There is only one way to measure whether a project is a success or a failure—with data.
Thanks to project metrics (and the right tools to track that data), it's now easier than ever to crunch the numbers on previous projects to see where we went right and what task ended up causing a major delay.
Project metrics give agencies the tools they need to track performance and spot problems before they become catastrophes. We're talking about everyday issues that successful project managers need to deal with like meeting deadlines, sticking to budgets, and keeping everyone working productively.
However, it’s hard to decide what project metrics you should focus on (there are a lot.)
Should you track individual performances or team productivity? Does it make sense to look at every single piece of project data?
Or should you pick a couple of key metrics to focus on?
Take a breath because we're here to help you simplify all of this and break down things like:
Why are project metrics important?
Why project metrics are not project KPIs?
6 essential project metrics agencies should track
Why are project metrics important?
Project metrics are used to track the progress and performance of a project.
Monitoring parts of a project like productivity, scheduling, and scope make it easier for team leaders to see what's on track. As a project evolves, managers need access to changing deadlines or budgets to meet their client's expectations.
What makes project metrics so important is that they can give team leaders a 10,000-foot view of any project in their pipeline while it's in progress. In fact, the 2020 State of Project Management report from Wellington found 54% of workers don't have access to real-time project data.
Armed with real-time data, agencies can:
Analyze the health of a project
Solve problems during the project (and not after it has been delivered)
Evaluate and change course if budget or resources are in danger
Create forecasts to make future project spending and scheduling more accurate
That’s why we think of project metrics as fire alarms.
Instead of figuring out how the house burned down, project metrics help you spot fire as it starts so you can quickly extinguish it.
Project metrics are not the same as project KPIs
We'll say it one more time—project metrics are not the same as project Key Performance Indicators (KPIs.)
Metrics and KPIs tend to get jumbled together a lot of the time, which can be confusing when team leaders decide how to measure project performance.
It is easy to tell the differences between the two:
KPIs are mainly used to compare specific data points like budget variance, billable hour ratios, and cycle times.
Project metrics are more encompassing so you can track productivity metrics like utilization, scheduling, and realization to get a broader idea of what's actually getting done.
So what exactly should your agency or organization use to measure performance or improvement? Read on to find out.
Six project metrics you should start using now
1. Scheduling due dates and changes
One of the most critical parts of any project is meeting deadlines and milestones on time. And one thing is for sure, clients don't like ever-changing deadlines without specific reasons.
The challenge is most projects don't hit their deadlines. According to Standish Group, only 35% of projects are considered successful.
This is a huge concern for businesses, which is why monitoring project scheduling, due date changes, and overall progress is an essential aspect of the project management job. Tracking these project metrics gives you more insight into:
Tasks: Were they completed on time?
Milestones and deadlines: Was the project delivered in line with the estimated date?
People: Were there enough team members for the assigned tasks?
Now, there are a lot of data points you need to track to paint an accurate picture of scheduling. Using a tool makes it much easier for team leaders to understand how healthy a project's schedule is.
Take a look at how Teamwork.com tracks a project schedule from 10,000 feet:
In this example, we instantly see that the book launch isn't going so great. As of now, three of the tasks are late.
But the project manager or team lead can use Teamwork.com to dive into which tasks are late, when they were originally due, and who is responsible.
Now that the project manager knows that Emer is running behind on the design review for the project, they can reach out for an update or reassign the task completely to whoever has the available time.
It's also crucial to track schedule variance. This is where you look at the cost of the project's scheduled tasks and compare it to work completed.
The final figure shows whether or not you underspent, met, or exceeded the project's overall budget. If the schedule variance figure is negative—it's at risk of being delivered late and costing too much.
2. Scope creep
A scope outlines the expectations of every project in your pipeline. So it makes sense to track the scope once work starts, which will make your clients much happier.
To accurately measure scope, you need to track:
Delivery dates (and delays)
This is a lot easier if you have a clearly defined scope before the project actually kicks off. If youstruggle to create watertight scopes, please steal our free project scope template here.
3. Team productivity
Tracking productivity helps team leaders see how much work every person is getting done.
