More Project Management Tips from the DOE

Last week, we looked at part of a study released by the DOE in conjunction with the National Academy of Sciences. It’s quite a comprehensive report, and it might make you feel a little inadequate about the state of your project management. However, you’ll be glad to know that even the big boys don’t start out getting things right. In fact, this study was prompted by what the Academy called the DOE’s lack of “a uniform set of objective measures for assessing the quality of project management…(this absence) prevents the identification of best practices and impedes widespread improvement in project management throughout the agency”. If an organization as cumbersome and set in its ways as the typical government institution can recognize this and begin making positive changes, there’s nothing holding your company back from doing the same!

9 Critical Benchmarking Activities

According to the NAS report, there are 9 basic aspects of benchmarking. These activities apply to benchmarking done at any phase of a project (planning, execution, review). For best results, this benchmarking should be integrated into the project management culture rather than being viewed as somehow separate. This encourages openness to new ideas and a willingness to make changes as needed to improve project and program processes. Here are the 9 activities:

  1. Deciding what to benchmark
  2. Defining the metrics to be used
  3. Developing a reliable method of data collection
  4. Actually collecting the required data
  5. Analyzing the data to highlight deficiencies in performance and areas where best practices are not being followed
  6. Identifying the root causes of these PM process and outcome shortcomings
  7. Developing a plan of action to reduce or eliminate known deficiencies
  8. Integrating new best practices into the project delivery process
  9. Making benchmarking a recognized and valued part of the process of continuous improvement

The Input/Process/Output/Outcome Cycle

Because benchmarking is designed for use at each stage of a project, it’s helpful to clearly define the cycle of a standard project. The DOE uses assessments that cover four basic stages. Input is the first stage and benchmarking is done by measuring resources that will be provided for the project. The next stage involves process metrics. The manner in which activities are carried out is compared to PM standards for how things should be done if all policies and procedures are followed. Output focuses on benchmarking the quantity and quality of the end product. The outcome is measured by how well the end product actually serves the purpose for which it was intended and whether it supports larger program objectives. External factors may influence the project at any stage. These influences must be taken into account as issues that should be planned or adjusted for even if they cannot be entirely controlled.

What Makes a Performance Metric Useful?

As you go through the process of actually deciding what data to use, there are some characteristics that have particular value. Data collected for benchmarking should be:

  • Measurable (objectively or subjectively)
  • Reliable, consistent, and verifiable
  • Simple, clear, and easy to understand
  • Timely and cost effective
  • Minimally affected by external influences
  • Meaningful to users at all levels
  • Related to mission outcome
  • Useful for driving effective decisions and process improvement

The more criteria on this list you can match in your performance measures, the better!

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