Don’t get lost in metrics, it’s still all about the people

by Dr. Mark Bojeun

Performance metrics are incredibly useful to managers and business stakeholders by indicating progress, forecasting completion, identifying risks, and determining the effectiveness of a strategy. Truly intuitive metrics are a powerful tool in the project manager’s arsenal and can ensure that not only the PM but also the business have a clear understanding of the progress, risks, expenditures, and timeliness of an effort.

When designed properly, performance metrics identify the realization of risks before they can kill an effort, and can identify opportunities that can leverage reusability, economies of scale, and short-circuiting processes. A well-designed set of metrics can make a project manager’s job much easier and increase the overall project success factors. Metrics provide a foundation for true and accurate dashboards and provide a tremendous amount of confidence with business leaders and team members.  

However, at the end of the day metrics are still just numbers and lag indicators at best. Performance measures, by definition, measure things that have already taken place and are reactive in nature. Some, such as financial indicators, can be delayed by months while others (production rates, defect rates, or tasks) are delayed by shorter periods. Yet, any project is accomplished by individuals completing tasks, working together as a team, following the vision created and communicated by the project manager, and delivering work products that achieve the defined objectives. Metrics are numbers, people are the complex machinery required to actually accomplish the work.  

A project manager can have a truly intuitive set of metrics, accurate dashboards, and realistic forecasts, but the team members will always be the ones who identify unknown risks, recognize opportunities, and develop strategies to overcome obstacles. The team members accomplish and deliver what numbers report on. In addition, while metrics may be tailored to the project outcomes, the team members will be the ones who know if those measures actually reflect the work that is being done or if there are additional tasks, not directly tied to the outcomes, that take effort, time and resources.   

The value shown by a project manager to the team, is reflected in the investment members make to achieve, the self-management demonstrated, and the extent of personal investment that individuals make to achieve objectives. Managers who forget this, will soon find that their numbers soon are unable to forecast future efforts, encounter unforeseen obstacles and recognize unknown risks too late to effectively mitigate. Managers who value numbers over employees are soon left holding numbers that demonstrate a poorly managed effort and a failed project.

Regardless of leadership style, preference, and approach every project manager must invest themselves in communicating, forming relationships, and demonstrating their personal belief in the team they are responsible for. They must demonstrate this value in action, and not just in words, and it must be shown as a consistent value in their daily efforts. A leader must be able to create an open environment where team members are willing to inform the leader of the one thing they least want to hear. It is the worst news, that a leader needs to hear the most.  

Project management is a science and an art form. The process/procedures of project management are a complex science and knowing when and which process to use to address issues and fit within an organizational culture is a critical skill.  In addition, identifying, collecting, and communicating metrics provides transparency and builds a foundation of trust with stakeholders and project team members.  However, at the end of the day, it is leadership that makes a project manager successful. Decision-making, communication, vision, team building, relationships, and trust are necessary components for a PM to advance an initiative through all the obstacles, risks, issues, and unknowns that plague projects.  Leadership is required to build trust with project team members, stakeholders, and sponsors and can only be accomplished through actions that support the greater good. Ethics, values, and morals are demonstrated in action and are what team members use to establish belief and support for the leaders they follow.

Performance metrics are critical success factors, but not something that can be used in a vacuum.  They are tangible, non-emotional, and clear as to their meaning. However, it is dangerous to focus on the numbers only, instead of knowledge, expertise, and leadership are necessary to create a positive and healthy culture in which team members collaborate and communicate in the pursuit of project success. Every successful project is accomplished through the people who perform the work and will fail without their support. Leaders do need to develop performance metrics, monitor progress, and document accomplishments, but people are always the most critical success factor. The people part of project management is the most important leadership element, and, without it, success is fleeting.  

Focus on the people, support the project with metrics, processes, and best practices, and excel in communication and you will have a recipe for repetitive success.  


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