Was it Worth it?

01 June, 2015

Many organizations and indeed many individuals make changes without ever giving thought to whether the change will improve matters or not. We seem to rely on gut instinct to determine if our investment in change is worth it or not. Being in charge of change agents – namely projects – Project Managers need to be able to tell if their project made a difference.

Often Project Managers focus on their triple constraints and clearly demonstrate that the project fell within budget or was completed on schedule. But they rarely report if the project achieved its aims of positioning the organization in a better place. That is left to others to consider. In some cases, this is easy to do. If a product is losing sales and the organization charters a new product development project then a boost in sales when the product is launched signifies a success. Similarly, if a step in a production process takes ten minutes on average and, after the introduction of a new machine, it takes five minutes then we have seen an improvement. However, other changes are more difficult to quantify. What is the return on training investment or a new compensation and benefits scheme?

But difficult or not, anyone managing a project should make themselves aware of what the overall success criteria for the project are and ensure that these can be demonstrated at the end of the day. For Project Management Professionals (PMPs)® and those studying for the PMP® exam, measurements appear under Project Quality Management and this whole section seems to relate to manufacturing. Tools and techniques such as run charts and control charts seek to analyse how consistent a particular process is, not how effective a single initiative is.

Do not dismiss the quality knowledge area because of this though. In your PMP® studies, you will have noticed that one of the inputs to Plan Quality Management is Requirements Documentation. You will also remember that requirements must be testable and measureable, or else there is no way of telling if the requirement is met.  The wise Project Manager will take particular care to learn which of the requirements are critical to the project’s success and will ensure that these are met. For example, if the project is to develop a new version of an existing vehicle, the main concern of the organization may be that the new model uses significantly less fuel than the previous one. Pay attention to these measures – they will provide evidence that your project was a success when it completes.

One aspect of measuring that confuses many Project Managers (PMPs® or not) is terminology. The terms “metric”, “measure” and “measurement” are used regularly and often are applied interchangeably. It is useful to be clear on what each of these terms mean.

A “measurement” is what you have after you have measured something. It is an actual number. However, for it to make sense that number needs to be associated with a unit. For instance, if I said I weighed “100”, what does that mean? However, if I said a weighed 100 kilogrammes, you might advise me to lose weight, whereas, if I said I weighed 100 pounds, you might be concerned that I was too thin. The unit used is called the “measure”.

A “metric”, according to the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), “specifically describes a project or project attribute and how the control quality process will measure it”. So a metric combines both the thing being measured and how it will be measured. So, if fuel economy is our metric, we will specify in our Quality Management Plan that we will fill the tanks of both the original and the new models to the brim and then drive both at 100kph for ten minutes on a flat surface.

The problem with this type of metric though is that it is what is called a “lagging indicator”. If we are at the stage when the new model car is ready to be driven at 100kph, there is not much we can do if the fuel economy figures are not what we want. Instead we should develop metrics that are “leading indicators”. For instance, we might run the original and the new engines on a test bench for an hour at 3,000 revs and compare the fuel consumption. We might also compare the relative weights and drag factors for the two models. In other words, we want to be able to predict during the project if we are on target to meet our requirements.

Some metrics are called “Key Performance Indicators”. If your project has Key Performance Indicators associated with it, make sure you achieve the targets set. Key Performance Indicators are metrics that track what the organization has identified as “Critical Success Factors” – the areas that the directors of the organization feel are vital to the long-term success of the enterprise.

So, make sure you understand what is expected of your project and devise metrics that will demonstrate that you have met your goals. In other words, do not dismiss Project Quality Management just because many of the tools/techniques listed relate to production-line consistency. Remember that your requirements must be testable and measureable, so be prepared to gather useful measurements.

Velopi’s PMP® exam preparation courses cover all the project management knowledge areas, including Project Quality Management. For more details of these courses, please visit our training page, or contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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