As a manager, tracking the progress of your project teams is critical to ensuring that tasks are completed on time and within budget. However, it can be time-consuming to keep track of everything manually — not to mention error-prone.
While there are many methods of tracking project progress, using a project tracker is one of the most efficient ways to keep your teams on track. Project tracking software can help you manage your projects by tracking tasks, deadlines, budget and resources.
In this article, we will discuss the benefits of using a project tracker and provide tips on how to get the most out of your software.
Let’s dive in!
Project tracker: what is it?
Where once projects had to be tracked in convoluted documents and notes, there are now project trackers to do the job for you. A project tracker is a piece of software that helps you keep tabs on all the tasks related to a project, as well as the progress of each task and who is responsible for it.
This can be an incredibly helpful tool when it comes to managing a project. By having all of the information related to a project in one place, you can avoid overlap and confusion, as well as make sure that everything is on track.
Project tracking software includes the following useful features:
- Task management: track, assign, and update tasks
- Gantt charts: visualize the project timeline and dependencies
- Reporting: get real-time updates on project progress
In addition to these features, many project trackers also offer integrations with other software, such as accounting or communication tools, so that you can have a more streamlined workflow.
Benefits of using a project tracker
Before we look at how you can use a project tracker to stay on top of your tasks, let’s first look at the benefits of using one.
A project tracker:
- Can help you visualize your work. When all of your tasks are listed in front of you, it can be easier to see how everything connects and how much work you have left to do.
- Provides estimates of how long tasks will take. This can be helpful in planning your work and figuring out how much time you have to complete a project.
- Can help you stay organized. By listing all of your tasks and their associated deadlines, a project tracker can help keep you on track and avoid overlap or missed deadlines.
- Assists in tracking progress. Project trackers record when tasks are started and completed, making it easy to see which tasks have been completed and which still need to be done.
- Helps with estimating future work. If you have a history of your past projects in your project tracker, you can use that data to estimate how long new projects will take.
Situations where you need a project tracker
Project trackers are clearly very useful, but what are some of the main situations in which they would be most effective in the workplace? Let’s discuss some of these situations in further detail.
When you have multiple projects going on at once
If you have multiple projects going on at the same time, it can be difficult to keep track of everything that’s happening.
You might have one project at its very beginning, where you are just beginning to set up the goals and objectives. Meanwhile, you might have another project that’s nearing its completion, and you need to start thinking about wrapping things up.
A project tracker can help you keep track of all of the different projects that you’re working on, and what needs to be done for each one. This way, you can ensure that each project is progressing as it should be, and no crucial details are falling through the cracks.
It’s often the case in project management that project managers are working on multiple projects at once, so a project tracker can be an invaluable tool to nip this problem in the bud.
When you have a team working on a project with you
As a manager, the importance of keeping track of your team’s progress cannot be understated. You need to know what everyone is working on at all times, and whether or not they are meeting their deadlines. A project tracker can help you do just that.
With a project tracker, you can assign tasks to specific team members, set due dates for those tasks and leave comments on each task so that team members can communicate with one another about the task at hand.
The result is everyone being on the same page and no one falling behind.
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When you are working with clients
If you are working with clients, it is essential to keep them updated on the progress of their project. After all, they are the ones paying for your services, so they have a right to know what exactly is going on and how far their project has progressed to date.
A project tracker can help you stay organized and keep your clients in the loop.
In this situation, a project tracker can be utilised most effectively by setting up a ‘client portal’. This is a section of the project tracker that is specifically designed for clients, where they can login and view the progress of their project.
This avoids pesky phone calls and emails from clients asking for updates — they can just login to the portal and see everything for themselves!
When you need to keep track of finances
When working on a project, it is important to keep track of all finances in order to stay within budget. A project tracker allows you to input all expenses incurred, and budget for expected expenses that may occur in the near future.
With your expenses in order, you can say goodbye to project budgets ballooning out of control (as seems to be the case with a great number of projects in recent years).
So there you have it – four situations in which a project tracker can be an invaluable tool. If you find yourself in any of these situations, then it might just be time to take the leap and invest in a project tracker!
What project tracker should you use?
There are hundreds of options available when it comes to project tracking software, and this makes it tricky to decide which one is right for you. There are a few things you should consider when making your decision:
- The features offered by the software. Make sure the tracker has all the features you need to manage your projects.
- The price. Some trackers are free, while others have a cost associated with them.
