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Four tips for using metrics on your project

Identifying, gathering, and leveraging the right mix of metrics is a way to gain better control of your large project. The value can be quantified in a number of areas including:

1. Improved performance of the overall project fulfillment and delivery process
2. Improved estimating for future projects
3. Validation of duration, cost, effort and quality objectives for the project
4. Identification and communication of best practices
5. Improved client satisfaction

In general, metrics provide a more factual and quantitative basis for understanding how you are doing and the things that can be done better. Without at least some basic metric information, all discussions on performance and improvement are based on anecdotal evidence, perceptions, and guesses. Collect metrics, even if they are imperfect and imprecise. They still provide a better foundation than recollections, perceptions and guesses.

Collect the metrics you’ll use

You don’t want to collect metrics just for the sake of collecting them. Of course, you need to collect any metrics that are mandatory for your organisation. In addition, you should collect any other metrics that are needed by your particular project. However, if you don’t have a purpose for the metrics, or if your project isn’t long enough that you can really leverage the information, these customised project specific metrics are not worth collecting for your project.

Make sure the value of collecting a metric is worth the cost

Just as there is some cost associated with most project management activities, there’s a cost to collecting and managing a metrics process. Some metrics are interesting, but don’t provide the type of information that can be leveraged for improvement. Some metrics are just prohibitively expensive to collect. The cost to collect each metric must be balanced against the potential benefit that will be gained. Start by gathering metrics that your organisation requires. Then add metrics that have the lowest cost and effort to collect and can provide the highest potential benefit.

Make sure your metrics tell a complete story

The problem with many metrics is that they’re reported in a way that doesn’t tell a complete story. The project manager and project team may know what a given metric is telling them, but other people accessing the information may not.

One way to help is to always report the metric along with the target. For instance, if you report your current expenditures to date, also include your expected expenditures at this point in the project. If you report that your project has spent $100,000 so far and your total budget is $150,000, the reader still doesn’t have the context to know whether this is a good or bad situation. Sure you’re under budget, but the work is not complete either. The better way to report this information is to state that you have spent $100,000 to date and that according to your estimate you should have spent $110,000 at this point in the project. If the trend continued, you estimate the final cost of the project to be $135,000 versus your budget of $150,000. If you report the metrics with this context, your readers can understand what the numbers are saying.

Train your team in the purpose and value of metrics

The general definition of "metrics" is not always obvious. The project manager may be trying to create a metrics program for a large project, while the project team doesn’t make the connection between gathering metrics and the business value received. This disconnect may affect the client as well. The project manager should take the time to explain why metrics are needed and how the information collected will help drive improvements. Likewise, the team should understand how to look for metrics that will provide an indication as to the state of a process or a deliverable. Educating the team and the client will help the project manager obtain better metrics with less work effort and less pushback.