I am a numbers person, Microsoft Excel is where I prefer to do most of my work, and there is something about a properly formatted table that always makes me happy. So, it should not be a surprise that I love metrics – anything I can track, forecast, or plot. The tricky thing about metrics is that although they can be super powerful for gaining insight into your business they must be used properly and balanced with other indications in order to get a full picture. Here are a few items to be on the lookout for as they may not be visible down in the weeds of the numbers:
1. Projected completion date keeps extending right even though tasks are being completed.
I think most people have seen this come up repeatedly in their work. You start with a task, say it had an initial estimate of 4 weeks to deliver. Tasks are being worked and after 2 weeks you check with the team and they have 4 more weeks of work left! The two most common reasons for this is either requirement/scope creep or team velocity is lower than predicted. Increasing scope or feature requests are inevitable in many projects, if you’re only tracking against your original feature backlog you might be missing that new things are being added and the team. The other main driver could be team velocity is lower than anticipated, looking at how many tasks are being done each sprint and how that compares to initial estimates is very important to look at regularly to ensure that the team is performing as expected.
How to catch it: Ensure you’re looking at any requirements or tasks being added to the backlog and investigate why things were not discovered during planning. Also ensure to track team velocity against your plan and adjust projections to match reality.
2. Quality is low
Rework is a killer of productivity. Whenever a previously completed task is reopened or you have to refactor things it can seriously derail a project schedule. Take a development project, if you’re tracking total stories being completed and tracking right where you should be and then near the end of the project test or QA finds an issue and it requires weeks of development time to fix a major issue in the architecture. These can cause huge delays and unforeseen issues down the road.
How to catch it: Ensure to account for rework time in your original plan, use metrics from past projects to get an understanding of the percentage of time spent correcting errors on a new development and track against your projections. Additionally, get QA or test involved in the process earlier, can they verify pieces as they are finished. Focus on limiting any work in progress and getting tasks to production as early as possible, this will help uncover quality issues earlier in the process.
3. Individual work might not be equally divided
I have seen this on a few teams, where one individual is completing most of the work and then maybe they go on vacation and a week goes by and nothing gets completed. Keeping a good balance of workload across the team is important to the overall project, aside from also creating a healthier team atmosphere and deeper talent pool.
How to catch it: Make sure you are not only looking at top level burndowns but also considering tasking on the individual level. Pay attention to trends and bring it up with the team if things are not balanced, perhaps it’s a knowledge transfer issue and you can help facilitate more training for the team or maybe the skill set assigned does not match the work needed to be done, potentially you can bring another individual on that has the experience to match where the gap is and it can help the team perform significantly better.
4. Everyone might not be following the process
Depending on how you are tracking progress this can be hard to see, and it is highly dependent on your toolsets and specific process. I have seen where teams rely on non-automated processes such as checklists and peer review meetings that are not always followed exactly. This could mean a developer works on something and is able to check it in without peer review, or perhaps QA hasn’t signed off and then it could lead to issues down the road.
How to catch it: Whenever feasible, track work through incremental steps. This would allow you to see where in the process each step is and make sure that everyone is following the appropriate process. The best way to avoid this is to automate around the process so it provides the data needed to show the process is being followed without adding extra work for the developers.
5. Team morale is low
Team dynamics are a vital piece of any project. Keeping a team happy is important to avoid burnout and in the worst case keep people from moving on to other opportunities, training a backfill will always take more time and effort, adding costs and inhibiting progress.
How to catch it: The easiest way to see this is to stay plugged into the team, keep an eye on how people are working and make sure nobody is to the point of burning out. Make sure to listen to concerns and prioritize creating an environment where people feel valued and important. As a Project Manager I think it’s my responsibility to try to alleviate any roadblocks and try to shield my team from nonproductive meetings and requests. This can be hard to see but I think an open dialogue with any team will always provide the best information to be able to make decisions.