How do you conduct an effective
work-in-progress discussion?

The work in progress discussion focuses on determining whether the project’s progress is in line with schedule and budget. Many project organisations consider work in progress discussions to be ineffective because the focus is only on gathering information for financial reporting.

How do you conduct an effective work in progress discussion in a project in order to be able to adjust in time?


The human element

It is a natural reaction of people, when they have to report monthly on the results of a project they are responsible for, to regard this as a personal assessment. This natural behaviour gets in the way of effective project management. For many, it is a recognisable image that certain project managers always show positive forecast results until just before delivery. In contrast, other project managers show a pessimistic picture that turns out to be better than expected towards the end of the project. It is important to make it clear that the work-in-progress review is not a performance review. The feeling of assessment stands in the way of effective project management.

Looking ahead during the work in progress discussion

The work in progress discussion should mainly focus on looking ahead. Which part of the scope still needs to be realised and where can bottlenecks arise during realisation with regard to budget and progress. A good project controller can independently analyse and explain deviations and trends in the current figures. Together with the project manager, trends can be confirmed or invalidated based on the actual course of the project.

Origin of deviations

For a project controller, the origin of deviations between the financial and operational progress of a project can be roughly divided into three categories:

Omissions in the budget and forecast (part of the scope was not included)
Incorrect assumptions in the budget (lower than expected productivity)
New circumstances (specification changes or obstructions)
Steering by trends

Many deviations have a repetitive character. The same deviation recurs in every work package yet to be realised. One possibility is to adjust the forecast negatively every month… However, when the project manager and the financial (project) controller work well together, effective control measures can be taken to adjust the project in time and improve the project result.

The work-in-progress conversation should focus primarily on preventing deviations rather than explaining deviations that have already occurred. In this set-up, the work-in-progress discussion makes an important contribution to better control of projects.

About Ron Petersen

Ron Petersen is Director of Cost Management at Vijverberg in Rotterdam. He has over 25 years of experience in cost management for large projects in real estate, industry and infrastructure.

Please contact him with any questions on this topic.

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Ron Petersen


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