- The user interface. Make sure the tracker is easy to use, so you can spend more time managing your projects and less time trying to learn how to use the software.
In addition to these factors, you should ask yourself the following questions before choosing a software for your business:
- How many people will need access to the tracker?
- What do you need to track?
- How complex are your projects?
- What is your budget?
- How tech-savvy are you?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin to narrow down your options. Here are a few popular project trackers to get you started:
- Pivotal Tracker
Using your project tracker to stay on top of tasks
Once you’ve found a software solution, there’s more to project tracking than simply inputting tasks and hitting “start.” You need to use your tracker to its fullest potential in order to stay on top of your work. So, how should you do that?
Review your project plan regularly
A project plan is only useful if it’s kept up-to-date. Reviewing it regularly will help you identify changes that need to be made to your tasks and ensure that you’re still on track.
To review your plan, take a look at your project’s:
- Task list
Check to see if any of your tasks need to be updated based on the changes you’ve made to your project.
Assign deadlines to tasks
One of the best ways to stay on top of your work is by assigning deadlines to your tasks. This will help you keep track of how much time you have left to complete a task and ensure that it’s completed on time.
Most project tracking tools allow you to add deadlines to your tasks. If yours doesn’t, you can use a separate tool, like a calendar or spreadsheet, to track them.
Take advantage of task dependencies
Task dependencies are another great way to stay on top of your work. A task dependency is when one task can’t be started until another task is completed. For example, if you’re working on a project for your company, the task of ordering supplies can’t be started until the task of creating a budget is completed.
You can use this information to your advantage in your project tracker. When you create tasks, be sure to add dependencies as needed. This will help you to see which tasks need to be completed first in order for others to be started.
Always provide more detail rather than less
It can be tempting to minimize the amount of information you put into your task tracker, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. However, taking a few extra minutes to provide more detail will save you time and hassle in the long run.
For example, if you just write “Write report” as your task, you may forget what the report is about, when it’s due, or even what software you’re going to use to write it. However, if you specify “Write report on the impact of the new tax law on small businesses for John Smith” then you’ll know all of that information and won’t have to worry about it later.
Break down tasks into smaller chunks
Another way to make sure you’re not overwhelmed by your task list is to break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. This will help ensure that you’re not only completing your tasks on time, but that you’re also completing them in a timely and organized manner.
For example, if you have a task to write a report, break that down into smaller tasks such as:
- Researching your topic
- Drafting an outline
- Writing the introduction
- Writing the body of the report
- Writing the conclusion
- Proofreading and editing your work.
Assign priorities to tasks
This is key. You need to know what’s the most important and needs to be done first, so you can focus on those items and not get bogged down in less-important tasks. Generally, you’ll want to use a priority system that goes from 1 (highest) to 5 or 6 (lowest).
High priority tasks might be things that are time-sensitive or critical to the success of your project. Low priority tasks, on the other hand, are things that won’t be due for a while or that can be easily delegated to someone else.
Always stay a day or two ahead
Your project tracker should help you stay ahead of your work, not behind it. That means always having tomorrow’s tasks ready to go today. This way, if something unexpected comes up, you’re still able to stay on top of things without falling too far behind.
You don’t need to be drastic with this – stay a day or two ahead, but not much more. If you try to stay too far ahead, you’ll just end up wasting time on unnecessary tasks and losing touch with what you’re currently working on.
Make sure everyone using the software is competent in its use
This means everyone in your organization who will be inputting tasks or viewing the project tracker needs to be well-versed in how it works. Conducting training sessions and/or providing written documentation can help ensure everyone is up to speed.
Alternatively, you can write up simple, step-by-step guides for each common task (e.g., creating a new task, editing a task, viewing the tracker). Tools like Loom allow you to make instructional videos with in-built screen recording, which can be helpful for taking employees through the project tracking system.
With these simple tips, you can stay on top of your tasks and truly make the most of your project tracking software.
Challenges of using a project tracker
We’ll be the first to admit that project tracking isn’t easy. Like all good things, it comes with its fair share of difficulties and challenges that can make projects difficult to navigate. Here are some of the more common challenges you may encounter while using a project tracker.
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is information overload. With all of the features and integrations that most project trackers offer, it can be tough to know where to start or what information is most important.
This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and ultimately abandoning the tracker altogether in favour of a simpler solution.
In order to prevent his from being a serious problem, make sure to set up your tracker with only the features and integrations that you need and be ruthless about which information you track.
