While engaged in the execution of a project, it is natural to have many critical actions to be carried out. While most of these actions may fall within the team, some of them need interaction with other teams – both internal and external. These actions that require clarity by interaction are similar to time bombs. They have a definite expiry date before it explodes and derails progress. A responsible person – the project manager or the team leader or the star developer – tracks these actions to closure. The responsible person also writes it down somewhere where these can be easily accessed and are least likely to be lost.
Such a location varies between people and teams. Some use the whiteboard. These whiteboard have a warning in capital letters. “DO NOT ERASE THIS”. There are smartasses who erase everything else other than the “DO NOT ERASE THIS” warning and indulge in a semantic analysis of your instructions. Others note down these action in a Word document or an Excel worksheet. These are then either hosted on the intranet or circulated using emails. The Excel worksheet is my preferred method because of the columnar format and the options available to filter the data.
This excel sheet is given a fancy name which is usually derived out of the project name or project code. The name will contain the word “Action Tracker” and it will be called so in the local parlance. The word “tracker” invokes memories of Wilbur Smith novels. The tracker in those novel is an extremely gifted person who can track down a man or animal by looking at the imprints made on the earth. Unlike the Wilbur Smith one, this tracker does not perform anything remotely fancy. It only holds a snapshot of the status associated with various actions.
At a bare minimum, the Action tracker should contain the following
- Recorded on: The date on which the action was identified and recorded.
- Action: A short description of what needs to be done
- Owner: The responsible person
- Status: Contains two values – Open or Closed
- Remarks: A short description on the progress or the next steps.
- Closed on: Contains a date if the status is closed.
The fifth and the sixth are the trickiest. If the actions are closed quickly, then the remarks are short. In my personal experience, there are actions which took months to close. In such cases, I enter remarks preceded with date of entry. Eventually, this column grows gradually to occupy the entire screen. “Closed on” is also tricky as it is easy to deduce how long did it take to close an action, for anyone adept in arithmetic and interested in analysis. Some even forget to update this column probably due to the joy experienced after closing the action.
The Action tracker is an effective way to track. The “Remarks” column reveal the final decision and the names of the key decision makers. Anyone, interested in the details, can look into the minutes of the meeting or the emails circulated. One person can update this document on a periodic basis.
Today, I came across an excel workbook used for reviewing the project status on a weekly basis. The excel workbook contains 11 sheets. The three of the sheets contained the name “tracker”. They are Action Tracker, Discussion Tracker and Decision Tracker. I’m still figuring out the big picture. Do actions generate discussions that culminate in decisions? But, there is no traceability matrix provided for linking action to discussion to decision. So, I’m betting this to be a special project where there are many actions, many discussions and many decisions. All of these are unrelated and hence needs to be recorded in separate sheets. The actions, the discussions and decisions also reveal the fun in the project. There won’t be any work!
Picture Courtesy: http://www.magnatag.com/