I was looking at the APM BoK searching for the phrase “Informal Project Monitoring “, and I failed to find anything. The APM BoK 7th edition has a whole chapter devoted to ‘People and Behaviours’. Within this are sub-chapters on Stakeholders, Engagement and Influence, Facilitation, Leadership, Teams, and Communication amongst other things.
Monitoring a project is something that I have talked about before, but only the ‘factual and hard’ sort of monitoring. Equally important is the informal project monitoring to find out what is really going on.
When I talked about groups and teams, I suggested that people in groups don’t know or trust each other. Hardly a good place to start when trying to interpret progress reports. Informal monitoring can help.
When I previously wrote about leadership I mentioned that a good leader will also look after ‘the individual’ as well as getting the project accomplished. Knowing individuals is a prerequisite for understanding their motivations.
One thing the APM BoK did suggest, was that an increasing level of personal relationships was required in order to fully engage a project team.
Perhaps worse (in my opinion), is the BoK section on ‘Progress Monitoring and Reporting’ which concentrates solely on quantitative methods (Earned Value) and omits any mention of informal monitoring.
What is Informal Project Monitoring
Informal monitoring should supplement the formal meetings, reports, and status monitoring that occur. Meetings and reports are published (perhaps public) documents and records of what was said and what has happened.
Informal project monitoring is getting a status on project tasks individually, and in an informal setting. Informal monitoring may reveal personal opinions, different view points, and the reasons behind decisions rather than the bare facts presented formally.
Why is Informal Project Monitoring Important?
Sometimes people will not say what they really think in a formal situation. They will not talk about other peoples mistakes, or lack of enthusiasm. Perhaps they will not give the real reasons for an over-spend or for a schedule delay. In some cases it may be unprofessional to do so. However, they might reveal this information in an informal setting.
Informal (off-the-record) meetings are not recorded, so people may speak more freely. It is also true to say that at a meeting (with an agenda) people have time to prepare their words/report carefully.
Informal project monitoring is getting a truer status on project tasks individually, and in an informal setting. Opinions, reasons, and motivations might become apparent in an informal setting.
Examples of Informal Project Monitoring
A good project manager will ensure that there are plenty of opportunities to talk to the project team individually. These might include:
- Chats at the Coffee Machine, Photocopier or Water Dispenser
- Allowing time before a formal meeting starts, at break-outs or when a meeting finishes
- Walking to/from work from the car park/transport station
- Meeting for a social chat after work
One approach is to catch people a little bit ‘off-guard’ for these meetings, giving them little time to prepare a ‘politically correct’ answer. The true situation may become known with this sort of informal approach.
Advantages of Informal Project Monitoring
Apart from the aforementioned ‘truth’, there are other benefits to doing informal monitoring. A project manager who does informal monitoring will:
- Be seen as a ‘people’ person
- Become approachable for both work and personal matters
- Discover peoples opinions which they may be unwilling to share publicly
- Find out facts that could be hidden in formal meetings
- Check that what was presented at a meeting was a fact
Never rely purely on informal monitoring. Formal reports and meeting are still required because they will be documented and recorded.
How to do Informal Project Monitoring
Informal monitoring takes time, so make time for it. Use the examples above as ideas to start the chat, and talk to the team members about:
- Their Commute
- The Weather
You may find out that the team start to offer up interesting project information that you were unaware of!
Ensure that you are seen as sincere when talking to staff. Make sure that information given is treated as private where necessary.
I want to admit to a mistake I made as a manager at a university. I set aside Friday afternoons to chat to people about their weekend plans and ‘to be approachable’. However, the staff saw it as a Friday afternoon check that they were still in their offices! Informal project monitoring takes as much skill and time as running a good meeting.
A formal meeting gives people time to prepare the words that they want everybody to hear (rather than the truth). An informal chat may reveal the true situation!