Staying on Track with Project Metrics
What measurements drive your actions?
If you’re like me, you are constantly measuring all aspects of your daily activities. Did I clear my “to do” list by the end of the day? How many connections do I have on LinkedIn? Did I hit my exercise goals for the week? Did I meet expectations, exceed expectations or do I still need improvement? Probably yes, yes and yes. We use these metrics to determine success in all areas of our life. These metrics are no different for the companies we work with. Most of you are probably familiar with the frequently mentioned mantras such as “What gets measured gets done” or “Measure what matters”. There is some truth in these popular sayings, but how we use these “measures” is what truly drives results. Since projects or initiatives make up a significant part of what we do, it’s important to have appropriate quantitative and qualitative measures that tie to the overall objectives, to ensure we stay on track and realize the project goals.
We are wired to keep score
Perhaps the easiest way to accomplish score keeping is by using numeric data to track our achievements. Using visual representations to show progress in a team environment for tasks, milestones or timelines can be a very effective way to highlight the status of a project. It is important to show progress; it provides motivation, boosts team morale and keeps focus on the work in front of the team. However, while it is important to understand the number of tasks or activities that have been completed or where we are on the project timeline, this could be misleading. If progress is being made at the expense of quality, we may need to rethink our approach.
Measuring the quality of the work being delivered provides a more complete perspective on the state of the project. Quality does not necessarily equate to qualitative measures. This is important as well, but we will leave that for another post. Just because we are tracking quality doesn’t mean we can’t use quantitative measures. It is important to include hard statistics to manage the accuracy and completeness of deliverables across all phases of the project. If the solutions are not complete, simply don’t meet the business requirements or the rate of defects is too high, it will lead to extended timelines and increased costs (even if the timeline may show the tasks as being completed). Quality should be the cornerstone that holds our projects together and defines how our work will be perceived. If not, we may just be throwing money down the drain!
Show Me the Money
When we talk about project metrics, there may not be a more visible measure than the budget. This is the one area that the executives and sponsors will scrutinize more than any other. Sure, they want the project to be completed on time but in most cases this is really an exercise in cost containment. After all, we have been conditioned to equate time and money. No one should begin a project without a clear expectation of receiving an appropriate return on their investment. In order to achieve the return on investment, it is necessary to hit the specified budget for the project. The financial measures associated with managing a project can be fairly straight forward, but understanding what influences these measures is where we should spend our time. Resource utilization, scope management, and the quality measures discussed earlier provide the data needed to manage project budgets. If this data is used properly to influence decisions and make improvements, it will help ensure we are effectively managing our time and resources to hit the financial mark.
Hitting the Mark
As a goal setting society, we always find ways to quantify results in both our personal and professional lives. This is how we know if we are making progress. The same is true for the businesses we support. Measuring and managing progress is a major part of actually delivering on the expectations we set. However, in order to hit the mark, we need to know where we’re aiming. As we consider the metrics that we will use to monitor performance it is also important to set targets for each measure. Targets based on time, quality, resources, cost, as well as the benefits we expect to achieve as a result of the work being performed, are all necessary to support the overall project objectives. These targets allow us to keep score, focus on quality and additionally hold us accountable ensuring a better and expected final result. Unfortunately, if the focus becomes singular on tasks or money the project is doomed to fall short, but if we monitor all phases, while continually course-correcting and re-evaluating our performance, then the projects will be successful. Ultimately to hit the mark we must have measures that are tied to the overall objectives we hope to accomplish. Otherwise what’s the point?