Project Management

The Money Files

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

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Lessons about project metrics

False Urgency

5 More Cost Types to Include in Your Business Case

7 Types of cost for your business case

New Year Goals: 2023 Edition

5 Ways to Make PMO Metrics Work Better

You probably measure a range of things on your project. I’ve seen PMOs track number of open risks, projects closed this month and other numbers that are pretty much meaningless out of context. Here are 5 ways to make your metrics work better and give you more useful information, inspired by the Measuring What Matters report from PMI.

1. Measure more often

A study by PMI and PwC found that only 41% of PMOs were consistently measuring and reviewing performance. If you don’t measure regularly, how can you monitor trends?

They also found that around half of PMOs spent time communicating to the C-suite about milestones and project impacts. I know that in some organisations the PMO doesn’t have a direct line to the execs (although I think they should). Improving the perception of the PMO relies on the right people having the right information.

Action: Make sure you have a regular schedule for measurement so you can capture and track trends.

2. Collaborate up the organisation

Another thing highlighted by the PMO study was that metrics are often set by people who are not the PMO and who are not C-suite execs. Whether you are a project sponsor, senior leader or project manager, make sure you involve the right people in the conversation about what should be measured.

More collaboration between the PMO and delivery teams and the executives responsible for setting strategy should mean that you are measuring stuff that demonstrates whether the organisation is getting closer to the strategic goals.

Action: Check your measures are in line with the strategic vision for the company and that the right people were involved in coming up with them.

3. Focus on outcome-based measures

Outcome-based measures are those that reflect what was achieved on the project in terms of deliverables and change. They are different from the project management measures of time, cost and scope. (Note: those are still useful, but they aren’t the only thing you should be tracking.)

Projects exist to deliver change. That’s what is important: the impact that the work has on the organisation.

Action: Review the measures you are using to track your project and see which of them are outcome-based. Is that enough?

4. Review measures regularly – and with the right people

Once your measures are set up, keep them under review. Make sure to get input from a wide range of stakeholders: those who are collecting data for the measure, those who are using the measure for decision-making, the PMO and the project team, along with anyone else who has a stake in the outcome.

Reflect on whether the numbers or results are telling you what you thought they would. Do they provide accurate, reliable data that can be applied to different projects in a meaningful way? If not, why? Perhaps the measures need tweaking to make sure they properly serve their purpose.

Action: Schedule time to reflect on the usefulness of the measures you have in place.

5. Define success

Finally, define what success looks like. What parameters for your metrics represent a ‘good’ score? Below what level would you need management intervention? What are the red flags that would push the project into an Amber or Red status?

Capturing data is one thing – but being able to use it is something else entirely. In addition, some of the more ‘fluid’ desirable outcomes like cultural change or customer satisfaction are harder to grasp with a single number. You might need to combine several metrics to get a full picture of the current performance levels.

Action: Review the parameters that trigger action for your measures.

Posted on: September 07, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

9 Financial Management Tasks for Program Managers

In this part of my occasional series on program cost management, inspired by The Standard for Program Management (Fourth Edition), I’m talking about 9 financial management tasks that you should expect to do as a program manager.

  1. Identifying changes

First up, be aware of what might be coming over the horizon to influence the budget baseline and what factors are leading to changes. This is basically being aware of what might create a change so you can be on the look out for any changes. It’s proactive listening and always considering what a course of action might do to your budget.

  1. Monitoring for impacts

Part of the daily work of a program manager is keeping your eye out for any environmental factors that might impact the program overall, and budget changes are part of that. These could be environmental factors like changes in regulation, access to skilled resources from the local hiring pool, or access to the right technology – anything that could have an impact on the budget.

  1. Managing changes

What happens after you scout the horizon for things that might change your program budget? You find things. Part of a program manager’s tasks is to manage those changes. The change could be to scope, to the schedule, to the resource profile, procurement plan, or anything else, and we have to play back what impact that is going to have on the budget and build in the changes.

  1. Monitoring cross-project impacts

As I mentioned in my last article, part of my role as a program manager is being able to shift funds between pots to ensure the overall program goals are met. That’s what this task is all about: monitoring the impact of what happens when costs are reallocated and making sure that overall the program components are balanced – or at least as balanced as they can be.

I mentioned cross-project impacts in the heading, but programs often include an element of BAU work and that can just as easily be affected by changes.

  1. Monitoring supplier contracts

Some suppliers might be contracted at a program level, so it’s the program manager’s job to ensure that suppliers get paid in line with their contracts. With one supplier I worked with, we had contractual milestones in place. When each milestone was reached, another stage payment was due.

Part of my work was ensuring Finance was aware that a stage payment was due so they could have the right amount in the bank accounts ready to pay when the time came.

  1. Earned Value Management tasks

If your program uses earned value management, you will work with control account owners, project managers and other experts on the team to make sure EV practices are implemented and adhered to. Part of the role will also be making sure everyone can interpret the outputs of EV reports and manages their part of the schedule accordingly.

  1. Dealing with over and underruns

It’s unlikely that your program will be perfectly on budget every month because that would rely on your estimates being perfect and no ‘real life’ happening during the work. It’s more likely that you’ll be a bit under or a bit over.

