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Episode 378: Project Metrics (Free)

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Denise McRoberts
Denise McRoberts and Cornelius Fichtner

Setting up a PMO usually means setting up some Project Management KPI (Key Performance Metric). But which?

This interview about PMO metrics with Denise McRoberts was recorded at the PMI® Global Congress 2016 in San Diego, California. We discuss her paper and presentation "Meaningful Metrics -- The Path toward Measuring what Matters". Here is the abstract:

"The project management office (PMO) was in a rut. The number of projects in work at any one time was increasing; project managers were routinely reporting that all was well while schedules slipped, and there was limited understanding of true project costs." Does this sound all too familiar? In this session, attendees will learn some innovative methods to implement metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to better understand your organizational weaknesses and how to overcome them. This session will provide a case study on how a PMO did just that, with plenty of practical examples

You will learn what makes a 'good' metric, how metrics should be developed, and that we also need specific project metrics and project portfolio metrics.

Click to download the white paper Click to download the handout with metric samples

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner:  Welcome back everyone. You are listening to the Project Management Podcast™ at and we are coming to you live from the sunny town of San Diego in Southern California where we are at the 2016 PMI Global Congress and with me right here at the end of the day is Denise McRoberts.  

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner:   Hello, Denise

Denise McRoberts:   Hi, Cornelius. How are you?

Cornelius:  I am very well but the more important question is, how are you, you’ve just literally walked out of your presentation.   

Denise:   I did. I’m doing great. I think it went excellent. I had a great crowd. They actually had to switch the rooms around because there was a lot of pre-registration so we had a full house and it was a lot of fun. We had a lot of good questions at the end as well.

Cornelius:   Excellent.  That’s always what you want to hear. The topic of your presentation is Meaningful Metrics, the Path towards Measuring What Matters. What prompted you to want to speak and write about metrics?

Denise:   That’s a really good question. There’s a lot of different paths towards what prompted me to speak. The first one really was earlier this year, I was leaving for lunch, I work in Rockwell, Texas and one of the frequent—my favorite fast-food joint because I really like their spicy chicken sandwich and I was sitting in line in the drive-thru and noticed that they had a new sign out front of the drive-thru. That sign said: “It was our pleasure to move 150 cars in our drive-thru yesterday from noon to 1 PM. And I thought man, that’s a really interesting performance metric that they’ve chosen to display here in the drive-thru. As I was sitting there I had a lot of time to think about that metric and assess whether I thought it was good or not. During this whole process, I really visited this fast food chain frequently and looked at their performance numbers over time and started asking questions from the people that were operating the drive-thru about their metrics and I just started thinking about what makes a good metrics, or what makes a good metric and I started relating to that to our organization knowing that we had a whole lot of metrics that we’re measuring and wanted to figure out and make sure that we really had the right metrics and why. So I started pondering that and diving deeper into it, really assessing whether our current metrics program was accurate and became interested in that topic I’d done in MBA as well so I have a lot of experience. I’ve led other projects where we’ve actually evaluated on process improvement efforts for various organizations and determining if they have valuable metrics. It got me thinking and I started looking into it more and it inspired me actually to submit a paper.

Cornelius:   All because of a sandwich.

Denise:   All because of a spicy chicken sandwich. [laughs]

Cornelius:   Wonderful. Let’s take a step back and also say that this is a case study. It is about one of the PMOs that your organization works with and we also have to acknowledge the fact that this was a very visual presentation. You have a lot of slide showing in color, what the metrics are and presenting them up and it’s really interesting to follow along and see and we’re doing an audio podcast. What are we thinking?

Denise:   [laughs] I was wondering the same thing. How can I explain the power of the metrics and how they look and so forth? So I think we’re going to have to see how it goes.

Cornelius: Right. We are going to try and get permission to take a few of the slides out of the presentation so that we can have them presented alongside over this recording here and if you now listen to this recording on the website and you see that additional presentation slide—those additional presentation slides, that means we did get permission and if you don’t see them anywhere, then we did not get the permission.

