September 14, 2007

How Important Are Numbers

It is generally belived that IT project management is more an art than a science. Thereby numbers are only so important when managing projects. PMs often rely on `gut' to assess the progress and health of their projects.

On the other end of the spectrum are PMs who are overtly focused on numbers. Affectionately called `spreadsheet managers' – these managers spend an inordinate amount of time slicing and dicing numbers using – you guessed it – Excel! They live by these numbers and unfortunately fail to effectively manage the non-number portions of projects.

So what is the appropriate balance of numbers? Strong PMs generally pay attention to some number crunching in the context of the overall project. These key numbers include

- Effort: Defining, tracking and managing the effort keeps a PM aligned with the project budget. Effort numbers include the original baselined effort estimate, the actuals spend, remaining effort (ETC), variance etc. An initial baseline and regular updates (weekly) are a must on most projects.

- Deliverables: Hopefully all the hours being spend on the project are helping produce some meaningful and predetermined deliverables. Tracking the progress of these deliverables in terms of number of deliverables, percentage complete, progress and issues etc. is essential.

- Schedule: This project component is usually focused upon the most in terms of the project timeline and is an important project metric to track. Project schedule is usually derived using progress being made on the deliverables using the assigned resources etc. Baselined schedule, estimated completion time, variances etc. should be tracked and reported.

These three project parameters form the core of any project and merit comprehensive tracking and management. Other metrics which can be included to enhance project tracking include – resources management (utilization and productivity), issues/risks (impact and mitigation), quality (defects and variances) etc.

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