Project Practitioners > Measuring Accomplishment, Not Activity

Measuring Accomplishment, Not Activity

By Niel Nickolaisen

Rather than writing about program and project management trends I see for 2009, I thought I would vent about a trend I hope to see in 2009 – meaningful metrics and measures.

A few years ago a technology company asked me to work with its software engineering team to finalize how it measured software productivity and quality. My first interaction with the team was to review the metrics they had already defined and agreed were important. The head of engineering proudly fired up the projector so that he could show me on the big screen the 63 metrics the department had decided were critical.

I was taken aback, “63, do you think that covers it all or are you missing some?”

The head of engineering was not yet used to my cynical observations and so replied, “Well, there were some others that we could not get consensus on but that some felt were important. They are on a different worksheet.” He then highlighted a different tab to show the 19 other metrics that could have made the cut and continued, “If you think these are worth including, I am sure we can figure out a way to get them in.”

I looked around the room. This group had put a lot of effort into defining these measures and I did not want to devalue their work in any way but . . . 63 metrics? My personal rule of thumb is that I need to distill work down to 5-7 metrics. Any more than that and I am likely trending into meaningless measures. But, how could I get that point across without causing harm?

Then, I had an epiphany. I said, “I have found that good metrics help us discriminate between activity and accomplishment. With the right metrics, we know that we are getting things done, not just being busy. Which of these metrics – and it might just be a subset of what you have defined – align with getting the right things done; making progress on the critical business goals?”

With this, we launched into a great conversation about meaningful metrics. We ended up with 7 measures that met my guidelines. The agreed-upon metrics:

·         Were focused on measuring progress towards business goals – thus meeting my accomplishment over activity goal.

·         Were few in number – otherwise the shear volume makes them meaningless.

·         Motivated the right behaviors rather than being something used as a weapon against others.

·         Were designed to measure processes, not people. Meaningful metrics help us identify when processes, not people, need to be fixed.

·         Were simple to measure and simple to understand.

I have found it is easy for us to define metrics based on the mistakes of the past rather than on what we want to accomplish in the future. It is also easy to overcomplicate our metrics and end up contorting ourselves to the point that our metrics get in the way of accomplishment. So, to start 2009, let’s hear it for meaningful metrics.

Related Links
Make sure your selected projects are really good opportunities, and not just good ideas. Team members can keep each other updated on activity without micro-management using standup meetings or simple status reports.

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What were the 7 measures?

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