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Best Metrics for Project Management

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 8/13/2009

This article is part four of a five part series answering questions concerning project management. In this article, using the best metrics for project management is discussed.

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    Photo credit J the B via Flickr As a savvy project manager, you already know that metrics are vital for managing projects. There are so many systems for tracking metrics that it can be overwhelming to know which system is best. Without focusing on systems here, it is important to look at what makes for the best metrics. Metrics should be measurable, reportable, and meaningful.

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    Measurable

    You can’t keep metrics for your deliverables if you can’t measure anything about your project. This seems simple enough. It also isn’t enough to track “yes” and “no” type data. This discrete data does not inform project managers of very much. Rather, the best metrics data will be continuous. Not much information is gathered if you ask customers, “Did you enjoy your wait in line?” However, if you time how long a customer stood in line, you can gather some useful information.

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    Reportable

    This aspect of gathering data for metrics involves two components: That the data can actually be gathered and that gathering the data is relatively easy for team members.

    Sometimes data cannot be gathered. Either the data is so obscure or no measuring instrument for that data set exists. Other times, the data is indiscernible, incomplete, or otherwise problematic to collect. Data like this will not be reliable or reportable.

    Sometimes team members are unable to gather data. If you are trying to increase sales of video games, the precise names and addresses of owners of specific games is not a feasible metric to follow. Team members just won’t have the capability to follow this. Data should be easy for team members to collect so it will be more likely to be reported.

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    Meaningful

    While the number of units sold in one day might be meaningful for someone trying to increase sales, the weather in New York City on that day will not be meaningful. While this is an obvious example of metrics that are irrelevant to a project (unless the unit being sold is an umbrella or weather insurance), other irrelevant metrics are collected for projects. Below is a brief list of the best metrics to keep track of for a project:

    • Time - You may want to keep track of how close your team is coming to performing on schedule
    • Budget – This one is important. If you don’t track your budget you cannot know if you are going over budget on a project
    • Milestones – Again, tracking milestones is pretty important. If you don’t know what milestones have been met, how can you know what your team still needs to do? How can you know if things are proceeded as scheduled?
    • Status of Deliverables - This can include the sales, quality, quantity, etc. Anything having to do with the status of deliverables as it relates to your project should be recorded.
    • Customer Thoughts - Are customers satisfied with the project? Do they like the product? Why or why not? How can the product be improved?

    In your project, it does not matter which system of metrics you use. What does matter is that you use some system of metrics to measure the progress and success of your project.

Five Great Project Questions

This article series looks at five great project questions: Does a Project Charter Include a Scope Statement? How do I know the planning phase is complete? How can I evaluate a resource's reliability? What metrics are best for project management? and What do you do when the client wants it now?
  1. Project Charters vs. Scope Statements
  2. How Do I Know the Project Planning Phase is Complete?
  3. How Can I Evaluate a Project Resource's Reliability?
  4. Best Metrics for Project Management
  5. Clients and Deadlines - How to Handle Deadline Change Requests