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The Reason Why Project Management Tools Won’t Help You

What gets measured gets managed — even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organization to do so.
– Peter Drucker

Purchasing a professional project management software will surely help you track and measure different aspects of your work. But these tools will only help you optimize for success if you measure what truly matters. For the tools to be worth the investment, you need to know what your definition of success is and how to measure it correctly.

From marketers to developers, across departments and disciplines, both managers and employees are struggling with measuring their success.

A paper on Knowledge Management published by the American Productivity & Quality Center posits that:“when an organization builds effective measures and tracks metrics … then tracking the success of implementation, identifying key milestones, and showing return on investment become possible.”

Some think it is all about finding that one right project management tool that will somehow fix all the issues. The answer, however, lies within the types of metrics that get tracked.

Measure What Truly Matters

In the 21st century, the world has switched from manufacturing as the main driver of the economy to knowledge management and service-based businesses. The deliverables of businesses have changed, so should the measures of success. Executives have shown the tendency of evaluating the productivity of a knowledge worker with outdated metrics from the industrialization era – quantities and speed of production as the main measures of success.

Likewise, many managers also seem to demand these (often irrelevant for knowledge workers) metrics to evaluate the success of entire teams in the knowledge industry. Employees, in turn, have become conditioned to fulfill those quantifiable requirements because they help them feel productive and make it much easier to prove their worth to upper management as well as to themselves.

Set a simple numerical target as a goal for a knowledge worker and as soon as they reach that total, the perceived feeling of productivity will prevent them from going further. For example, “I wrote 1500 lines of code, I did great today”. All those lines of code, however, might be full of bugs, inefficiencies and might not even contribute to the final product. Therefore, tracking and evaluating the success of a developer with this metric is not actually representative of the worth of the work they did. The same goes for any other knowledge worker. This kind of obsession with fake productivity metrics hurts businesses and creates a dangerous illusion of efficiency and productivity. Companies end up with a lot of unnecessary waste when they allow irrelevant metrics to creep into their corporate reports. In turn, countless new projects get started but never finished, making all the efforts and resources put into them a total loss.

The definition of meaningful metrics for a project or a business, however, profoundly depends on the goals this business is pursuing. Success can only be measured when there is a reference point, in other words, a clearly defined, qualitative purpose.

Defining Goals

The data-centred world we live in became very cynical towards the goals that do not fit the SMART model.

However, the widespread popularity of this model has resulted in it being reduced to a simplified statement “your goals must always be measurable”. Unfortunately, this statement completely misinterprets the main point of the SMART model.

First of all, coming back to Business Management 101, you can only have one goal for each project you have. However, you can have several objectives and an unlimited amount of tasks that are associated with them.

Secondly, it is not even the goal that has to be SMART but your objectives and your tasks.

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  • The Goal is a vision, one uniting purpose of all the work that comes into the project.
  • Your Objectives are the measurable pillars that make achieving the goal possible.
  • The Tasks are the smallest possible building blocks of the objectives.

These three elements do not represent a hierarchy, but an interdependency – on their own, any of them is completely meaningless in terms of measuring success. That is why they need to be measured together based on different criteria.

How To Measure Success of Goals

The abovementioned common misinterpretation of the SMART model led to a popular belief that real business goals must at all instances be quantitative. In the corporate world, if your goal has no number in it, you are labeled inexperienced and your goal is dismissed as immeasurable.

In reality, the goal is the ultimate purpose of all work that comes into the project. That means, contrary to popular belief, that goals should actually be qualitative. The trick is, however, that qualitative goals only have the right to exist when they are completely backed up by 100% quantitative objectives and tasks.

Goals are the WHY behind the work. It is what keeps people going when the going gets tough. Having no WHY leaves you just as blind as having no metrics at all. The company’s WHY and that of each department is a compass, which helps unite the objectives and even daily tasks for a common purpose. Defining your WHY might be difficult, but you need it more than anything.

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Well-defined purpose makes employees feel part of something bigger than themselves. It has also been proven to encourage higher work engagement levels, boost dedication and motivation. What’s even better, according to a study by IMD Business School, purpose-driven businesses have 17% better financial performance.

If a tech giant like Microsoft was a startup trying to raise funds today, they would probably have to prove their goals are measurable enough and would definitely fail the SMART test.