If you have all of a project's inputs and outputs defined and track them once a project kicks off, it's easier to do this accurately. Ideally, you want to track your team's input (like project hours) isn't more than their output (the amount of work they're getting done.)
Figuring this out is pretty easy. First, choose the productivity metric you want to track, like how many tasks a person has completed, and then you can:
Measure a time period: Like hours, days, or weeks
Track output over that time: How many tasks is each team member getting done in that time?
Calculate each person’s input: Like how much time they’re working
Once you have all of this data, divide the output by the input to see each person's productivity level. However, there's an easier way.
With the Teamwork.com Task Table View, you get immediate insights into task health, task completion percentages, days left to complete the task, and even budget used if a monetary value can be tied to the project.
Calculating this productivity metric tells you whether or not your team is working to the cost/benefit ratio you've set.
4. Time saved or lost for your client
Time is a critical project metric as it indicates whether the job will be done when the client expects it. Whether you break projects down using schedules, sprints, or cycles, there are a couple of ways you can measure time:
Cycle time: How long does it take your team to complete a task?
Successful deadlines: How often are deadlines getting hit? This is super important not just for you but for meeting client expectations
Sprints: How often are sprint items running as planned?
Missed deadlines/milestones: How many deadlines and milestones are your team failing to hit? What impact is it having on the overall delivery of the project?
All of this data makes it easier to diagnose issues. For example, if your team is successfully hitting task deadlines 80% of the time, focus on what's happening the other 20%—when they're missing them.
Teamwork.com makes this easier for groups by allowing members to add estimated time to each task. This also allows you to look beyond your team performance and dive into individual time estimates from each team member.
If your team takes a month to complete a sprint (and meets the deadline), it may seem like smooth sailing. But a deeper look may find that the project had three employees hitting deadlines and one missing important milestones.
The data you've collected makes it easier for you to work with your team to address issues early on and provide your clients with more transparent updates.
5. Utilization metrics for real-time changes
Anyone who has worked at an agency can tell you how quickly jobs can pile up from clients – not to mention the number of clients you manage.
To prevent team members from being completely overloaded with work, there are utilization metrics to manage your team’s schedules.
It's tempting to fill your team’s calendars to the brim when you have a full project pipeline (they can work 9-5 and be fully productive the entire day, right?) But loading schedules up to 100% capacity can be harmful to productivity.
When will they have time to check their emails? Collaborate with their colleagues? Use the bathroom?!
Utilization tracks your team’s available, estimated, and logged time while mapping out forecasts so you can build realistic schedules. Teamwork.com Utilization Report takes the stress off managers by automatically tracking team schedules and then calculating how much free time is available for tasks.
If someone is under-utilized (they can take on more tasks), then Teamwork.com highlights them in red. If they are working at a comfortable utilization rate, they’ll show up as green.
Tracking utilization is a quick way for team leaders to see who has space on their schedules to take on extra tasks or say no to any new projects if everybody's calendars are already looking full.
6. Budget estimates and progress
Going over budget is one of the worst things that happen on a project. Unfortunately, this also happens a lot. A Havard Business Review report found the average project overruns budget by 27%.
It's never going to be easy to match up to your original project estimate costs – especially if you miss deadlines or hit unexpected roadblocks. But using the right reporting tools lets you track these project metrics to ensure you don't (or at least significantly) overspend.
The reason agencies have problems with budget management is that projects have so many moving parts. We don't need to tell you how hard it is to monitor line items like advertising costs while tracking individual billable hours.
Using project management software specifically geared toward agencies helps you avoid all of this. By setting a project budget and attaching it to a timeframe, team leaders have a way to track costs once work kicks off.
And when someone inputs their billable hours or purchases a line item, it's automatically deducted from the project's budget. Not only will this give team leaders a real-time idea of how much money they've spent (and how much they've got left), it also alerts them if they're close to going over budget.
With access to easily viewable project budget history metrics, you get real insights into what's actually saving or costing you more money with your clients.
What project metrics are you going to track?
Who doesn't love a good metric to benchmark? And with the right direction, you can start tracking the things that truly make an impact on your agency's production and budget.
Once you get started, it becomes much easier to adjust and make changes to avoid the same pitfalls from previous projects. But the truth of the matter is you need the right tools to track and make adjustments.