In Part 1, I confessed my love for metrics and also talked about the need to understand the Critical Success Factors and Key Performance Questions that each of your stakeholder groups has. In Part 2, I talked about some of the challenges of implementation. Here, I’ll talk about the need to understand metrics in context and the need to be practical by using metrics as a tool but not as the only end in themselves.
Don’t fall in love with the numbers for their own sake. While front-line study managers are less prone to this danger, it’s important for managers and people with a portfolio view to keep this in mind. You need to compliment quantitative measures with an understanding and a qualitative assessment of what’s really going on. The numbers certainly tell a story, but they only communicate part of the story.
One way to address this is with systematic and brief project review meetings. These need not be lengthy or complex. A check-in, once per quarter or even less frequently, can be as simple as “what’s going well and what are your concerns?”
Because we’re all so busy, there’s an understandable tendency to assume no news is good news. Unfortunately, it’s not a good idea to rely on issue management, even if you have a good issue escalation system that you trust. A medium- or small-sized problem that’s being experienced by multiple teams across your organization is no longer just a small problem. Teams will often exert herculean effort to keep their projects on track – the project always wins – and that means that valuable resources are being wasted to overcome those extra challenges. In addition, proactive qualitative reviews will also surface “best practice” stories that may constitute Good News that you’d like to learn from and share.
The most valuable metrics programs then, will combine a focused set of quantitative measures with a project review mechanism that provides context and interpretation. Those quantitative metrics need to be refined and maybe revisited and revised periodically, particularly if they form some basis of an employee reward system. The qualitative information will provide another check point to make sure your view is fair.
I still love metrics, but I love them for what they allow us to do.