The good news is that you've got the sense that something is not right. The bad news is that you don't know (yet) what's wrong and how bad it is. Tracking status is challenging because it involves two elements—time and progress. If you haven't defined
measureable metrics, you could be at the mercy of those doing the work to be honest about their progress.
So if you don't have the yardstick to measure progress, but you do know the deliverable isn't complete and the project is off schedule, what can you do?
The first step is to focus everyone back on the goals. Discuss progress and status at the highest level—how are you doing against the project objectives and deliverable requirements? Gather the team for a review and find ways to use data and facts to determine where the project actually is. The key is to ask focused questions about very specific, tangible project deliverables, so you can judge progress based on what has actually been created and completed, not based on someone telling you that particular tasks are some percentage complete.
These tangible items could be end deliverables—such as something that is actually going to be provided to the project's customers—or interim deliverables such as documents or prototypes that are work products along the way. Whatever they are, the goal is to look for and review physical examples—via presentations, reviews, demonstrations—of what has been accomplished to date.
Data doesn't lie. Your goal is to get a clear answer to what actual progress has been made versus what is required, what remains to be done, and what's in the way of getting it done. With this information you can complete a full "gap analysis" for the project—where we are vs. where we need to be and what it will take to get there. Then you can look at what that means to all the major parameters of your project. Can we still make the original schedule? Budget? Features list? And you'll have a new view into risks the project now faces, so you can update the risk assessment and mitigation plans (what you're going to do to avoid or lessen the impact of the new risks).
During this process, avoid targeting individuals to blame—just focus on the facts about where the project is and the state of tangible deliverables. Let the data speak for itself. The truth will emerge without any need to question individuals about their effort or contribution. Your team will respect you for taking a fact-based, unemotional approach, with a focus on understanding the "what" and "how" and working with them to determine where to go from here, rather than pointing fingers during an already difficult time. It isimportant to know where the work has gone awry, but only so that part of the schedule and expectations can be adjusted and a successful path forward set.
One tool for setting the team up to track the creation of tangible deliverables is explained in our toolset Tracking With Visible Deliverables. It shows how to identify tangible, physical pieces of a project you can monitor to help judge real progress and status. It also provides formats for various tables and charts that can be used along the way to capture status quickly, and show with data whether the project is approaching completion fast enough to finish on time.