Leadership

Four tips for using metrics on your project


Identifying, gathering, and leveraging the right mix of metrics is a way to gain better control of your large project. The value can be quantified in a number of areas including:

  • Improved performance of the overall project fulfillment and delivery process
  • Improved estimating for future projects
  • Validation of duration, cost, effort and quality objectives for the project
  • Identification and communication of best practices
  • Improved client satisfaction

In general, metrics provide a more factual and quantitative basis for understanding how you are doing and the things that can be done better. Without at least some basic metric information, all discussions on performance and improvement are based on anecdotal evidence, perceptions, and guesses. Collect metrics, even if they are imperfect and imprecise. They still provide a better foundation than recollections, perceptions and guesses.

Collect the metrics you'll use

You don't want to collect metrics just for the sake of collecting them. Of course, you need to collect any metrics that are mandatory for your organization. In addition, you should collect any other metrics that are needed by your particular project. However, if you don't have a purpose for the metrics, or if your project isn't long enough that you can really leverage the information, these customized project specific metrics are not worth collecting for your project.

Make sure the value of collecting a metric is worth the cost

Just as there is some cost associated with most project management activities, there's a cost to collecting and managing a metrics process. Some metrics are interesting, but don't provide the type of information that can be leveraged for improvement. Some metrics are just prohibitively expensive to collect. The cost to collect each metric must be balanced against the potential benefit that will be gained. Start by gathering metrics that your organization requires. Then add metrics that have the lowest cost and effort to collect and can provide the highest potential benefit.

Make sure your metrics tell a complete story

The problem with many metrics is that they're reported in a way that doesn't tell a complete story. The project manager and project team may know what a given metric is telling them, but other people accessing the information may not.

One way to help is to always report the metric along with the target. For instance, if you report your current expenditures to date, also include your expected expenditures at this point in the project. If you report that your project has spent $100,000 so far and your total budget is $150,000, the reader still doesn't have the context to know whether this is a good or bad situation. Sure you're under budget, but the work is not complete either. The better way to report this information is to state that you have spent $100,000 to date and that according to your estimate you should have spent $110,000 at this point in the project. If the trend continued, you estimate the final cost of the project to be $135,000 versus your budget of $150,000. If you report the metrics with this context, your readers can understand what the numbers are saying.

Train your team in the purpose and value of metrics

The general definition of "metrics" is not always obvious. The project manager may be trying to create a metrics program for a large project, while the project team doesn't make the connection between gathering metrics and the business value received. This disconnect may affect the client as well. The project manager should take the time to explain why metrics are needed and how the information collected will help drive improvements. Likewise, the team should understand how to look for metrics that will provide an indication as to the state of a process or a deliverable. Educating the team and the client will help the project manager obtain better metrics with less work effort and less pushback.

10 comments
dpbakeril
dpbakeril

ditto to the complaints. However, if you look at just the paragraph titles and don't pay any attention to the bodies you do have four pretty good tips. Its just a shame there isn't any worthwhile information to go along with them.

mikifin
mikifin

Metrics are a hard sell. Managment sees them as time wasters, testers see them as more work and the fearful see them as a stick to beat them with.

bspallino
bspallino

More and more, I find myself deleting articles from TechRepublic before reading them because the tag line appears interesting, only to find there is no "meat." Once again, I find myself disappointed. Why, you may ask? The tag line sounded as though I was to read a breakthrough article providing information of import regarding the collection of metrics to assist in project management. Instead, I was treated to an article that basically said, "Collecting metrics, good" (what those metrics might be was never detailed). Also, "You don?t want to collect metrics just for the sake of collecting them." And, "Some metrics are interesting, but don?t provide the type of information that can be leveraged for improvement." Gee. Finally, though, I sensed meat in the "Make sure your metrics tell a complete story" section. Alas, it was a (pardon the inference, but I can find no other word for it) sophomoric discussion of why actual cost vs. planned cost is a poor substitute for Earned Value calculations, as well as a vague reference to EVM principles. There is a fairly well worked-out "science" to this topic (see PMI.org). Anyone unfamiliar with EVM would be a)lost, and b)unguided as to where to locate additional (applicable)information. Anyone familiar with the concept would be left with a mental "Duh" and ponder to themselves as to why they are bothering to read this article. I often sense that there is an internal TechRepublic deadline mechanism at work that pushes the editors and writers to publish "something" or be viewed negatively (Advertising perhaps?). Promising insightful information and providing "gobbelty goop" is a waste of everyone's time and, in some ways, a bit insulting to the readers. I would prefer quality over quantity, ladies and gentlemen and, in its absence, may just choose - delete.

