When updating the plan it is important to adjust the start and finish dates to match today’s expectations or assumptions for each task.
Sometimes there is a culture of not changing the task dates and only updating the % complete as this shows where the project is ahead or behind the agreed plan. This prevents the plan from being a useful tool which can predict the future and illustrate the impact of delays. If the team (or sponsor) wishes to keep a copy of the agreed plan, it is far better to use a baseline (see working with baselines) as this also allows calculations of current vs baseline.
When updating the plan is it useful to use the Progress Line to show how much progress “should” have been made on any given task. This is also useful as it highlights any work in the past or future.
- Work in the past - tasks which are behind the plan. Unless there is a reasonable explanation and plan to recover the slippage work in the past reduces the ability of the plan to be your “crystal ball”
- Work in the future - tasks which are ahead of their expected position. These could be artificially lengthening the plan or preventing a valid acceleration of the plan.
In both cases, the usefulness of the plan is reduced, reporting will give an incorrect impression of delivery dates, and it also suggests to an observer that the plan isn’t being maintained correctly.
Types of issue
Task A is on track to complete as planned; however, the rest of the tasks raise varying levels of concern.
Task B is ahead of the plan - should the finish date be brought back so that linked parts of the plan can be accelerated?
Task C is behind the plan - should the finish date be extended so that we can see the impact of the suggested slippage? Or does the team have a cunning plan to recover the slip and protect the finish date?
Unless the team has a Timelord on the payroll, Tasks D and E indicate that the plan needs to be refreshed as the dates are wrong.
How to avoid these situations
Keep on top of maintaining accurate start and finish dates. This is a quick process and prompts useful discussion in the team about the causes of change and what can be done about it.
If work on a task has stalled, consider splitting the task into the work that has been done and a separate task for the work that still needs to be done. Insert two new tasks under the original and give them accurate descriptions and dates, mark the 1st as completed and move the second to when the work will be done. This is especially powerful if some other activity or dependency needs to be completed before work can re-start on the task.
Lastly, if you are lucky enough to have the services of a Timelord, don’t let them produce or maintain your plan.