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A Strategic Approach to Program Metrics

Gerry Benson, Tom Lutzenberger and Brian Mccarthy
Webinar speakers continue the conversation of establishing key metrics to monitor program performance.

Complexity Under Control 

CDM Smith program man­age­ment leaders, Tom Lutzen­berger (mod­er­a­tor), Gerry Benson and Brian McCarthy, held a webinar, “Com­plex­ity Under Control: Defining and Achiev­ing Program Ex­pec­ta­tions", which focused on the key com­po­nents and benefits to using a program man­age­ment plan to ef­fi­ciently manage major capital projects. Time ran out before they could answer the last question re­gard­ing key metrics that should be in­te­grated into a program plan. Here’s their response.

“When talking about key metrics, what strate­gies are typ­i­cally used for mon­i­tor­ing purposes?”

The purpose of es­tab­lish­ing metrics is to create a series of in­di­ca­tors that can be used to quickly assess program health through focused at­ten­tion on those pro­gram­matic ac­tiv­i­ties and tasks that are of interest or concern to owners.​ With most programs com­pris­ing numerous projects and tasks, project-related metrics are also gathered for in­di­vid­ual design and con­struc­tion con­tracts. Where the progress of an in­di­vid­ual project or task impacts the overall program or suggests a trend that needs to be mon­i­tored for all projects and/or tasks, the metric becomes pro­gram­matic.

A strate­gic approach to iden­ti­fy­ing these pro­gram­matic metrics involves the fol­low­ing steps:

1. Start with de­tail­ing the metrics for ac­tiv­i­ties on the critical path. These should include in­di­vid­ual project and task metrics that will best measure critical elements of per­for­mance and con­sis­tent progress with program ex­pec­ta­tions. For example, pro­cure­ment, per­mit­ting and right-of-way ac­tiv­i­ties or even owner-managed ac­tiv­i­ties such as O&M and warranty services are all critical elements that should be con­stantly checked. Metrics for these phases often address process duration com­pli­ance and con­flicts with com­pet­ing phase work.

2. Identify a con­sis­tent way to present and pri­or­i­tize critical metrics. With so many ac­tiv­i­ties hap­pen­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously, all stake­hold­ers should be able to analyze each metric in the same way. A program man­age­ment in­for­ma­tion system or PMIS can be used to gather and maintain this in­for­ma­tion and provides owners an easy-to-follow visual for tracking their program's progress. With the PMIS, all stake­hold­ers involved in a program can clearly read metrics to assess the health of a task or project. Using methods such as a ‘stop-and-go’ concept, the program health of a task or a project is dis­played as green-good, yellow-changing and red-poor. This clear display of per­for­mance will help stake­hold­ers make more cohesive de­ci­sions as they can set thresh­olds based on the same un­der­stand­ing of the metric.

3. Dif­fer­en­ti­ate which thresh­olds deserve the most at­ten­tion. Mea­sure­ments (numbers, per­cent­ages, and du­ra­tions) are not nec­es­sar­ily in­di­ca­tors of issues worthy of mon­i­tor­ing. Thresh­olds should be iden­ti­fied and indicate when mon­i­tor­ing should proceed and when action should be ini­ti­ated. The thought process for and dis­cus­sion on these thresh­olds should be doc­u­mented and used in the staff training for any pro­ce­dure uti­liz­ing that metric. These thresh­olds should be pri­or­i­tized on a program to fa­cil­i­tate as­sign­ing the most staff time to tracking the most critical, metric-defined sit­u­a­tions.

4. Define which approach will be used to attain metric in­for­ma­tion. Based on the priority es­tab­lished, the approach to mon­i­tor­ing can be ac­com­plished in three ways. 100 Percent Sur­veil­lance is most ap­pro­pri­ate method for in­fre­quent tasks or tasks with strin­gent per­for­mance re­quire­ments. Random Sampling is used mostly for re­cur­ring tasks. Periodic In­spec­tion works best for tasks that occur in­fre­quently.

5. Figure out what to look for re­gard­ing vari­ances. In­ves­ti­gat­ing the causes for vari­a­tions from baseline ex­pec­ta­tions can become com­pli­cated and should be managed closely. Keep an eye out for these three factors: fluc­tu­a­tions from baseline program ex­pec­ta­tions for schedule, cost, scope and quality program ac­tiv­i­ties. Program trends, whether upward or downward, can also add time as a variable to the analysis of a change on the program’s progress. The use­ful­ness and accuracy of results should also be assessed to avoid acting on negative vari­ances or trends that aren’t grounded in a cost-benefit cal­cu­la­tion. Certain vari­ances can be con­sid­ered ac­cept­able without mit­i­ga­tion as long as the backup jus­ti­fi­ca­tion supports this option in a manner ac­cept­able to the client.

6. Use per­for­mance re­port­ing to further goals for align­ment, stream­lin­ing and rein­ven­tion. Lessons learned will help improve future program per­for­mance and mon­i­tor­ing. As metrics are mon­i­tored and analyzed through the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the program, the needs for all involved stake­hold­ers will be better defined and man­age­able. It’s also im­por­tant to remember doc­u­ment­ing in detail each action taken with each change to the original plan. Re­port­ing these actions only helps to show the pub­li­ciz­ing of good man­age­ment per­for­mance as well as accurate progress.

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