Denise:   [laughs]

Cornelius:   Let’s start at the beginning. Would you define the problem that you found?

Denise:   I work at a Project Management Office or within a Project Management Office and back in 2013, I was actually hired on because this organization had some very well defined processes within the PMO and they were doing a lot of things really good. However the downfall or what they were not doing was executing and delivering the final results on time. What our portfolio looked like is that we had a lot of projects getting submitted, in the pipeline and then we have a ton of projects that we’re in work that we’re all slipping on their schedules, we’re going over –budget, there was project managers that were spread too thin, there was a lot of resources that were spread too thin because they were working on six different projects at a time and so forth and so the end-result was not getting done. Really, we wanted to look at that portfolio and try and make a change which is why we looked into our metrics program to see how we could improve those processes.  

Cornelius:   What makes a good metric?

Denise:   That’s a good question. It does make a good metric. One of the definitions that I like for a good metric is by the Professional Practice Statement on performance measurement and metrics. They define a good metric as a meaningful measurement taken over a period of time that communicates vital information about process or activity leading to fact-based decisions. So I just read that actually off the slide here but there’s three aspects of that definition that I really like.

The first one is that it’s taken over a period of time. You can’t have a good metric that’s just static because it doesn’t give you any relation to other data points. That doesn’t mean anything, it’s very static in nature. The other thing I liked about it is the vital information piece. It has to align to your organizational goals and strategies and has to fit in to that so that it’s really impacting the processes or the activities that are important to that organization.

The last piece that I really liked about the definition is that it leads to fact-based decisions. You need to be able to assess and understand that metric and then impact change. You can follow up and watch that change through your metrics. So I really appreciated that definition. 

Cornelius:   Let me take this back to what we said earlier when you talked about the portfolio of the PMO to any projects there and everybody spread too thin, that was basically because no metrics existed or the wrong metrics existed.

Denise:   Right. We were looking at the number of projects in our pipeline, we were looking at end-dates and so forth but no one was tracking those end-dates to say, this is how many times this project has been re-baselined. Or this is what percentage we are over on schedule. Or this is how the cost financials are looking throughout the project. At any one point in time, looking that information and asking the key questions we needed to ask, both our project managers, our resource managers and the resources working on that project.  As a result they continue to go on longer than they ideally should.

Cornelius:   Then, before you actually went in and said, “Ok, we need metrics”, you started at a completely other end with the PMO maturity. Tell us about that journey.

Denise:    Yes. I really like a lot of the maturity models out in place because it gives you actually a number that you can use and it gives you a roadmap so essentially you can take any kind of maturity model and there’s a number of them out there and say, “This is how we fall on these categories. It assigns a number because you have level 0, which is non-existent processes all the way up to level 5 which is, optimized processes. So it’s the standard 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 measurement. You can say within each of those categories, "This is where our organization fits. This is where we belong because of the various items within that maturity". I like the maturity models because it gives you a number and then you can say, "This is where we want to be" and you can do a gap analysis.

Cornelius:   And of course the number is not just that number but they are definitions behind the number that says Maturity 2 is so and so

Denise:   That is correct.

Cornelius:   Maturity 3 is better in this area, does this, does that; Maturity 4 does that

Denise:   Yes. The maturity model that we use inside of our organization was loosely based off OPM 3 which is the Organizational Project Management maturity model and within that there are key definitions on where you fit on a number of different categories. In the case of our maturity model, we assessed ourselves against nine different categories and those categories are organization, strategy, leadership, people, process, technology, alignment, relationships and metrics. Within each of those categories, there are specific attributes. What constitute a Level 0, a level 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in those categories? We asked our organization's executive leadership to circle within each of those categories the attributes on where we fell.

Cornelius:   So, internal survey? 


Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

PDUs: Business Acumen, PMI Global Congress, Podcast Episodes About PMO, Project Management Office, PMI Global Congress NA 2016, Project Metrics

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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