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6 Vital Signs on Project Health June 30, 2011

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Project Management.
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There are multiple tools and measures available to manage projects. Here are 6 metrics that provide vital signs to monitor project health. These metrics can assist you to identify trends and define your level of comfort during implementation. They are also useful in communicating status to your team and stakeholders. Additionally, they help identify when to stop a project and provide the data to support that decision. Based on an article I read a long time ago, I have recapped the salient points in this post and included additional comments.

Health Monitor

Here are the 6 vital signs :

  1. Critical Path status – this is the big picture view of how the project is tracking. It accounts for factors such as budget, resources and time. Use ratios of 15/20/25% as a vital sign. If the status of the critical path is off by 15%, identify tasks with your team to get back on track. If the status hits 20%, use change control methods to adjust scope, increase budget or reduce quality with buy-in from the stakeholders. When the critical path status hits 25%, suggest the project be shut down.
  2. Deliverable hit rate – A measure of the team’s success at completing project subtasks or deliverables. This also indicates pace and how well your estimates are tracking to the project schedule.
  3. Milestone hit rate – Similar to deliverable hit rate but refers to major task completion of the project.
  4. Issues vs. deliverables ratio – Simply the measure of the number of issues (or, problems) raised during the execution of the project divided by the number of remaining deliverables. When you have more issues than deliverables, you don’t have a plan anymore, you have Swiss cheese. How fast you close these issues is key as well and is connected to the deliverable hit rate.
  5. Planned budget vs. actual – Using the same ratios as with critical path of 15/20/25%, if the project goes too far over budget, check the return on investment (ROI). The stakeholders will need to decide if the costs are still justified by the benefits.
  6. Planned resources vs. actual – Includes employees, hardware, software and time. Measure this the same as planned vs. actual budget.

How your organization uses project management will determine how many of these you can use. You may not use the critical path method (CPM) to track projects. There is a built-in assumption here that collecting the data signs will not detract from other project tasks. It also implies that your team will embrace this in addition to, or, replacement of whatever monitoring practice is currently in place. If you collect these measures and routinely monitor them, you have a good idea of your project health. Use these or tweak as fits your style and organization.

I appreciate that you can use this to communicate with the team and stakeholders. I like the vital signs 2, 3 and 4 – hit rate measures for deliverables, milestones and issues. Charting these and displaying them on a regular basis provide great performance indicators that your team and sponsors can easily understand. Trends are visible to all and your team may even provide solutions before you ask. Remember, shutting down a project is not a sign of failure – it is always a valid recommendation. Having the data and trend supports the decision.

There are many ways to run projects. As a project manager, you will use a lot of different styles, tools and measures.  I have used success criteria based on QA results, stoplight traffic controls and even the statistics from the project schedule to communicate project progress and health.

What signs do you use to measure project health? What are your favorite, time tested ways to monitor progress?

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1. A project is more than a schedule | Ritter's Ruminations & Ramblings - April 26, 2015

[…] are ways to find out why a project is not aligned with the schedule. From a previous post, here are six signals to […]


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