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Measuring Success Without Numbers – 10 Qualitative Indicators of Project Health

The quantitative methods of project management are well understood: things like the number of work hours logged, work units delivered, adherence to schedule and expenditure within budget are (and always will be) key tools for understanding how well or otherwise your projects are going. There are, however, qualitative measures which don’t hold to an absolute value, yet they can tell you a lot about how you’re doing long before the “hard numbers” show a problem, or even worse the project fails. 1. How accurate are your estimates? Do you review forecast time and material costs for a unit of work with actuals? Do your tasks or work units match the estimate? If not, you know that your estimating process needs to be revisited before the cumulative effect of time and/or cost overruns derails your project. 2. How often does your estimate of completion change on a task? We’re all familiar with the old joke about projects being “80% complete for 90% of the time” – but in reality, lack of progress on a task that’s been started may be an indicator of underlying quality issues. 3. How often do your estimates of completion date change? If the completion date for a task starts to slip repeatedly, this is telling you that there are problems with design, quality or dependencies. 4. How stable is your design? Frequent changes to design – especially major technology or product changes – in the middle of your delivery is a big red flag: it means the initial estimates and design are suspect, and need to be reviewed in depth. 5. Does the priority of tasks change? Similar to question 4, a delivery team which chops and changes from one deliverable to another probably doesn’t have a clear view of how delivery items relate to each other in the overall design, nor is it likely to have a clear understanding of dependency or priority between deliverables. 6. How often do requirements change? If this is part of a wider product design cycle and release strategy that’s fine, so long as the changes aren’t impacting delivery. If major changes to requirements are being introduced in the middle of delivery work streams it’s almost certain that time and cost planning are in serious danger. 7. How often do stakeholders communicate? Is there regular feedback between stakeholders and the design/delivery teams? The longer groups whose work is dependent on each other don’t communicate the greater the chance that the effect of miscommunication and misunderstanding will be amplified into a major impact on the project. 8. How often do you skip or fail important steps? Are integration tests or unit tests being skimped to meet deadlines? Are quality control failures being bypassed instead of addressed? These are sure signs of a project in trouble. 9. What size is your backlog of “technical debt”? A growing list of deliverables deferred and labeled as “technical debt” is, in reality, a growing list of failures. 10. What do your test results look like? Any delivery project needs a well-structured set of unit, integration and user testing at the bare minimum. Failures need to be addressed and acted upon early enough to ensure the underlying problems don’t derail the project. If you’re seeing a growing list of unacknowledged or unresolved test failures – or no test results at all – then, again, you have a project in crisis. While the list is not extensive, it does provide a starting point for the use of qualitative indicators of project health. On your next project, consider these 10 indicators and how well your own project is performing.

About Matthew Kabik

Matthew Kabik is the former Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He worked at Computer Aid, Inc. from 2008 to 2014 in the Harrisburg offices, where he was a copywriter, swordsman, social media consultant, and trainer before moving into editorial.

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