Measuring for Success

There’s something about a car wreck that you can’t ignore.  I don’t care who you are, when you see an accident on the side of the road, you’re going to turn your head and look.  Admittedly I am not trained in psychology, but I suspect that there are a handful of things that go through the minds of most people when they see a wreck, such as;

  • I hope no one got hurt.
  • I’m glad that’s not me.
  • Was it chance, or is there something I can learn to prevent that from happening to me?

In the world of project management the equivalent of a car crash is a failed product launch.  And just like an accident, we can’t help but look.  Just take a moment to think about it and I bet some epic product fails will come to mind.  My top five list includes: 

  • WOW potato chips with Olestra
  • New Coke
  • Febreeze Scent Stories
  • Microsoft Clippy
  • Gerber Single Serve Jars for Adults

The most perplexing thing about failed product launches is that some of the biggest failures occurred at some of the most prestigious companies in the world.  Companies like Microsoft, Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, and Frito Lay hire some of the best and brightest people from top universities.  Yet, in spite of that, at some point in the history of the universe, there was a highly trained and compensated executive who decided that people would want to buy potato chips with a warning label that reads “this product may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools.

While every failed product launch in history has its own unique circumstances, here’s two things I know for certain:

  • The project was delivered
  • The launch failed   

These simple facts underscore an often overlooked aspect of project management.  Delivering a project on time, on budget, and within scope does not make it successful.  On the contrary.  A project is only successful if the intended benefits of the project are realized.

And therein is the challenge for any project manager.  Delivery measures such as time, budget, and scope are mostly based on the past, and therefore, easier to assess.  Whereas, project benefits are typically realized in the future, and are therefore much harder to predict.  Like many things in life, just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s impossible or not worth doing.  As such, I recommend that most projects should maintain two general sets of measures.  I refer to them as:

  • Delivery Quality Metrics (DQM) – These measures focus on “How” the project is being executed.  They are process indicators relating to the progress the team has made related to time, budget, scope, or other elements that ensure delivery is occurring as planned.
  • Launch Quality Metrics  (LQM) – These measures focus on “Why” the project was initiated. These are indicators that provide guidance on whether or not the project is on track or has delivered intended benefits.