Using Project Checkpoints to Stay on Schedule (And On Plan)


Projects occur as a series of phases, structured along a timeline designed to produce deliverables, meet stated goals, and utilize allocated resources. Without this structure, projects would prove unmanageable as the work effort would just be too massive and undefined.

As a project begins, the initial “blank slate” can be overwhelming. Phases put the work to be done into perspective, replacing the blank slate with a framework for planning. “Phase” management also provides the opportunity for periodic review and reflection – to examine progress at key points, ensuring that the project is proceeding as planned and required. To take full advantage of these potential benefits, each phase must include checkpoints for management control, also known as stage gates or exits. Checkpoints provide a basis for analysis and evaluation, to determine whether the project is proceeding as planned, and to take corrective action as needed. Every project phase should pass through the checkpoint gauntlet to ensure that essential goals and deliverables are being met, and to identify potential issues and problems in stages, before they become overwhelming.

Moving Forward: Checkpoint Planning and Analysis

For full benefit and impact, checkpoints should be identified according to specific project phases, and as needed to ensure the timely advancement of project goals and deliverables. Checkpoints must be structured to answer one primary question – are you ready for the next phase? If the answer is yes, the project proceeds. If the answer is no, other action must be taken, to include progress with corrective/compensating actions, project suspension, or outright cancellation. 

ILLUSTRATING THE CHECKPOINT MANAGEMENT PROCESS

To illustrate checkpoint utilization, we can use a project structure organized into five (5) phases, as follows:

  • Phase 1: Requirements.  To define technical and business requirements for the project.
  • Phase 2: Design.  To design the technical deliverables.
  • Phase 3: Development.  To develop and test the technical solution.
  • Phase 4: Implementation.  To deploy and support the roll-out of the technical deliverables.
  • Phase 5: Closure.  To transition the project and deliverables from project status to operational status.

Continuing with this illustration, the following checkpoint "decision tree" leads the way through the progression process.

Setting Checkpoints for "Phase 1: Requirements"

  • Have all "requirements" tasks been completed?
  • Are there any open issues?
  • How will these issues be resolved?
  • Are the established requirements sufficient to proceed to the next phase?
  • If not, requirements related problems must be resolved, mitigated or waived before progress can be made.

Setting Checkpoints for "Phase 2: Design"

  • Have all "design" tasks been completed?
  • Does the design meet the established requirements?
  • Are there any open design issues?
  • How will these issues be resolved?
  • Does the design function as expected?
  • Is the design ready to proceed to the next phase? If not, design related problems must be resolved, mitigated or waived before progress can be made.

Setting Checkpoints for "Phase 3: Development"

  • Have all "development and testing" tasks been completed?
  • Does the system perform as expected?
  • Are there any open development issues?
  • How will these issues be resolved?
  • Is the system ready to proceed to the next phase?
  • If not, development related problems must be resolved, mitigated or waived before progress can be made.

Setting Checkpoints for "Phase 4: Implementation"

  • Have all "implementation" tasks been completed?
  • Are there any open issues?
  • How will these issues be resolved?
  • Is the project ready to proceed to the next phase? If not, implementation related problems must be resolved, mitigated or waived before progress can be made.

Setting Checkpoints for "Phase 5: Closure"

  • Have all "closure and transition" tasks been completed?
  • Are there any open issues?
  • How will these issues be resolved?
  • Have all necessary "closure and acceptance" approvals been obtained.
  • Has the lessons learned review been completed?
  • Can the project be closed? If not, closure related issues must be resolved mitigated or waived before the project can be closed.

Checkpoints can present difficult choices.  Every checkpoint analysis requires an objective examination of the project to date.  This can be a difficult task for the project manager and the team who have so much invested in every project.  At times, checkpoints will not be passed, and unpopular actions must be taken, up to and including project cancellation.  But, when project viability is in doubt, it is better to walk away than to proceed with a non-viable initiative.  In the end, checkpoints can provide a much needed safety net to prevent wasted time and resources. 


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