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Be a better leader by picking the right project metrics

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Savvy project managers understand the interplay between the metrics we use on a project and the project environment.The metrics we choose to use on a project influences the project environment, our ability to manage and the project’s performance. By selecting the right metrics, we can positively impact the project and be more effective project managers. 

Here is an experience one project manager shared with me about coming into a new consulting position where she did just that. She implemented specific metrics to build a bridge between senior corporate leadership and the project team. At the end of the project, it paid off with successful project performance. This is a real world situation but the names have been changed.

This consultant, let's call her Joanne, was brought in to help an agile software development project to get on track. She was a non-employee, consultant project manager. Joanne recognized that senior management, especially the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), used metrics to understand the performance of the projects in their portfolio. The agile team, however, struggled to explain their progress in these terms, regarding them as bureaucratic overhead. It was crucial that Joanne build a communication bridge between the agile team and senior management. She needed performance metrics. She determined which metric to add based on a careful read of the environment and an understanding of the agile framework. She chose to focus on providing accurate metrics through which she could translate project progress to corporate leadership and show them how her efforts moved the needle on improving project progress. At the same time, she adopted a “servant leadership” style that enabled her to work effectively within the agile team.

The key senior manager whom she felt it was most important to connect with was the CFO. Consequently, she implemented highly numerical metrics to which the CFO could relate. This was smart thinking. By focusing on numbers-based metrics she was able to communicate effectively with the CFO. In the world of communication theory, we would call the metrics she focused on a “boundary object.” That is, it was a communication object that facilitated effective communication between different people. She built trust by having effective communication. Through that trust, she also built credibility and gained acceptance by the project team. With her help, the project was not only delivered on time and on budget with the desired value to the customer, it was also perceived as a success by senior management.

Mark Phillips is the author of Reinventing Communication: How to Design, Lead and Manage High Performing Projects published by Gower.

APM members can claim exclusive discounts on How to Design, Lead and Manage High Performing Projects and a range of Gower titles, click here for more details.



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  1. Mark Phillips
    Mark Phillips 25 May 2014, 07:37 PM

    Pat,Thanks for the kind words about the presentation at PGCS at ADFA and your comment. Sorry for the delay in responding. I had a chance to read Lynda's article from your comment.  Competely agree that KPI's, like all "rules" can be gamed.  (I knew we would've had some good conversations at the Symposium.)The aspects I'm bringing out here are1. Metrics/KPI's can actually function as communication tools to facilitate effective leadership and trust building, particularly when they are structured as Boundary Objects and;2. There are clear and well defined steps we can take to create, measure and optimize a project's Communication Objects and design of the Communication Environment to support our project goals. This second point is the crux of the method discussed in my book. Joanne, in the blog post, did an outstanding job of doing just that, and the results of her project demonstrate it.Communication is too important to leave to chance. An awareness of the importance of communication can be augmented by Communication Design metrics that allow us to measure, track and optimize the communication choices we make. The metrics also facilitate scaling communication best practices across an enterprise. Here's a quick video on the importance of communication and the metrics.All the best,-Mark

  2. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 09 May 2014, 11:13 AM

    Totally agree Mark! The selection of KPIs determines what is important and how people react to situations.  The importance of selecting the right measures is discussed in Measuring up to good project KPIs at I really enjoyed your presentation to the PGC Symposium in Australia last week.   Pat.