Stealthy Performance Measurement

Like most project management jargon, the term "performance measurement" makes the activity involved sound way more complicated than it actually is. Upon hearing this phrase, most clients will picture a series of lengthy working sessions that generate a set of metrics ultimately destined for a life of obscurity on someone's hard drive. How can we simplify performance measurement for our project management averse clients?

To answer this question, I looked to my personal goal setting processes. Most PMs have read that projects require goals that are SMART--specific, measurable, action-oriented, relevant, and time-bound. Once you establish your SMART goals, review them at some frequency of your choosing (I recommend weekly, monthly, and annually) to make sure you're on track to meet them. The purpose of this review is to clarify where you're falling short and why. For example, if you're struggling to get to the gym on Tuesday mornings, look at your bedtime routine on Monday night to pinpoint the reason you're sleeping through your alarm. Once you've identified the source of the problem (maybe you're staying up late on Monday nights to watch your favorite TV show), then come up with a solution (DVR the show to watch another time.)

Sounds simple enough, but it can be challenging to discipline yourself to initiate (never mind keep up with) a weekly review. And, your clients may not want to pay for it, even though project planning is arguably the most important criterion for project success. So, even though we've now simplified performance measurement for our clients by explaining it in these terms, they may still pooh pooh it in favor of doing "the real work" of execution. The question then becomes, in the absence of a formal performance measurement process, how do we stealthily embed performance measurement into project execution? My tips and tricks include:

1. Establish a project mantra. I set a yearly mantra that I use to help guide decision making. One year, it was all about being in control; therefore, decisions I made were designed to limit chaos. 2018 is about being bold, which reminds me of my anti-resolutions to speak up and abstain from guilt for taking risks. What is the mantra for your project? Maybe it’s training your most important stakeholder community. Maybe it’s cutting costs or eliminating waste. When your clients are struggling to make a decision, recall the project mantra. Unbeknownst to them, the clients are now measuring performance against the project goal!

Note: If your clients can't agree on the project mantra, that is a problem. Your project is doomed to fail if the group can’t agree on what the project is supposed to accomplish. At this point, I'd usually suggest a strategic planning session to come to consensus on the project purpose. If the clients still don’t have the appetite for something formal, be the annoying person that asks the hard questions. Why are we doing this? Does it tie to the organization's mission? What is the benefit? If you are as annoying as I am, this broken record routine should get them to realize something’s amiss.

2. Demonstrate project progress to stakeholder groups. This doesn't have to be as painful as it sounds. It could be a simple count of dollars saved, people trained, or systems assessed. Develop an infographic to display this information, and trot it out in your recurring communications to show how the project is moving the needle for these groups. Voila - your client has crafted a set of key performance indicators without even knowing it! Not only does the infographic make stakeholders happy, it also keeps up team morale when the going gets tough. Many PMs (myself included) are guilty of failing to record project accomplishments with the same diligence as issues or lessons learned.

3. Remind clients that the project sponsor is a key stakeholder. Sometimes, clients can get annoyed that their boss is asking too many questions, doesn't appear to be engaged in the project, or simply “doesn’t get it”. This is a surefire sign that additional communication is warranted. Maybe this means giving the sponsor a specific task to make them feel valued. Maybe this means briefing them more often than the client would prefer. While this item is not specific to performance measurement, I'd argue that an unhappy or confused boss spells the end of the project. Getting the pulse of the project sponsor is as good a way as any to make sure the project is performing as expected.