Part of the program manager’s role is to manage within that tolerance and to advise and support project managers on the program to do the same.

  1. Working with stakeholders

Another big part of program management is communication and engagement with stakeholders around changes. The sponsor, customer, client and governance groups (including auditors) need to have access to transparent information around the program’s financial measures. You have to provide that.

  1. Managing within tolerance

Finally, the main, most obvious part of the role is to manage the program’s spending within the levels expected. You may have set tolerance at individual component level, or there may be other ways you are managing to within the expected parameters. These should be clear, so everyone knows how the work is being tracked.

And, if you spot that you are not managing within the parameters and boundaries set, then as the program manager it’s your role to take steps to get back on track, whatever those actions might look like.

Posted on: July 19, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

4 Ways to Measure Discrete Effort (Part 2)

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)

4 Ways to Measure Discrete Effort (Part 1)

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. The effort involved directly links to the delivery of the thing you are creating.

There are four ways of measuring progress on a task that is managed with discrete effort. Even if this description of what discrete effort is doesn’t make much sense to you, you’ll start to realise what tasks are appropriate to be planned in this way when you see how you track them.

The four methods of measurement are:

  • Percent complete (yes, that old favourite!)
  • Fixed formula
  • Weighted milestone
  • Physical measurement.

Now you see how to measure the work on these tasks, can you think of some activities that use discrete effort on your schedule?

I have to confess to spending many years using percent complete before I ditched it: it’s not really suitable for business change projects where the output doesn’t easily break down on a percentage basis. On one project we used weighted milestones, as that aligned with the contract agreement for billing.

All the methods have their place.

In this article I’m going to look at the first two: percent complete and fixed formula, and then in the future post I’ll dig into the others.

Percent complete

Percent complete is exactly as the name suggests: the measure is an estimate of how much has been done in percentage terms, tracked at the end of each reporting period.

Ideally, it should be based on some kind of measurable thing instead of just a number that the team member has come up with. Have you ever been in a meeting where a task is reported at 90% complete for several weeks? I have. In the end, Chris and his 90% complete became a running joke. There was always something his team was working on that was 90% complete – but not quite ready to be signed off.

With percent complete, the planned value (PV) represents the time-phased resource needed to finish the work package. Earned value is then calculated by multiplying the percent complete by the budget at completion for the work package. In other words, you simply use the relevant percent complete for the budget. If the budget for a work package is £100, and the task is 60% complete, the EV is £63.

That makes it easy to work out.

The challenge with using percent complete is that it is not easy to work out. You need to do so in an objective way, and that kind of goes against the grain for many stakeholders, especially team members who haven’t worked in a disciplined EV way before. They might be used to providing very subjective guesses for percent complete, and that’s really not what you are going for here.

Often people use hours worked as a guide for percent complete, but again that’s not always 100% accurate. You could have worked half the time but the deliverable only be 20% complete. The remaining 80% will be achieved with the remaining work hours. So you do have to be a bit careful about how percent complete is implemented – this is why we document how performance will be measured so there is no ambiguity.

Fixed formula

The fixed formula method of progress tracking relies on there being a formula you can use (the clue is in the name). You assign a specific percentage of the budget value of the work package when the work begins. Then the rest of the budget (or time) is assigned when the work is completed.

For example:

A task starts. You assign it as 25% complete, in terms of budget and/or schedule. Then when the work is finished, the work package “earns” the remaining 75%.

You can do this as a 50/50 split or any other breakdown that works for you. Obviously, the total assigned to each milestone in the work package must equal 100%. You don’t have to limit yourself to an allocation at the beginning and then another at the end: if it makes sense to split the task into 5 and assign 20% of the value at each of those fixed points, then do that instead.

This is a good method for allocating value in environments using earned value management, or where you have to report progress at work package level but don’t have the data to track things hour by hour to give you an exact percent complete score.  It’s also a very easy method to use. Once you have your formula set up and your assignments clear, you can just get on with doing the work. The performance measurement will be pretty seamless, as long as you are confident work is progressing to plan. And there’s no cajooling the team into coming up with measures that are a few percentage point higher than last week just to prove something has been done in the last 5 days.

Good for: short duration tasks.

Remember that the percent complete assigned isn’t reflective of the actual work done or costs incured. Stakeholders need to understand the limitations of this method.

There is a variation of the fixed formula method which is 0/100 percent: in other words, the task doesn’t ‘earn’ anything until it’s done. There is no progress or performance measure assigned to it. The work is either fully complete or not done at all.

This is a good option to use for deliveries or where the deliverable is coming from a third party and being tracked outside of your project. For those tasks, the activity is either not finished, or done. For deliveries, for example, the materials are either on site or they aren’t. There isn’t much point in assigning progress when they are en route, as that doesn’t really get you any closer to the end goal.

Fixed formula is a flexible way to think about performance measurement in earned value settings, but it’s also helpful for projects that are not using EV.

Do you use percent complete or fixed formula? Or something else? In the next half of this article, I’ll talk about the other two methods: weighted milestones and physical measurement. See you then!

Pin for later reading

discrete effort

Posted on: September 27, 2021 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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