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Project Management Metrics in Healthcare
By Rodger Oren

Our organization is placed within the healthcare market, which has recently been experiencing considerable change as cost pressures, mergers and acquisitions, and regulations have increased the pace of change and the scrutiny of cost control. Typical of any organization with information technology assets, we saw our work efforts produce varying degrees of success. In an attempt to produce more predictable and controllable results we sought out project management metrics as our solution.

The maturity of our project management processes before the application of project metrics can be described as chaotic and ad-hoc. Some business units requested project management methods while other groups continued to use periodic reporting in meetings as the method of monitoring and controlling work. There wasn’t any visibility with the work at a project portfolio level.
As we thought through the issues, metrics seemed to solve our concerns. But what metrics should we use to provide us with the knowledge of our project actual versus planned values? Would metrics really provide a solution to our control and monitoring unease? Could we instill a culture of project management metric use throughout the organization?

Types of Metrics

There is a plethora of metrics you can use in project management. If you are using any computerized tool, such as Microsoft Project, you will find dozens of out of the box reports that are available within the package. The reports allow you to detail schedule metrics such as tasks that are slipping, tasks that are late, and a listing of milestones. There are other reports for cost and resources, providing another facet of a project’s measurable items available for display and consideration as material to manage and control the temporary endeavor.

Another set of metrics in the project management toolbox pertains to the topic of Earned Value Management (EVM), a method of use within the project management profession for over 30 years. Many public sector projects require the use of EVM as a technique to display the project’s health and direction. Most project management products include the EVM values of budgeted cost of work performed (BCWP), budgeted cost of work scheduled (BCWS), and actual cost of work performed (ACWP). Recently, the names have changed with EVM metrics, BCWP is now called Earned Value (EV), BCWS has been renamed to Planned Value (PV), and ACWP is generally referred to as Actual Cost (AC). Project management packages may use either notation for the metrics, and may even use both sets of variables within their software!

In the 21st century another set of metrics has emerged onto the project profession stage, that of Earned Schedule (ES). These values are similar to the EVM, but with a twist. Where EVM reports results in terms of cost, ES explains the parameters in terms of time. This makes sense to experienced project managers and correlates with the author’s research into project management success factors where it was found that the schedule variable was the most significant contributor to the success of a project. With ES the profession now has a method of monitoring the planned, actual and forecasted durations with statistics.

Goldilocks and Metrics

Choosing your metrics wisely is probably the most important part of a metrics program for an organization. The sheer number of different indicators, dual names for some, and similar sounding names for others can cause those outside of the profession cognitive overload. Unfortunately, the confusion related to metrics is not limited to those who are not in the profession. Many a project manager struggles with the understanding, use and reporting of project management metrics.

If you use too many metrics, people will get confused as they see a bunch of items with odd names or interchangeable names. If you use too few metrics, you will need to back up your reporting with subjectivity injected by those involved in the project. Just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, there is a just-right amount of metrics for use at your organization.
Our organization found the dual use of metrics from Earned Value and Earned Schedule hit the spot we needed. The former method provided us with cost data while the latter approach produced schedule information helping us track our time progress.

The following suggestions should help an organization become conversant in project management metrics:

  • Start with a few metrics in order to introduce staff to metric concepts
  • Keep your metric list small so they are manageable
  • Use indicators for two or three metrics
  • Consider the use of color for your indicators, such as green, yellow and red
  • Use some Earned Value and Earned Schedule metrics to track both cost and time
  • Use some variables that help forecast project performance
  • Develop and use a project management status report which includes your metrics and indicators

Benefits of Metrics

Metrics allow the organization to move project monitoring and controlling activities from the subjective universe to the objective realm. The project manager will no longer function as an alchemist in the shadows trying to divine the future through some black magic. The manager emerges into the light of day, as a scientist, using variables distilled from facts.

Once you use metrics, you can start to view your projects from a portfolio perspective. Comparison of projects with one another can occur easily allowing the organization to evaluate successes and failures in order to learn from what works and what is not working. Gauges of project performance, with metrics, allow the organization to drive from point A to point B comfortably, knowing their project velocity and performance levels.

With over 24 years of experience in program and project management, Rodger Oren has managed diverse teams in multi-million dollar efforts creating mission-critical applications, for domestic and international settings. He currently functions as a Director of Application Development and as an Interim Chief Information Systems Security Officer for a Healthcare Organization. He helps to oversee a facilities management contract of $200M, affecting 1.2 million people, delivering over $7B in Medicaid services in 2009.

He has functioned as a Program Manager with a Fortune 100 organization, and assisted non-profit organizations in strategic activities. He is a certified project management professional (PMP), a contributor to the rewrite of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), and a volunteer on the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) committee. He has participated in conferences on topics in Unified Modeling Language (UML), spoken on Project Management matters, critiqued books, and is an advisory panel member for a computer magazine.

He was a professor at a College and University, teaching Technology Management and Information Technology materials. He was a Principal Consultant for a boutique firm where work in compliance and risk assessment was the major topical areas of focus for the group. Email Rodger: roren@mindspring.com

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