Manage by Metrics to Keep Your Project Healthy and Stakeholders Happy

Related Topics: Agile DevOps, Digital Engineering

by Josephine Panganiban, PMP – 

When you visit your doctor for a checkup, the doctor records a number of vital measurements: blood pressure, blood sugar, body weight, etc. Essentially, these measurements are metrics that reveal your level of health at the current stage in your lifecycle. It is the doctor’s job to interpret these metrics and determine if they indicate the need for some form of corrective action.

Project managers must also act as doctors, of sorts, continuously monitoring the health of a project throughout its lifecycle and overseeing the implementation of corrective actions when needed. Just like doctors, project managers can use vital measurements—metrics—as indicators of project health.

Is a Project Manager’s Job More Difficult Than a Doctor’s?

In some ways, it might be said that a project manager’s job is even more complex than that of a doctor.

Your doctor, after all, must only answer to one person about the state of your health: you. But a project manager (or other project leadership personnel such as project managers or delivery leads) must routinely report to a group of often anxious stakeholders including clients, users, and vendors.

However, unlike a doctor with a fully healthy patient, a project manager should always look for opportunities for improvement.

When your doctor determines that you are completely healthy, there is nothing more to do for your health until the doctor’s next visit. But there is really no such thing as a perfectly healthy project, as there is always room for improvement. It’s the project manager’s job to seek out and act upon the metrics that indicate less-than-perfect project health.

Just Saying “Everything is OK” Is not Good Enough

It’s very important that project managers are able to articulate how far the team may be straying from the desired result or target. When we say that we are “on target,” or that the project is doing “okay,” project leads should be able to quantify or measure what “okay” or “on-target” means. It is, after all, the project metrics which serves as our basis for crafting “get well plans.” As such, it is imperative that those metrics provide an accurate and detailed snapshot of project health.

This activity is what we call project monitoring and control, and it’s a huge part of project management.

Throughout the life cycle of the project, it is expected that we frequently take measurements of vital project metrics, analyzing them to help identify variances from the plan so that we can make proactive decisions that support keeping the project on track. Gathering and interpreting these metrics helps us gauge project performance, and provides an early indicator to risks or issues that may threaten project health.

Ultimately, the visibility and guidance provided by project metrics help prevent the project from going out of control, and curbs any surprise escalations.

Striving for Better than OK

The operational side of project management in relation to metrics focuses upon assuring that project health is OK. But another way to utilize metrics is in striving for continuous improvement.

This is typically the way to go for sustainment projects where there is a year-on-year productivity improvement target factored into the solution, or even for relatively stable projects where work becomes routine. We want to look for areas that we can improve upon, with the ultimate goal of providing more value to our clients.

The mantra so frequently heard these days, “doing more with less,” is all about being more competitive. And constantly striving for project improvement through managing by metrics is a great way to “do more with less.”

How to Utilize Metrics for Project Improvement

The first step in managing by metrics is to establish the baselines to be used for improvement targets. As with development projects, managers or leads are tasked to watch for pain points or project challenges, perform root cause analysis, and identify action plans for addressing identified problems.

In most organizations, it’s also important to determine whether the project’s performance falls within organizational standards, and holds at par with other similar projects in the organization, or with industry standards.

Project performance improvement may be accomplished through techniques such as process streamlining, task automation, and implementation of best practices, among others. Through the performance of these steps we are providing more value to our clients as we perform tasks faster, with less error, and likely with the consumption of fewer, or less expensive, resources.

Some of the metrics commonly used for monitoring project health and tweaking performance include the following:

  • Story Counts Delivered: Simply the number of stories delivered (a story is a particular business need).
  • Velocity: The amount of work a team can tackle during a single sprint, or the rate at which the team is delivering stories. Calculated by totaling the story points for all fully completed user stories. Can be used to predict what the team will be able to deliver in the future.
  • Cost Performance Index (CPI): Measures the efficiency of expenses spent on a project, calculated as the ratio of Earned Value (EV) over the Actual Cost (AC).
  • Schedule Performance Index (SPI): Measures the efficiency of project progress in comparison to the project plan, calculated as the ratio of Earned Value (EV) over the Planned Value (PV).

Both CPI and SPI provide a clear picture of the project’s health and help to identify problem areas early in the project.

  • Defect Density / Defect per LOC: The defects detected during a defined period divided by the size of the software. Can be used to:
    1. compare software products so that quality can be quantified and focus can be directed on those with low quality
    2. compare the relative number of defects in the software components so that focus can be directed to the high-risk components

Gathering and Checking Metrics

There are many tools designed for recording and processing data: time-tracking tools, ticketing tools, defect management tools, etc. These tools should be made available to project management and should be used to generate project metrics.

A common understanding should be established that will guide the types of data that will be populated with these tools. Guidelines should also be established for entering the data in such a way that accuracy will be maintained. (For example: Will waiting time be removed when entering hours spent on project tickets?)

A schedule should also be established for checking metrics. At a minimum, project metrics should be checked on a weekly basis. Ideally, especially for quick sprints, small development projects, and critical projects, metrics should be generated and checked daily.

Managing by Metrics Can Eliminate SO MANY Problems!

Managing by metrics certainly requires an investment in time and effort. But the payoff can be huge. Simply having the ability to assure that the project remains on target—or if not, knowing the same, and having clues for correcting the problem—is priceless.

Metrics monitoring can prevent incorrect perceptions of a project from ever taking root. Metrics provide project management with the power to support communications to stakeholders with firm facts and figures instead of best-guess estimations. And metrics can also be used to compare project progress with industry or organizational standards.

Without monitoring your personal metrics, your doctor would be unable to assure that you stay healthy. Similarly, monitoring your project’s metrics are just as important in assuring that your project stays healthy and on-track for achieving project goals.

Because the only thing worse than a sick project? That would be a project that you don’t know is sick!


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