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Measuring up

It seems that there are a few things that we just can’t avoid. Measures of what we do are one of them. And with the year coming to a close, there is often reflection on ‘how we’re doing’.

Project management and related processes are no exception to this. I’ve been recently involved in an effort to develop a release management process that dovetails into a project management framework and application development life cycle process. As you might expect, a few questions come up on metrics:

  • What should we measure in the process?
  • How should we go about it?
  • What should we focus on first?

When looking at measures of any new process, my preference is to keep the number of items measured to a minimum. It’s important they are easy to capture and, indeed, reflect what you are actually trying to monitor.

Some may differ with my view on this and suggest measuring everything. They’ll argue this approach gives a better picture and provides more data for analysis of the process. I say its better to observe the process and talk to the people involved to uncover issues and potential improvement areas. Additional measures can always be added based on this ground work.

In determining what should be measured, it’s useful to consider four groups of measures: scope and scale, effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability. For each group I start with a basic question. If we were looking at an organization’s project management processes, these are the questions one might consider important:

  • Scope and scale: How many projects and what types of projects are we supporting?
  • Effectiveness: How effectively were projects in meeting their objectives?
  • Efficiency: How well were the activities conducted during the projects?
  • Sustainability: What has been done to ensure the project management processes remain a ‘value add’ to the organization?

From here you can build a series of metrics each question and grouping. So for effectiveness, we might measure the number of projects we completed on time; simple and easy to measure. Such simple measures provide powerful views when consistently collected over a period of time.

Weekly reporting within working groups of the process is usually a good starting point for frequency of reporting. Monthly summary reports issued to oversight committees are also a good best practice.

For new processes the focus might be on measure of scale and scope and effectiveness. As the process matures, a shift to more measures of efficiency and sustainability can serve to highlight process improvement opportunities and to justify changes.

Like death and taxes we can only avoid being measured for so long. Unlike these other certainties why not embrace a metrics program if for nothing other than to record and celebrate how well we’re actually doing?

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