Why project metrics matter

by Dr. Mark Bojeun

Would you travel in a car across the country without a gas gauge, speedometer, map, and cash balance information? Many project managers attempt this trip by operating without the numbers needed to define progress, obstacles, financial rate, and performance of their projects. Without the key information provided by metrics, a project manager will continually face unnecessary challenges, obstacles, and surprises.

Project managers are experts at juggling multiple balls in the air, balancing needs versus costs, schedules, managing tasks, deliverables, and keeping teams focused on delivering successful deliverables. Yet many of the same project managers are resistant to performance metrics. The collection process can be painful, there are often questions concerning the identification and usability of specific metrics, and the efforts are unique and not operational in nature, so any use of metrics requires investment in time and analysis.  

PMI recommends earned value analysis, anything beyond that is not necessarily clear. Custom metrics for projects must be identified based on the type of work that is being contemplated and generated out of risk management exercises. Metrics should be based on the types of things that can go wrong and on experience in similar technologies and past initiatives. Leaders should lead with information; it is critical for a successful project manager to operate with the inclusion of team members to ensure that all perspectives are considered when creating metrics for a project.  

Project metrics are critical success factors to clarify the understanding process, teamwork, environmental challenges, and spending rates.  Through actionable intelligence, project managers are better able to recognize risk, balance resources, and achieve strategic objectives while maintaining the cost, schedule, and scope baseline of initiatives.  

Project managers should identify metrics that can be collected easily, provide transparency, and generate value. Metrics that are inconsistent or do not reflect the actual work being performed are not helpful.  Useful metrics are those that are tied to performance, provide insight, knowledge, and identify actionable information to project managers; this will help them plan, adjust, and when necessary, react to external and internal influences. Effective metrics are identified before and during, project execution to provide meaningful data for strategic decision making to ensure the project is accomplishing its objectives while meeting the constraints. Metrics are identified, evaluated, created, and completed during initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and controlling. New metrics are often generated out of risk management sessions to identify as early as possible, the realization of a risk. They are further reevaluated in lessons learned to analyze their overall effectiveness and usefulness in the future.  

Each project differs in the metrics that are collected, and each set of metrics is tailored to the culture, environment, and challenges faced in that particular project. There is no one size fits all for projects, while many project managers may have preferred “go-to” numbers that they have found useful in the past. Here are five general guidelines when working with metrics:

  1. Metrics require planning and analysis.
  2. Metrics answer questions that identify issues, obstacles, and risks (opportunities and threats).
  3. Metrics provide information that once acted on, will either change the project positively or negatively.
  4. Metrics tell a story about the progress the initiative is making or lack thereof.
  5. Metrics can be lagging or predictive learning and tell the story of how well you have done, or what the prediction is for the future.  

Project managers recognize that there is a balance between the cost of metrics collection and the value and insight it provides. Metrics are useful, only when they provide information that was not already apparent and can be used to drive decision making.  


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