Bill Gates’s goal for Microsoft was this: “A computer on every desk and in every home”.

Was that a “smart goal”? When do you know you’ve reached it? What is the definition of the “computer” in question? Every home on the planet or in the USA/state/town/building? …

Did Bill Gates actually mean that literally? If that’s so, Microsoft has still not achieved its goal. Does that mean they failed?

The truth is, this vision was the definition of the value Microsoft was aiming to deliver. Behind this goal, of course, there were very precise, measurable objectives and tasks that could support this dream. The beauty of this goal, however, is that it stayed relevant over the years and remained the driving force of progress for the entire organization. Limited quantitative goals, on the other hand, create a glass ceiling that stalls real growth.

Your goal is your compass, not a map – it gives you the general direction but does not force a specific route onto you. Maps get outdated, compasses do not.

To measure a qualitative goal, use the quantitative measurеments of its contents – the SMART objectives and tasks. To evaluate its success, the manager needs to look into using the data generated through execution of tasks and the team’s efficiency in fulfilling the objectives. The purpose can be considered achieved as soon as all the objectives are fulfilled and there is no need to further specify or set new ones.

Did Microsoft literally put a computer in every home? No. But they did play a significant role in making computers not just a piece of science lab equipment but a mainstream household item people want to see and use in their homes.

How To Measure Success of Objectives

If goals are the WHY behind our work, objectives are the measurable HOW. This is where the SMART model shines bright. Here you need to have clarity in the form of specific and measurable targets that explain how the goal is to be achieved.

Without the objectives, all the tasks that are performed, carefully tracked & measured by your project management tool will have no real meaning. Objectives are the connecting link between the tasks and goals. At this level, you can use metrics generated by tasks over the course of the work process to calculate the team’s or project’s overall efficiency.

Efficiency of an objective is defined by how long it takes to complete it and what part of that time the tasks comprising the objective were actively worked on, as opposed to the time spent waiting in queues. To get a deeper insight, managers could look at how much each task contributed towards the completion of the objective and how that compares to the resources that went into delivering this result. Analyzing objectives will also reveal what could be improved and optimized in the process to perform better.

How To Measure Success of Tasks

The quantitative measurability of tasks often lets them get quietly (and wrongly) promoted to goals. Common victims of this mishap are software developers. How do you measure the value of a developer’s work? Some managers came up with an easy and familiar method – counting how many lines of code they wrote, regardless of how well-written the code is or counting how many features they worked on, regardless of the extent of their contribution. They do not focus on the actual value (if any) it added to the product.

This metric has proven itself wrong (and hated) very quickly. The worth of the code, the real output, and purpose of the developer’s work is not merely writing lines of code. It is about creating clean & efficient code for features that solve the client’s problems. Moreover, it has to be a feature your clients will actually use or, no matter how polished the code is, it will render worthless. This will only end up fueling a cycle of aiming for quantity, not quality.

Instead, you would want to measure the average time it takes each developer to deliver a feature. Tying this to the level of difficulty of the feature would give you the measurable throughput of this developer. Success on the level of tasks is where the quantitative metrics from the industrial era make most sense. Yet, they still need to be evaluated in the context of their contribution towards the objectives.

For example, on the task level, a developer will be responsible for three features which will contribute to a monthly objective referred to as the ease-of-use release, which, in turn, contributes to an organizational goal. The important measurements here would be the timely completion of the functional features, the efficiency of the team’s process around the tasks from the release and the overall value contribution towards the end goal – namely, making a product people love. The measurements that are irrelevant are the lines of code in the feature and the features count of the release.


When talking about Goals, Objectives and Tasks it is important to remember they are not in a hierarchy of subordination, but in an interdependence.

To maximize your results with the help of project management tools, you should be measuring success of Goals, Objectives and Tasks simultaneously. In the software development example described above, success is measured in three ways simultaneously. More particularly, tasks as a qualitative measure of throughput, objectives as a measure of efficiency in the work process and goals as a measure of value created for the customer.

Measuring success is one of the biggest challenges of any project manager. To stop this challenge from becoming an obstacle, project managers must focus on measuring what matters instead of simply collecting all data. Making sure to focus on the most significant measurements for goals, objectives and tasks within the team will give the organization a chance at improving the results from each.

Only when measuring what really matters will the tools you choose to manage your projects become your biggest ally and strategic partner.

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