Metrics in Project Management

by Crystal Lee, PMP


Metrics may not be the sexiest subject in project management, but the success of the project management office (PMO) you work in, indeed, perhaps your job as a project manager, may be dependent on whether you have a metrics program in place. In tough economic times, there are even more amazing opportunities for a PMO to prove its real worth to the organization. The information in this article can help you to create your metrics program or assess if your existing program is doing enough to justify your existence.

A metric, by definition, is any type of measurement used to gauge some quantifiable component of performance. A metric can be collected through observation, such as number of days late, or number of software defects found; or the metric can be derived from directly observable quantities, such as defects per thousand lines of code, or a cost performance index (CPI). When used in a monitoring system to assess project or program health, a metric is called an indicator, or a key performance indicator (KPI).


Metrics Management Defined

Intense interest in metrics within the project management community has spawned an entire subfield of study called metrics management. Project metrics can be categorized into three main categories:


  1. Pure project management measurements (Example: Estimation accuracy)
  2. Indicators of project success (Example: Stakeholder satisfaction)
  3. Indicators of business success (Example: ROI).

When reporting metrics to management, it is important to keep the time factor in mind. True success or true failure may not be apparent until long after a project is formally closed. For example, a new software application may turn out to be a colossal failure six months after it is put into production, when it finally reaches its planned usage targets.

Examples of macro-level metrics include: number of successful projects, percentage of failed projects, and number of hours spent per project or program.

At the micro level, metrics management means identifying and tracking tactical objectives. It is only by looking at the task level metrics that status of higher-level work packages can be ascertained, which can then be reported to project stakeholders and customers. Different types of projects will require different types of metrics—a software development project will call for different measurements than, say, a merger and acquisition transition project.

The following criteria are the most common tactical measures people want to be updated about:

Tactical Measure Question Answered Sample Indicator
Time How are we doing against the schedule? Schedule Performance Index (SPI) = Earned Value ÷ Planned Value
Cost How are we doing against the budget? Cost Performance Index (CPI) = Earned Value ÷ Actual Cost
Resources Are we within anticipated limits of staff-hours spent? Amount of hours overspent per software iteration
Scope Have the scope changes been more than expected? Number of Change Requests
Quality Are the quality problems being fixed? Number of defects fixed per user acceptance test
Action Items Are we keeping up with our action item list? Number of action items behind schedule for resolution