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.