Data entry errors
Another common challenge is data entry errors. Because project trackers rely on accurate data in order to function properly, even a small error can have a big impact on the accuracy of your reports and analysis.
To avoid this, be sure to double check all data before it’s entered into the tracker and establish clear guidelines for how data should be formatted.
Lack of buy-in
If you’re not careful, it’s easy to end up in a situation where only a small portion of your team is actually using the tracker. This can lead to frustration among management that their investment into the project tracker is going to waste and ultimately can cause the tracker to be abandoned altogether.
To prevent an unnecessary wastage of company resources, make sure that everyone on the team understands the value of using the tracker and buy-in is obtained from all members before implementation.
If you really want to get serious about project tracking, you can make it compulsory that everyone uses the project tracker as part of their job and will be reprimanded if they don’t.
Difficult to change habits
If your team has been used to working in a certain way for a long time, it can be difficult to get them to change their habits and start using a project tracker.
This is especially true if the tracker is significantly different from what they’re used to or requires them to learn new skills.
In order to overcome this challenge, make sure that you provide training on how to use the project tracker and make the transition as smooth as possible.
You can also incentivize the use of the tracker by offering rewards for those who use it effectively.
Requires ongoing maintenance
Another challenge you’ll face is that project trackers require ongoing maintenance in order to function properly. This means that someone on your team will need to dedicate time to ensuring that data is being entered correctly and reports are being generated on a regular basis.
While this may not be a problem at first, it can become a burden over time as your team’s workload increases. To avoid this, make sure to plan for ongoing maintenance from the beginning and allocate the necessary resources.
Project trackers can be an invaluable tool for managing projects, but they come with their fair share of challenges. By being aware of these challenges and taking steps to mitigate them, you can ensure that your project tracker is set up for success.
Alternatives to using a project tracker
Now that we’ve established the benefits of project trackers and laid out how effective they can be in certain situations, we have to also consider the possibility that project trackers may not be what you want for your firm in particular.
There are some obvious challenges associated with using project trackers as discussed previously. If these challenges are looking too steep, then it might be a sign to consider an alternative – as discussed below.
1. Doing it the old-fashioned way with paper and Excel
This is probably the most low-tech option but it can work if you have a relatively small team and projects that aren’t too complex - sometimes going old school really does work!
All you need is a whiteboard or corkboard to map out your project, and then you can use Excel (or Google Sheets) to keep track of deadlines, assigned tasks, and progress.
The key here is to make sure that everyone on your team is aware of the project plan and knows where to find the latest information. You might also want to consider using a chat tool like Slack or HipChat to keep conversations about the project in one place.
It’s safe to say this isn’t a great option if you have a lot of projects on the go or team members in different time zones, but it can work well for smaller start-ups.
2. Using a Kanban board
Kanban is a project management system that’s designed to help teams move work through a process more efficiently. It’s based on the idea of visualizing your work, and it’s often used in software development but can be applied to any type of project.
A Kanban board typically has three columns: To Do, Doing, and Done. You can add more columns if you need them (for example, if you have a project that goes through multiple stages).
Each task is represented by a card, and you move the cards through the columns as the task moves through the process. For example, when you start working on a task, you would move it from To Do to Doing. When the task is complete, you would move it to Done.
Kanban can be used with physical boards – it’s quite simply a great option if you want something that’s more visual than a traditional project tracking app.
Imagine walking into your office and you see your Kanban board: it’s refreshing to see what still needs to be done, what’s in progress, and what’s been completed. Who needs software?
3. No project management at all!
This might sound like a crazy suggestion, but bear with us…
There are some companies out there that don’t use any formal project management system – they just rely on good old fashioned communication. In theory, this could work if you have a small team and everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing.
It can be very effective if you’re into the laissez-faire style of leadership and if you have employees who are highly self-sufficient.
If you go down this route, it’s vital to ensure that everyone is on the same page and there’s a clear understanding of deadlines and expectations. You might also want to consider setting up weekly check-in meetings to make sure everyone is still on track.
The key here is good communication – without it, this approach will quickly break down.
So there you have it – three alternatives to using a project management app. Of course, there are many other options out there, but these are just a few of the most popular ones.
The important thing is to find what works best for you and your team – there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to project management.
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When completing projects, it’s important to keep track of your tasks and progress in order to stay on top of things. A project tracker can help with this by allowing you to track deadlines, assigned tasks, and progress. However project trackers also come with some challenges, and there are alternatives available to project tracking software. There are a variety of different types of project trackers available, so find one that works best for you!