Most understand the need to follow up and monitor progress on a theoretical level. Yet there are few guidelines to how frequently you should do that. Let me suggest that varies by the nature of what you’re monitoring, ranging from daily or even more frequently for tasks to annually for strategic plans.
Ben Harkin discussed the value of monitoring and reporting in the Psychological Journal. His headline is “Frequently Monitoring Progress Toward Goals Increases Chance of Success” – especially if you make the results public. While he was more focused on personal habits and goals, the findings are applicable to organizational behavior as well.
Here’s my current best thinking on the right frequency of monitoring. The main discriminant is the nature of the work and level of people doing the work with tighter, more frequent monitoring of tactical efforts and looser, less frequent monitoring of more strategic efforts.
- Daily or more frequently – Tasks
- Weekly – Projects
- Monthly – Programs
- Quarterly – Business Reviews, adjustments
- Annually – Strategic/Organizational/Operational processes
In general, daily monitoring of short-term focused tasks seems to make sense. In a rapidly evolving situation like a crisis, it probably makes sense to check-in even more frequently. Buying parts for jet engine manufacturing is an example of a task. The overarching approach here is to keep workers working tasks from getting off track and wasting effort. Focused, more frequent feedback and adjustments are more helpful than bigger-picture less frequent input.
Projects are made up of a collection of discrete interdependent, parallel or sequential tasks all combining to produce one specific end result. Designing a new rotator blade for a jet engine is an example of a discrete project. Projects generally get managed by first-line supervisory project managers. While those project managers should probably monitor the sub-tasks on a daily basis, those monitoring the project managers need to give them space to manage their projects.
But not too much space. These are still inherently tactical in nature and should be monitored on a regular weekly or bi-weekly basis.
Programs in turn are made up of interdependent, parallel or sequential projects combining to meet an overarching objective. The programs may evolve as needs evolve. Manufacturing engines for Boeing’s 777 planes is an example of a long-term program. It makes sense to monitor programs on a monthly basis to help middle-management program managers coordinate project components.
Business As Usual
While there is no longer such a thing as business as usual, most businesses are well served by doing some sort of senior management quarterly check-in and adjustment. These usually include a business review/mid-course correction and pieces of an annual planning process as appropriate.
Strategic, Organizational and Operating Processes
The best-well run organizations have a strong strategic, organizational and operating processes in place. Many look at things on an annual basis with a quarterly cadence like this:
- Q1 – Talent Reviews (How did people do last year? How do we help them develop?)
- Q2 – Strategic Planning (Scenarios and options for the future)
- Q3 – Future Capability Planning (What human, operational, technical or financial capabilities must we put in place to deliver our strategic plan?)
- Q4 – Operational Planning so everyone in on the same page for the coming year.
Use the daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly/annually targets as a starting-point framework. As discussed in an earlier article on Milestone Management, you’ll want to adjust your check-ins depending upon the importance of the project or program and your confidence in the project or program leader. In general, manage more important projects or programs more tightly while giving more leash to managers in whom you have more confidence.
Don’t underestimate the importance of follow-up and monitoring. Even if you’re all on the same page with regard to your context, what matters and why, posture and strategy, communication is a never-ending, on-going essential component of success and nothing matters until people actually do things that have a positive impact on others. Monitoring wrong is disempowering. Monitoring with the right frequency and level of interaction inspires and enables.