Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice about how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario, based on real-life situations. He then offers a solution, using practical project management practices and techniques.

My job as project mentor for Blue Sky Manufacturing Company is satisfying in a number of ways. But am I really providing a quality service and value to the organization? I know my boss will ask me those questions when the budgets are prepared for next year. I could send him the compliments I’ve received via e-mail and offer some anecdotal evidence based on verbal feedback, but I want the discussion to be more fact-based.

The ultimate indicator of my value might be a measurable positive impact on the cost, timeframe, or quality of the projects. But can I show that my advice was the reason a project was delivered in four months instead of five, or that a project was completed for $80,000 instead of $100,000? Probably not. There are too many other factors at play that prevent me from divining my precise contribution to a project’s bottom line. Even if I tried, the numbers would be speculative as well as time-consuming to gather.

A quicker and less intrusive way to get feedback on my performance is to use a customer satisfaction survey. Although this type of survey can boil down to a popularity contest, if I get enough feedback, I should discern a pattern that will indicate whether I am on the right path. If I collect the information consistently over time, I can also document trends that will demonstrate whether satisfaction with my performance is improving among the project managers I advise.

Mentor advice
Project managers on midsize and large projects should gather metrics to provide a sense of how the project is progressing. At the end of the project, metrics can provide an indication of whether the project was successful, and they can move a performance discussion from opinion-based to fact-based.

If you’re not used to capturing metrics, you should start small and build from there. For instance, all project managers should be able to gather metrics about effort hours, cost, and duration, and compare actuals to estimates. Measuring product and service quality is more difficult. One approach is to develop processes that will capture defects throughout the project life cycle. These processes are usually burdensome, however, and can be prone to manipulation.

A much simpler approach, and the place to start, in my opinion, is to construct a survey to measure customers’ and stakeholders’ satisfaction. The survey can ask about customers’ satisfaction with the quality of the solution, using evaluators such as acceptable response time, works as designed, good online help, and so on. Feedback can be gathered on the quality and service level of the project team by asking questions that assess customers’ satisfaction with team responsiveness, knowledge, flexibility, and ability to meet commitments. Once the initial survey metrics are in place, other questions can be added to paint a more detailed picture of whether the project was successful.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project-management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America, and has developed a project-management methodology called TenStep.

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