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How Do You Measure Project Success?

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Introduction

Success is difficult to define and measure, especially in the business world. In the past, companies used output based, generally focusing on time and budget metrics to determine whether a project succeeded. However, companies now want to know if a project helped them meet valued business outcomes instead of if it was completed on time and under budget. Unfortunately, output-based metrics tell us nothing about the overall value of a project. Using outcome-based metrics instead of output-based metrics to measure the success of a project is key. Your company will profit by understanding that the old output-based metrics don’t work, understanding that the new outcome-based metrics are the way to go, and understanding how to use outcome-based metrics effectively.

The Old Output-Based Metrics Don’t Work

Output metrics look at things like how much time it took to complete a project or how many items were produced during this period. While metrics like these many be useful in comparing some aspects of a business, they paint a very limited picture of what is actually happening at the company. Output-based metrics don’t predict whether the product will impact the business in a profitable manner. Furthermore, measuring how much time it took to complete a project doesn’t provide the means to judge whether or not the project was worth completing. Time metrics tell how fast the project was completed in comparison with previous projects, but they fail to reveal if the product is something customers want. In short, output-based metrics tell a company about the details of the project, but they don’t tell anything about how the project affected the overall goals of the company.

New Outcome-Based Metrics are the Future

In order to succeed, you have to be willing to change the way your projects are evaluated to fit the needs of your company as a whole. To successfully evaluate a project, you need to know if that project contributed to your business outcome goals, not just if it was on-time and under-budget. Every company will have slightly different outcome goals, but some common goals to think about are customer satisfaction, market readiness, and team engagement. If the customer is satisfied, your company is more likely to see an increase in return customers, referrals, and revenue. If your product is in high demand on the market, your company will see a rise in the number of items sold because customers are ready to buy it. If your production teams are involved and engaged in the projects they’re working on, your production rate will increase. By focusing on outcomes instead of output, you will see more positive changes throughout your company.

Making the change from output-based metrics to outcome-based metrics increases the value of your project measurements. Using outcome-based metrics means you’re actually measuring the success of the project once it’s been released to the public, which is a much better measure of how the project impacts the company. It’s very hard to say whether a project was a success on the market if all you’re basing that success off of is how quickly your team managed to create it in-house. The team was successful in creating the project in a certain time, but we know nothing about the project’s general success until it has been released to the public. Sometimes, these outcome-based metrics take more effort to collect, especially if you are trying to measure customer satisfaction. But the added effort is worth it because you are collecting more meaningful data.

Using Outcome-Based Metrics

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The first step to using outcome-based metrics to measure success in your company is having a well-established set of desired business outcomes. It would be very hard to judge your projects based off business outcomes if those outcomes weren’t clearly defined! Once you have decided on what business outcomes are important for your company, it’s important to create a set of baseline output measurements that will be your starting point for judging the success of the projects. Did implementing your project increase or decrease sales? Did executing that website update increase or decrease traffic on your page? As long as output metrics correlate with a meaningful business outcome, they are a useful method of measurement.

However, it’s important to note that output-based metrics should only be used as long as they are measuring a business outcome. The numbers that come as a result of those metrics should never be used to compare projects or rank teams. Only use output metrics to check the project against the baseline that was established for that business outcome. If the metrics aren’t providing useful information leading to change or growth for that product, you need to stop recording the metric. The output-based metrics should only be used to learn. Using output-based metrics to compare projects or rank teams will ultimately fail because it won’t explain what’s happening during that project or to that team; it doesn’t give the full story and thus is a bad method of comparison.

One of the best ways to apply outcome-based metrics in your company is to create a value hypothesis. A value hypothesis is what you predict will happen due to the delivery of a specific product. Determine what problem you think the project will solve (checkout time, conversion rates, landing page hits, etc.), and then work backwards to figure out what output-based metric might help you measure the success of the changes you’re implementing. If the metrics you chose don’t end up giving you useful information, stop using those metrics and go back to the drawing board to see what other measurements you could use. If your chosen metrics are telling you that your hypothesis is wrong, stop measuring your metrics and get rid of the change that you implemented. The quicker you can implement metrics or change tactics to implement new ones, the quicker progress you will make.

Conclusion

Outcome-based metrics provide a better way to measure the success of projects and companies. Move your company towards using outcome-based metrics to measure success, both for individual projects and for the company as a whole, because they provide a much more realistic measurement of the company’s success when compared with output-based metrics, which only measure the actual products being produced.


Written By

Katie Ward

A lover of learning and new experiences, Katie is an intern at SolutionStream. Katie enjoys keeping things organized via color-coding and researching interesting topics. When she is not at work, you can find her reading a novel, trying out a new recipe, or studying microbiology.

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