Program management is about more than just tracking tasks and completion dates; it’s about optimizing the use of resources to get more done faster, better, and more profitably. Here’s how to approach program management metrics to improve the performance of your team.
In business strategy, information is king (or queen)—and project management is no exception. By using strategic program management metrics during and after a project, project managers can ensure a project is on track and on budget, resolve challenges before they become problems (like missing a major deadline or blowing the budget), and use trends and patterns to make adjustments to processes or resources to improve future performance.
The use of program management metrics takes the guesswork out of project management, helping to make projects more predictable, sustainable, and productive.
8-Step Practical Approach to Program Management Metrics
Below are eight steps for a practical approach to program management. These will help determine which project management metrics are best for your company, how to implement them more successfully, and how to use that information to make strategic adjustments.
1. Identify Your Project Management Goals
Your project management metrics approach should first start with an understanding of what is important to the company regarding project fulfillment. This can help guide the project management metrics you choose and how those metrics are analyzed.
Some common project management goals include:
- Optimal Productivity: Finetune systems to achieve the best output for the inputs.
- Improved Predictability: More accurately determine costs, timelines, and resource requirements to fulfill current and future objectives.
- Increased Gross Profit Margins: Maximize total profits and reduce the cost of goods sold to improve gross profit margin.
- Improved Customer Satisfaction: An increase in customer satisfaction scores, increased customer retention, decreased service complaints, or changes in reviews or responses online.
- Increased Employee Engagement & Satisfaction: Improved workflow to better engage and support your employees to improve productivity and reduce turnover.
- Decreased Actual Cost: Prevent going over budget on projects and optimize costs to improve profitability.
2. Determine Which Project Management Metrics are Right for Your Company
It’s important to choose metrics that are relevant to your company. Based on the project goals you selected above, which project management metrics must be generated to measure performance in these goals?
Consider metrics that help track:
- Time or schedule to deliver project output
- Scope of project deliverables
- Cost of delivering project output
- Quality of final deliverables
After you come up with your list of metrics, take a second to review and eliminate any metric that is:
- Similar to another metric
- Not vital or necessary to measuring performance
- Difficult or subjective to measure
- High effort, low benefit
Trimming down your list to the high-impact essentials simplifies the tracking and analysis process, and saves you unnecessary time, effort, and complication.
3. Choose Metrics to Track Ongoing Project Performance
Not all project management metrics are meant to be measured at the end of the project. Many metrics should track the ongoing progress of the project to make sure you’re on track with costs, timeline, and resource management. These metrics may include:
- Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP): This indicates how much of the budget has been spent to date for comparison to your projected need to make sure your spends are on track.
- Planned Hours vs. Actual: How many hours were used to date compared to the number of hours allotted?
- Task Completion: How many tasks are overdue compared to tasks being completed on time?
- Risk/Change Analysis: What, if anything, disrupts or changes project completion? Consider scope change, deadline/budget changes, change in resources, etc.
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4. Choose How Each Metric Will be Measured
Determine your standard of measurement for each project management metric. Will completed tasks be measured in number of total tasks or in percentage of total project complete? Are hours rounded up to the nearest 15 minutes or measured to two decimal points? Is cost variance measured in dollars or by percentage? How is project satisfaction measured?
5. Design Methods for Collecting Project Management Metrics
Measuring project management metrics for your company is important. However, it shouldn’t supersede the actual work being done. That’s why it’s important that the methods you use to track and measure your project management methods are relatively simple to collect and compare.
- Automated (Whenever Possible). In the perfect project management world, all metrics would be gathered automatically. Use project management software (with time and cost tracking) to automate data collection whenever possible. Any manual entries or subjective contributions are less reliable data sources. It also means it’s more difficult and time consuming to collect information.
- Timely. Information should be accessible in a timely manner. It should be available and analyzed before it becomes irrelevant.
- Consistent. In order for your data to be consistent to ensure accurate comparative analysis, your data collection methods need to be consistent.
Measuring program management metrics needs to be consistent, clear, and fair to all users. They should also be supported by real information and measured in a replicable way.
6. Note All Changes to Metrics or Data Collection Process
Your project management metrics are used to compare performance over time. This means if there is ever a change in the metrics you are tracking or how the data is being accumulated, it should be clearly noted in reports. This helps signal—and may even help measure—discrepancies in comparative analysis.
7. Measure Project Progress
The frequency with which you measure project progress depends on the length of the project and the amount of resources involved. The longer and more complex the project, the more important mid-project metric reporting is to track actual progress compared to budget and scope. This can help identify bottlenecks, mismanagement of resources, or other areas where adjustments could be made to improve project outcomes.
8. Always Complete a Project Debrief
Many companies make the mistake of tracking project management metrics mid-project but fail to complete a final project debrief. Debriefing the final processes and numbers can be one of the most beneficial data points for improving long-term performance.
- Risk/Reason Analysis. Were there any unforeseen risks or challenges that stopped or delayed progress on the project?
- Budget Analysis. Was the project below budget, on budget, or above budget? At what point did this trend occur?
- Resource Analysis. Which resources performed as anticipated? Were any less productive than anticipated?
- Project Analysis. Did the final project meet specifications?
- Trend Analysis. Are there any trends between this project and others that might signal a need to make adjustments to resources, budgeting, scoping, etc.
Don’t Go Overboard With Project Management Metrics
Don’t have too many metrics, especially if those metrics are similar. It’s easy to go overboard with metrics, especially when those metrics are proof of performance as a project manager. Measure the metrics you need to optimize systems, measure changes in performance, and measure important data points that inform business decisions such as hiring/resource acquisition but be selective and intentional. Don’t waste your time—or your supervisor’s time—with metrics that don’t provide significant information.
Don’t Swing Reporting to Improve Numbers
It can be tempting to set low goals or generous timelines to help improve performance outcomes. However, it’s important to remember that project managers aren’t working for the data; they’re working for the company. Remember that data points, missed deadlines, downward trends, or increased waste are a signal that something can be done better. The best project managers see decreased performance metrics as opportunities for improvement. Instead of trying to find a way to make the numbers look better, they dive into the data to find why a trend is occurring and fine-tune the system to improve the trend in the future.
Information is the critical component in doing things better, faster, and more sustainably. The best companies are those that do what they do well, do it consistently, and are always seeking to find ways to improve. Mavenlink is designed to accomplish that as a modern project and business management platform that provides businesses with an easier way to manage and collaborate on projects while empowering them with data.
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