Project Management

4 Ways to Measure Discrete Effort (Part 2)

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

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Categories: measuring performance


In Part 1 of this article I talked about two ways to measure discrete effort: percent complete and fixed formula. Today I’m going to share the other two options: weighted milestone and physical measurement.

As a recap, discrete effort is the name given to the work required for an activity that can be planned, measured and ends up with something specific as the output. If you are doing work that directly leads to the completion of a deliverable, that’s discrete effort.

There are different ways to measure this type of work in a project using earned value management, or even in projects that don’t apply EV measures but still need to track progress (like: all of them). I wouldn’t use discrete effort measurement techniques for every single task on every single project, but they are available to you if it makes sense to use them. This is the benefit of tailoring 😊

Weighted milestone

The first one to look at today is weighted milestone. This is similar to fixed formula in that the value is apportioned to the work as the activity progresses, but it’s based on milestones.

Divide the work package into measurable chunks that are attached to and end with milestones. For example, a work package might include a couple of weeks of design work before a document is created. There could be a milestone at the end of the last of a series of design workshops.

When those milestones are reached, the activity earns the progress based on whatever breakdown you have assigned to each milestone.

So how is this different to fixed formula? It’s different in that it suits longer term work packages. Fixed formula is best for short activities, those that don’t stretch over more than two reporting periods. Weighted milestone progress tracking is an option for when your work package runs longer than that.

Ideally, each milestone should be a tangible ‘thing’ as well: some kind of interim result.

Reporting works best when there is at least one milestone within each reporting period, otherwise you aren’t able to tell if work is on track as it won’t have moved since the last report. You don’t get credit for any deliverables leading up to milestones where the work isn’t completely finished. In other words, it’s the achievement of the milestone that triggers the tick in the box, not the progress against the tasks leading up to it.

You don’t have to equally split the work across the different milestones. The ‘weighted’ part of this way of measuring progress allows you to apportion value across all the milestones. Allocate the appropriate amount per milestone, but don’t worry about limiting yourself to a regular split if that doesn't work for you.

Physical measurement

Physical measurement is a way of tracking progress for things that can be counted. If you are working on something that has a specific, tangible way of measuring in a physical way, then this is the option for you.

For example:

  • Number of holes dug
  • Quantity of concrete poured
  • Number of widgets made
  • Number of people vaccinated
  • Area of hotel grounds landscaped
  • Number of computers installed.

If you can measure it specifically in a real world way, then that becomes your measure. You should agree it in advance so everyone knows how the effort spent will be tracked and reported on.

This is the easiest way to measure performance against a task, in my view. If the task is to landscape the gardens at 3 hotels, which totals 15 acres, of which you’ve done 3 acres, you get a pretty good idea of how much there still is to do. Stakeholders tend to understand this way of measuring straight away.  You can also translate the measure into percent complete if you feel the need to represent it in that way.

Do you use either of these two methods for tracking progess on your projects? If not, why haven’t you tried them yet? I think there is a certain ‘comfort blanket status’ that stakeholders attribute to percent complete as a way of monitoring performance against plan, but if we can get them away from that, then other options provide a different way (and often more realistic way) of measuring progress.

Posted on: November 23, 2021 08:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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Thank you, Elizabeth for these analyses on the measurement of discrete effort. I can identify with this breakdown. My question would be to understand where does cost, schedule, and other measurement forms complement discrete effort.

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