There's lots of talking on Projects; too much really. And so little of value said. People lurch from meeting to meeting, telecon to telecon, wear out the carpet on their mobile phones. People proffer opinions, half baked viewpoints, analysis and hot air. Next time they do that, just stop them and ask "What's your data point?".
They won't know what you mean of course; but then it is a phrase we basically just made up. But it does cut to the crux of the matter: I don't want opinion or views, I want hard data. I don't want qualitative Analysis, I want Quantitative Analysis. The "data point" represents the precise measurement of a process to give true insight into its performance. Ideally a Project Manager would never have to write their own status report, the project tools would do this automatically based on the current actual performance data. Finance data provides financial performance; Schedule data provides Schedule performance. We can aim to remove the subjectivity, and report a true reflection of actual status. That status would then not only be clear and unambiguous, but the automation of reporting would be Lean process improvement to boot. Then we can get down to the important part of Project Management: running the plan, implementing Corrective Actions to get back on plan, and Preventative Actions to avoid going off plan in the first place. And as project managers, we live and die by the plan.
This transition from qualitative to quantitative reflects generally a move from a lower to a high maturity culture of project and programme management. Those familiar with the CMMI model of Process Improvement will recall the "Measurement and Analysis" Process Area; introduced as a level 2 maturity PA that is the basis for many other advancements (the rating is 1 low - 5 high, but there are no level 1 Process areas).
So how do we get there? Well we start by putting in place a Project Measurement Plan. "What?" you ask, "that's not in the PMBOK guide?!" True, though perhaps it could be said to be part of the Project Quality Plan. This Planning Product will define what you will measure on the project, when you will measure it, where it will be stored, and critically what the thresholds of performance are; outside the thresholds then it's time to act. It could even be a Programme umbrella document to ensure consistant standards across projects.
There's a lot more to it than that, of course. But collecting data is the first step on the road to high maturity. Go and look at what you are measuring on your project, and see where you have these measurements planned - if at all! And remember the question: "What's your data point?!"
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