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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Project Management Basics – Chapter 5 – Product Metrics Part 2

project, program, portfolio
You have to know why you are doing the project!

“That which cannot be measured cannot be proven.” Anthony W. Richardson, FULL-SCALE: How to Grow Any Startup Without a Plan or a Clue

“What science has failed to notice is that the measurement has become more real than the thing being measured.” R.A. Delmonico

In my last article I discussed the importance of differentiating between product and project metrics. I specifically made the point that only focusing on the success of the project could lead to a product or deliverable that didn't meet the needs of the customer.

There was a lot of interest on this topic, so I thought it deserved more discussion. To highlight the challenge organizations face, we can use a very simple project called “Bill paints his kitchen”.

“Bill paints his kitchen” meets the PMI® definition of a project because it has a start, a finish, and a unique outcome. But why am I painting my kitchen? The short answer is because my wife asked me to! However, accepting that as the only reason is like doing a project just because and executive tells you to. As a good project manager, I need to understand the underlying benefits of the project and how it aligns strategically. So I question the key stakeholder, my wife.

“Why are we painting the kitchen?” I asked. I was given three reasons:

1) The current paint is “tired looking”.

2) The walls have “dings” where people have hit them.

3) We want to “brighten up” the kitchen so when we sell the house it is more appealing.

This is why we ask questions! The project has now expanded to include patching the walls, which was not part of the original scope. There is also a newly identified strategic alignment requirement to pick paint colors that would be appealing to a potential buyer. We might prefer a less neutral color, but with the newly identified strategic goal of preparing the house for sale, I will make different product choices. Before that conversation, I wasn’t even aware that was a strategic priority!

For most projects, the focus now turns to verification which asks the question “Are we building the product correctly?” That leads to a series of questions like: Are the walls patched properly? Was the paint applied with precision? Did we get paint on anything we should not have?

All project focused.

But what about validation, which asks the question “are we building the right product?” What product metrics can I assign to the project “Bill paints his kitchen” that aren’t in fact project focused? That is the challenge many projects face, and this is a great microcosm of what is an recurring challenge in the field of project management. What quantitative measures can I put in place to determine if the project solved the “tired looking” problem? How do I know if I have in fact made the kitchen “more appealing” to potential buyers? Is there a metric that tells me if I increased my homes value with the project? Because I can't measure those benefits, I'll insert the proxy metric of my wife's satisfaction with the job.

I have seen the same challenges in projects of all size and description. How do I measure if the outcome of the project met the stated business benefits? Many organizations do exactly what I did; find a proxy to stand in for the actual desired business benefit.

If you can’t quantitively measure the benefits of the project and succinctly describe them to someone, then why are you doing the project?

Next I'll discuss the Benefits Management Plan.


I passed the Project Management Institute Schedule Professional (PMI-SP) exam last week. I am perplexed by why I couldn’t take the test remotely. PMI allowed me to take the PMI-PBA exam remotely, and I know they are proctoring the PMP exam remotely, so why not all the exams? The technology is literally the same, so why put people in harms way by forcing them into a small room with other people? I don’t get it.


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