Project Metrics Overload! – Keeping Your Metrics Lean and Efficient

Keeping tabs on a project (or program’s) progress is of critical important to the project manager. The success (or failure) of a project can often hinge on the effectiveness of the project manager in being able to spot issues that may be arising and deal with them in an efficient and expedient manner.

There are numerous attributes to a project. From resources to tasks to timelines, the various pieces that make up a full project’s structure can become quite complex.

A common fallacy within the world of project management (and also in other fields), is the tendency to try to track every possible metric that exists. The general concept behind this technique is the assertion that more is better.

While it is important to track progress and specific items pertaining to a project/program’s general success criteria, there are potential downsides to attempting to track too many attributes. Doing so can make the overall project more unwieldy and complex then it actually needs to be. Furthermore, tracking too many metrics can actually devalue key metrics and cause them to be lost in a storm of data. The project manager may also discover that he/she is spending so much time maintaining these unwieldy data sets, that other aspects of their core responsibilities will fall through the cracks.

Based on all the aforementioned, what sort of criteria should the project manager be tracking and what steps can they take to avoid the deluge of unnecessary and sometimes irrelevant data?

Keep Things Lean

Whenever you are looking at setting up the specific metrics you wish to monitor, always try to start out small. A good rule of thumb is to use the Triple Constraint as a frame of reference and general guide for the metrics you will want to monitor. (For more information, please view the post: Scope, Time and Cost – Managing the Triple Constraint)

A simple concept would be to just create three metrics to monitor based on the aforementioned Triple Constraint attributes. From there, you can look to expand your metrics pool as needed. But remember to do so sparingly. As indicated, the more metrics and data sets you add, the more cumbersome and complex it will become to maintain and monitor your project or program.

Bring Core (Critical) Metrics to the Forefront

Not all metrics or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are created equal. As such, there will likely be certain indicators of project performance and status that you will want to have readily available and easily obtained. When you are composing your metrics reports (whatever format they may be in), always ensure that the core critical metrics and KPIs are always viewable FIRST. So for example, if your standard report is an advanced Excel Workbook, ensure that the key metrics will exist in the first few worksheets of the full report. It is also advantageous to provide a more terse summary worksheet that will focus all the key metrics into concise packets for easier viewing. This also becomes especially important if you are using this Workbook as your primary distribution medium for project members, stakeholders or the sponsor.

Set Up a Concise Set of Dashboard Metrics

Nowadays, most companies will have some internal software system that allows for the creation of reporting dashboards. Dashboards are a fantastic way of creating dynamic and easily viewable mash-ups of the primary metrics pertaining to your program.

A dashboard, in general, should be something that is easily viewable in a single pass and requires minimal amounts of scrolling. Which provides further validation of the premise of this article in that simple is almost always best.

The type and nature of your own dashboard will be defined by you. But it is imperative that the dashboard is also something that is obvious to those who do not always necessarily have as much understanding of project metrics and KPIs. As such, from a visual standpoint, it is important to focus on chart types and display concepts that are more intuitive to a wide variety of individuals from varying backgrounds. (For more information on better project metrics display techniques, please feel free to access the post: Conveying Project Status – The Simplistic Approach)

An example of a well structured dashboard that is conveying project status and specific KPIs is provided below:

(Above graphic provided by ProjectManager.com)

For those individuals who are either freelancing or working in situations where a good dashboarding solution is not available, you should consider the website ProjectManager.com. It provides a robust and relatively inexpensive cloud dashboarding solution that is easily configurable and sharable for anyone with internet connectivity.

Maintain Different Dashboards Depending on Audience

A final note on dashboarding: while it is important to convey key information in a dashboard that is easily viewable and requires minimal scrolling, that does not mean the project manager has to sweat over trying to determine which metrics to add and which to leave out of a dashboard. Virtually all dashboarding solutions are designed in a way that allows you to store multiple dashboard types and layouts. As such, a project manager can create different dashboards that target different audience types. One dashboard could, for example, be configured to show KPIs denoting resource distribution and task loads which would likely be used by project team members or their direct management to determine who is working on what. Additionally, a high level dashboard showing overall project health and timelines might be something that would be viewed almost exclusively by the project stakeholders or sponsor. As you can see, different dashboards designed effectively, will provide different outputs or views depending on the target audience. One note of caution: a project manager may simply start creating dashboards at their leisure thereby undermining their efforts to keep things lean. Whenever possible, try to ensure that you leverage existing dashboards and their content for different audience types and only create ancillary dashboards if you feel that it is too difficult or impossible to provide all the data summations for the different user types in a singular view.

