Project management and business intelligence are both a science as well as an art form. The processes identified and laid out in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) are comprehensive, yet every project does not require every process and, knowing which processes to utilize, at the right time, for the right project and purpose is the art of project management.
One of the key talents in the art of project management is identifying actionable business intelligence to gather information and drive project success. When used correctly, metrics and actionable information can be a thing of beauty as a Project Manager (PM) identifies a problem before it escalates, develops effective strategies, and manages the project past the potential obstacle.
Yet, just like with the PMBoK processes, metrics can be cumbersome and bog a project down preventing forward momentum, tying valuable resources up in a meaningless effort with no tangible value. The art of business intelligence is defining when to use metrics, which ones to use, how to measure them, and interpreting the metrics for value.
The value of business intelligence comes from actionable information, data that provides real-time answers or leads to asking the right questions to identify issues or opportunities, that can be managed through an effective decision-making process. Actionable intelligence is information, that once acted upon, will impact the effort either positively or negatively depending on the effectiveness of the information.
Actionable intelligence is at the heart of strategic management and provides insight into complex processes and environments through performance metrics.
Now before you sigh and look away, most of us dislike metrics. We are action people who need something tangible to do and look for strategies that have an impact. Metrics are numbers that are collected because of some rule or process. However, actionable intelligence is information that is constantly changing, provides real information that can be used, and measures something that, when an external force is exerted, will change in some way.
I have often come across organizations that measure everything they can possibly slap a number on. Things like arrival time, departure time, break times, number of tasks performed, number of defects, lines of code, individual time to complete a task, etc. Most of this is not useful by itself, nor is it helpful to managing a project. Instead, the “art” of business intelligence, is to measure the people and process at completion points in such a way as to determine when issues occur. For example, I managed a team of software developers who were consistently behind schedule. While they believed their estimates were accurate, they were consistently working nights and weekends to achieve deadlines.
Overcoming groans of anguish, I was able to get the team to collect a few “quality” metrics to help understand the work that was being done without significantly slowing forward progress. Instead of measuring arrival time, break times, and times on the phone, we asked developers to focus on collecting any “work time” where they were not specifically working on assigned project tasks.
Lo and behold, we quickly came to realize that most of the team was spending 15-30% of their time supporting legacy products in the enterprise and doing “favors” for executives and business leaders rather than the assigned project tasks.
With this actionable information, I adjusted project plans for the short term reflecting an average of 75% availability. Almost immediately, the team was firing on all cylinders, tasks were completed on time, and on budget, and the overtime hours ended.
The second step was to create a team focused on supporting one-off requests and legacy applications to increase the overall productivity of project teams. With just the first step we achieved immediate success and increased the quality of life for the team. As the new group took over these tasks and the project team was able to focus on the project activities, the metrics went from 15-30% of project delays to 0.
The final step was to eliminate the collection of a metrics that now consistently reported 0 as it no longer had value and the team was able to use nominal project metrics based on task completion to measure their progress. Metrics that do not change, or do not point to a specific problem or progress point should be eliminated to avoid wasted effort.
The value in collecting a few simple metrics with a defined set of problems to evaluate was demonstrated quickly by identifying the issue, developing and implementing a strategy, and monitoring the metrics to ensure the effectiveness of the strategy. Leveraging that information enabled the team to take action, measure the results, and adjust as necessary. Actionable information is a critical and valuable tool for any effective manager and is a necessity for a Project manager facing real-world critical problems of delivering on-time, on budget, and meeting expectations.