How do you manage your projects to stay on track?

Hi, I am curious how do you manage your projects and make sure them on time?
Any tools you are using?

I have seen many people at least in my company, they work overtime everyday.
I think 1 of the reason is they don’t know how to manage the project effectively.

Is there any advice on this? Thank you.

It really depends on the kind of project, its scope and complexity.
Timelines should be realistic (as opposed to over-optimistic) and slack time should be planned for handling of the unforeseen. Proper funding and allocation of resources is equally important.

I forgot: a clear and comprehensive definition of the deliverable should be available.


It is difficult to estimate time and materials properly. So the first thing to do is to take note of how much time you need to perform work.

I designed a simple quote calculator for myself in FMP which is just like a products/invoice. The products/services list contains a list of tasks (analysis, design, testing, data handling) and materials ( tables, fields, layouts, scripts ). Each of those comes in three sizes ( small, medium, large ), the “cost” is measured in minutes and I can apply a quantity. I use this to generate an estimate of time based on the task and the amount of materials that I have to handle.

When I first began working with it I was employed at a small firm and it would generate times which were unacceptable to my boss. He wanted my estimates to be much smaller. So I reduced the “cost” for some items and added “discounts” for bulk-buys. That made him happier. My original estimates where much more realistic so I’ve increased them all now that I work for myself. It’s much better for me to have a sensible estimate of time. If I want to discount the work I can. That is a commercial decision. I can reduce my rate but I cannot reduce the amount of time it takes me to do the job.


If I rephrase my question, how do keep your project on track? Is it easier to answer or same answer as above?

Fending off feature creep is a method of keeping it on track,

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You only do what you’ve agreed to do. Don’t do extra.
If it is a large job then you communicate a lot.
You break the job into small chunks.
You show your work to your client frequently
You get them to document their agreement/satisfaction that the work is being performed.


we take ‘Agenda’ notes to track project todo’s (Agenda. von Momenta B.V., appstore)

On some projects, we are running ‘redmine’, serves basically as a ticketing system, keeping todo’s as well

Then, we walk through those todo’s, reporting status etc.

If there is ‘hard work’ to do (in German ‘Fleissarbeiten’), ie 200 layouts to check for this&that, adding something to the structure in a multi-file solution, we got detailled checklists in filemaker (using the url protocol to open specific files/layouts directly). Checkboxes show the state of every single item, checkbox itself has 3 state (open, done, not relevant here)

Since we need to protocol our work-time for fiscal needs, We got a reporting app on iPads that track our work, billing goes via that app

With this 3 tools, we are quite happy

  • Agenda for the overview, discussions with project-leader (customer)
  • interactive to do lists for ‘Fleissarbeit’
  • reporting of the working hours

One item in Agenda may result on one ore more ‘ToDo’ lists…

I showed the ToDo filemaker app on the last converence in a lightning-talk


Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

(recursive with no termination condition)


New to the forum… and hopefully my response is still relevant.

I am responsible for project planning and tracking where I work. I follow recommended project management practices as documented by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Specifically, I use charters to ensure projects activities align with business goals; proposals to document specifications, costs, deliverables and schedules; plans to document tasks, assign resources, schedule work, mitigate risks and track the project; change requests, sparingly, to adjust projects in execution; and post-mortems to learn from successes and failures encountered during project execution.

Creating a project schedule requires me to create a work breakdown structure (WBS). This is where I break down the project in tasks, sub-tasks, sub-sub-tasks and so on. I will be as detailed as possible and I will estimate the required effort based on past experience. Experience is the most important determinant in how well one estimates a project. Discussing estimates with those who will be responsible for the work – team leaders, developers, designers, etc. – is important.

Creating a schedule also requires me to assess risks, resource capabilities and resource availabilities. Risks include missed tasks, incorrect estimates, lack of resources, resource failures and a host of other potential factors. I suggest mitigations for each identified risk and factor that into my schedule estimate in the form of slack time (as suggested by @Torsten) and contingency.

Keep in mind that slack time allows you to deliver on time, however does nothing regarding budget. A contingency takes into account unexpected expenditures.

Once all of this is done and the project is started, I check its progress weekly and sometimes daily. Developers let me know when tasks are completed (tasks are either done or not, no in-betweens) and how much time was spent. I determine if a project is on time and budget by looking at its earned value and projecting it out to the remainder of the project. If projections show the project is on or below the expected burn rate, great. I talk to the development team and the customer otherwise. This is when I have to be a bit of a wolf. Not fun!

Keep in mind managing scope creep is super important. A constantly moving target is impossible to estimate or complete. Also… post-mortems are important. That is how you and your team gain experience and become better.

What tools do I use? A project management application called Merlin. It does pretty much everything I need: WBS; costing; Gantt chart; resource levelling; critical path; risk assessment; earned value; and more. We are in the process of looking for an alternative due to a change in licensing terms. There are a number of these tools out there.

There are also applications and web services that say they are project management apps… but are really collaboration apps. These typically do not calculate earned value for you and lack a number of other features. That said… they typically have lower initial cost of ownership, have a lower learning curve and work well for some types of teams and projects.

Hope this helps.


Thank you. I have not tried Merlin before. Did you mean Merlin Projects?

If I have 2 computers, could I buy 1 license and use in both computers?

My bad! I do mean Merlin Project. It use to be simply called Merlin.

Answer to your question:

P.S. Merlin Project is only available for Mac.

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