Conclusions

Keeping your metrics easy to decipher and not overwhelming is important to not only the project manager, but their constituents and team members. As alluded to earlier, focus on keeping your displays as simple and readable as possible. Avoid data inundation. And remember, if it is confusing to you, it will most certainly be confusing for someone else.

Project Management Metrics – Key Techniques

A project, by the definitions provided by the PMI institute, goes through five distinct phases or ‘process groups’:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and Controlling
  • Closing

All areas are crucial to the success of the project and each need to be handled with due diligence. But to ensure the eventual success of the project, it is necessary to have systems in place to determine if everything is moving along smoothly. And this is where defining, setting up and continuously monitoring metrics and specific reports inherent to the project become paramount.

The nature and type of reports (and metrics) being presented can vary depending on the type of project and the actual technical attributes of the project’s primary deliverable. Manufacturing plants may rely on one of set of metrics while software releases may rely on another. Knowing which metrics types to leverage is an important consideration for the project manager. Not being cognizant of certain key pieces of data or metrics can lead to things being missed or problems being overlooked. That is why the project manager must be vigilant in this regard.

With that being said, what are some of the key metrics types that a project manager may wish to leverage for his/her project?

Time Metrics

From the standpoint of metrics, this is usually the project schedule itself. All projects should have some sort of timeline, complete with key milestones and target dates. By having this schedule drafted up front, the project manager will be able to determine how things are proceeding with the project. Extrapolation can be used in conjunction with other key metrics to determine if project schedule slippage is a concern or not.

Cost Metrics

When referring to project costs, this is basically the project’s primary budget. Most projects will have a budget of some sort with payouts performed either up front or on a schedule basis. (Example: a quarterly budget) From the standpoint of how to manage the budget, having an idea of the general cash flow of the project is the best mechanism for ensuring that the project budget is being maintained. So if the project manager has a metric of some sort that is monitoring cash flow of the project on a monthly basis, he/she will be able to adequately estimate if there are any potential cost over-runs that could occur.

Resource Metrics

Every project will have a set number of resources allocated to it. This is the human capital portion of the project. These resources are usually broken down by skill set and assigned to specific portions of the project. The amount of man hours or ‘level of effort’ that each resource contributes needs to be monitored on an individual basis. This will allow the project manager to determine if any resources are not keeping up with their workload or are becoming overwhelmed. There is sometimes a natural tendency for managers to allocate work to their most skilled resource. But one must be mindful of the workload that resource has on their plate already.

Scope Metrics

From the standpoint of scope, this refers to the primary enhancements or features inherent to the project deliverable. The scope should be defined up front, in the initial planning stages. Scope can change during the project release cycle, but caution must be taken as this will affect the overall project as a whole. (For further information, please read the post: Scope, Time and Cost – Managing the Triple Constraint) In order to ensure that overall scope is being handled, the completion rate of features needs to be monitored. This can be achieved by either monitoring the features themselves individually, or by using trend analysis to determine completion rates. (i.e. open/close rates or burndown charts) This trend analysis will give progress on scope but also allow for extrapolation to determine if target milestones can be met based on the outstanding scope remaining on the project.

Quality Metrics

As the project matures and the deliverable is being produced, ensuring the quality of the deliverable becomes a very important attribute of the project. As such, the metrics in relation to that quality also need to be monitored on a regular basis. Generally speaking, issues (bugs) with a particular deliverable are being discovered and cataloged during the product’s life cycle. The project manager should be monitoring these issues as they are discovered and resolved. Normally, a trend chart can produce a curve of issue discovery and resolution, usually by monitoring open/close rates of those issues. The curve should swing upwards at the initial stages of the project, normalize (flatten) and then begin to decline. This trend can be extrapolated against to ensure that the quality level of the product deliverable will be at acceptable standards at release time. Note that different release cycles (alpha, beta releases) will also cause spikes to the curve. Factoring in those release cycles into the overall project life-cycle is also imperative. Note that depending on the process being utilized, quality may have a very high set of standards, such as a Six Sigma level. The project manager will also need to be cognizant of the organization’s quality standards and processes to ensure that the project conforms to expectations.

Action Items

Finally, if the project manager is keeping regular status meetings and maintaining engagement with the team, there will be action items that need to be cataloged and revisited on a regular basis. Every action item needs to be addressed as it manifests and no action items should ever be left unattended. The project manager should keep a running tally of what action items are outstanding, who is working on them and what the estimates are for their resolution.

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