Silverweed
Silverweed

I have to agree with the first response. This article was posted in a project management forum, so it is apparently aimed towards professional project managers. As such, I expected to see a little more meat on the bones. This content would be more appropriate for a novice category.

Chip Seelig
Chip Seelig

I could see your point if the title of the blog was, "Breakthrough Information Regarding The Collection Of Metrics To Assist In Project Management." However, this isn't the case. The title of this blog clearly dictates to the reader that enclosed are TIPS for using metrics. Furthermore, in regards to your comment about "Anyone unfamiliar with EVM would be a)lost and b)unguided...", they probably aren't going to be reading an article on tips for using metrics to begin with. If you're personally looking for more information, then go find it. You shouldn't criticize the author for what you misinterpreted in the first place. Moving on, I personally found that the blog contained some good information. Especially due to the fact that this is our first endeavor into a LEAN atmosphere, and any information like this really helps out us novices. Maybe in time we will feel a need for more in-depth information as you seem to need. When that time comes, I'll probably refer to a book, or seminar rather than a free blog. Cheers!

PonderousMan
PonderousMan

I think you may have out your finger on why Tom Mochal's posts seem to be increasingly irrelevant. Is his blog aimed at actual, experienced project managers, or newbies who haven't had any training or background? A basic intro course in PM (meaning a work week training course or semester class) would cover all the sorts of topics he keeps "helpfully" introducing... So for any of us who have seen this, these seem increasingly irrelevant. If Tom is intentionally aiming his posts for that audience, then he should make that clear, and tag lines should also be clearer. I did not think this article contained "tips", but rather general info about metrics. To me, "tips" would be much more specific, providing at least some flavor for the meat, rather than the general fluff these articles tend to have. Maybe you could start making it clearer when you are doing "intro PM" stuff, like labelling the posts "PM 101" or some such. Even having had some formal PM training, I would be interested in such a series, and it might help filter out those who would definitely not be. Also, with Tom's experience and expertise, it would be great if he could do some more in depth discussion of some topics... appropriately labelled, of course. *grin*

bspallino
bspallino

I am an avid reader Tom Mochal's TenStep website. I also signed up to this site (which sends items of supposed interest to my email) under the impression I would receive valuable information about Project Management. As a PMI certified PMP, I think I know how and where to find information. However, this is a "push" article, and I think I have every right to expect, in exchange for cluttering my email inbox and reading their advertisements, that they send something that meets a minimum standard. And, if can't air my views, don't provide a feedback box. Since you are a self-described "novice", let me paint a simple picture. Imagine you have subscribed to a Sys Admin site and this shows up in your email inbox 4 Tips for Smoother Server Installs Open the CD tray. The CD tray is important because mosts systems come on CD's. So, Make sure your's is working and open. Click the setup icon. Setup icon's start the setup process. etc. You'd be insulted. You'd think, there should actually be some tips, maybe some stuff I don't already know, because, after all why would a publisher bother to post an article detailing the obvious? Get it? As to your references to LEAN, my understanding of LEAN is that it relates to process improvement, not project management, so I guess I'm missing your point. Do they share the topic of metrics - probably. But, then again, so does just about anything else I can think of - but it doesn't make they related.

uFunctional
uFunctional

When you refer to a "LEAN atmosphere," is the is related to manufacturing, software development, or both? Maybe I can point you at some useful resources.

carmela.martinez
carmela.martinez

Agree with the most of the replies. For novices it?s still good, for experienced PM not worthed. I include my reply in my native language: la expectativa usualmente con algunos art?culos de TR es que no llenan las expectativas. Estoy de acuerdo que deben advertir para qu? audiencia es el art?culo y nos evitamos ciertas reacciones adversas. Saludos.

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