The Most Important Project Measurement: Looking Foward
When your project is in trouble, you must change the way it’s working. Change the behavior of your team. The most important project measurement is not whether it is arriving on time; that train has left the station. To arrive on time, you must stop losing it. To stop losing time, you must change the behavior of your team. The right measurements will drive the right behaviors.
Stop Losing Time
One of the biggest challenges in project that is behind schedule is stop falling further behind. So the first priority is “stop the bleeding”. Preventing things from getting worse has little to do with the plan, no one’s using it anyway. Rather than re-baselining the plan, focus on the process of execution first. Change what people are doing. This is where you’re losing time, so let’s focus on the things that will make the biggest difference in the least amount of time.
- Get your team looking and working forward to get out in front of any problems
- One team, one goal to speed decision making
- Control task priorities to reduce multitasking and boost productivity
- Go faster by systematically leveraging the bottleneck of the project
- Set your execution tempo and quickly respond to problems
Once you have accomplished these things, you can turn your attention to regaining time.
Looking Forward; Visualize Your Project
A visual representation of the project helps your team: they can see where they are, where they’re going, and the major obstacles to moving ahead. Making your project or portfolio process visual prevents information overload, exposing previously hidden process problems. This is not a substitute for your project plan; the basics of a plan or process is required to build to your board. The visualization is a summary of your plan, to be managed by the team.
A visual project board (VPB) provides tangible feedback that everyone can see and understand. If there’s a bottleneck or a gap, team members don’t waste time finding the focus areas, they’re obvious. They problems are visible, no longer hidden. It solves the “living in the past” problem because the VPB points the way towards completion. It helps get the team out of the weeds and into sorting out only the biggest problems that block progress.
Present your project visually – so your team can quickly communicate and grasp the project status. It eliminates the debate about where things really are, so you can move into action. It sets the stage for the next thing you must accomplish: active collaboration.
Build the Measurements that Reinforce the Behavior You Want
When your project is in trouble, you typically have only a few concrete measures of success. Delivery date – you’re late! Budget – it’s out of control! Scope – it doesn’t work! These outcome-based metrics are not very helpful in telling you what’s wrong. After all, if you know what to do, it would have been done already!
Going back to the early warning signs. These are the problems; you must find solutions. How can you know if these behaviors are occurring? If these behaviors are happening, your project will continue to lose time. To refresh your memory, the early warning signs are:
- Living in the past
- Conflicting Goals
- Shifting Priorities
- Wandering Bottlenecks
- Slow response to problems
Turning your troubled project around begins with deciding what you want to see, every day. To stop losing time, you much change the team’s behaviors to the opposite:
- Focus on the future – proactive management
- Alignment with the project goal
- Stable priorities – less multitasking
- Focus on the project bottleneck
- Quick response to problems
Focusing on the Future – Managing Proactively and Promptly
The project team that spends all its time on status updates and fighting the fire of the moment has little time or ability to manage what’s coming. To manage what’s coming, the team must be able to see what’s coming. That’s why visualizing your project is important. Once the project is visualized and broken down to its deliverables, you can measure your team’s future focus.
To know if your team is focusing on the future, you must identify on what they should be focusing. Focusing on the future could mean they look forward to the weekend. I want my project team to focus on risk. What could go wrong? What could create a delay? What is not known?
Once they’re identified, are they being mitigated? Resolved? When your team is focused on the future, risks are systematically identified and resolved before they affect progress.
Focusing on the future has three elements:
- Identification of risks
- Mitigation or resolution of those risks
- Before they affect the project
To measure the behavior, you can simply count risks and how many of those risks never become obstacles. In other words, they do not delay the project, (within limits, because risk mitigation is not free) increase costs, or sacrifice project deliverables.
When we visualize the project, we use a red dot on cards to identify tasks that are stopped and yellow dots that are risks.
Your measurement of this behavior is the number of yellow dots per week versus the number of red dots. If people are systematically identifying risks, yellow dots will be rising or will be stable and red dots will be declining or stable. Managing your project team’s ability to focus on the future is as simple as that.
To measure promptness, we measure the duration of a red dot. What we want is quick response to any problems that stop project progress.
Reinforcing the future oriented behavior will transform the dynamic of your team. Rather than excuses, they’ll bring solutions. Rather than surprises, you’ll find alternatives. Fewer obstacles, faster progress. You’ll stop losing time because your team is looking ahead. They’re solving problems. Systematically. That’s what you want!
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