Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Project Manager’s Cycle – Validate the Metrics

“Okay, I’ve posted my hours now.”  “Great, thanks.  Let me check the reports…  It shows that you have four more hours to complete the task and that you’ll be done on Tuesday.  Is that correct?”
a)      “No, sorry.  It’s complete, I just forgot to update that part.”
b)      “Yes, that’s right.”
c)       “No, the mapping is more complicated than I thought.  It’ll be Friday, at least, before I’m done.”
The Project Manager’s Cycle involves taking in raw or rough data, processing, validating and acting on the data, then organizing the result into a coherent model for communicating to your stakeholders.  The initial data comes from reports by the project team members.  They report the state of their tasks relative to the plan, including progress/completion measurements for each of their assigned tasks.
The ideal source of the initial metrics is an enterprise project management tool, such as MS Project Professional with EPM, CA Clarity, or Planisware OPX2, where each team member updates the hours they worked on each task and the remaining hours to complete the task.  Without such a tool, the metrics may be percent completion values and changes to task end dates.  These are not as reliable, but they may be the best you have available.
Something that I have observed is that project team members, even veterans, have to be periodically reminded to make these updates and the expectations for reliability.  For example, the estimate to complete (ETC) must be re-estimated each week, not just reduced by hours worked, for it to be meaningful.  Alternately, percent complete values also need to be re-evaluated, not just incremented.
The project manager receives these metrics and is initially concerned with determining that they are within the expected norms.  That is, that the team member worked the planned number of hours for that week and that the remaining work is as planned.  Note that if the PM only focuses on hours worked (or percent complete), a major early warning indicator is lost.  Hours worked and hours remaining (percent complete and completion date) are a check-and-balance that the team member is progressing according to plan.
The first important validation is that team members are posting their hours accurately.  That is, that all hours worked on this project are posted to the appropriate tasks and only hours worked on this project are posted.  Otherwise, team members may under-report hours if they are experiencing difficulties or over-report hours to obscure time spent inappropriately on other efforts.
With accurate hours reported, any significant deviation, either positive or negative, needs to be flagged for follow up.  For example, if the resource is not contributing as many hours as planned, the PM should coordinate with the resource manager and the team member to determine why and how to limit impact to the project.  On the other hand, if they are working more hours, does that mean they are getting ahead or that they are having difficulties?
It is also appropriate to determine if team members have identified work that needs to be done that was not identified in the plan.  In other words, they need to report hours worked (or will need to report hours in a future period) and have no task to report those hours to.  Of course, as PM you will need to determine whether this work is new (maybe it’s included in the scope of another task), if it is new, whether it is in the project scope, and whether this needs to be addressed through change control or just not done.
Finally, confirm with team members which tasks are completed so they can be closed in the schedule.
Having an accurate and reliable schedule each week requires having accurate and reliable inputs from each team member.  Have you had success getting these from your project team members?

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