need to make better project plans in the future.

Learn more about how time tracking can help with project planning here.

7. Know When It’s Time to Crash a Project

Successful project management involves a lot of decision-making. One of those decisions is understanding when your project is in deep trouble and needs some dramatic intervention.

Avoid sweeping these types of issues under the rug and be honest with yourself, your team, and your stakeholders if your project needs a major course correction or change.

Sometimes, owning up to a mistake in planning or acknowledging that a project won’t meet a deadline can help the team band together to support a different—but still successful—outcome.

FAQs About Project Tracking

What Is Project Tracking?

Project tracking refers to the activity you conduct to track the progress of project efforts. This can include tracking the time and efforts of each contributor as well as the overall progress toward the goal.

What Are Project KPIs?

Project KPIs are key performance indicators that demonstrate whether a project is moving toward success, or has reached success. They can include measures of time and money as well as metrics related to processes or products the project is tasked to improve.

Keep Your Next Project On Track

Test out these tips on your next project! If you’re newer to project management, you might have to run a few experiments before you really find out what works for you and your teams. 

Share your project management tips in the comments, and sign up for The Digital Project Manager newsletter to get more valuable PM tips in your inbox.

Ben Aston
By Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedpm.com. I've been in the industry for more than 20 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony. I'm a Certified Scrum Master, PRINCE2 Practitioner and productivity nut!