Setting Project Goals and Measuring Performance

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Setting Project Goals and
Measuring Performance

by Faulkner Staff

Docid: 00011551

Publication Date: 1907

Report Type: TUTORIAL


Measuring project performance in a way that is approved by all stakeholders can be
difficult, but it is essential to secure agreement that an
initiative has met its goals. There are many techniques for measuring
performance. Differences in the results these techniques produce or in how stakeholders interpret those results can be major obstacles to project

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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of the first steps in managing a project is to clearly, concretely
establish its goals. Measurements can then be devised to track success in accomplishing these goals.


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This process may require several iterations, during which goals are first articulated in terms
of general business objectives and progressively translated into
individual project tasks.

A next step is to determine how these goals
will be measured. Project goals and measurements are tightly
intertwined. All
the goals that a project manager defines should be measurable. If a goal cannot
be measured, it can be difficult to demonstrate that it has been completed. On
the other hand, a measurement that does not reflect a goal can create
confusion. For instance, if the project team falls short on a measurement, it
can affect the customer’s opinion of the quality of the work, even if the
measurement is irrelevant to any of the customer’s needs.

The definitions of goals and how they are measured should be completed
before a project begins. An organization might even choose to delay
signing a contract until goals and measurement approaches are defined.
All stakeholders, even if they are not involved in executing the
project, must understand and approve both the goals and the techniques
that will be used to measure whether they have been met. Not setting
goals can result in employees feeling disengaged or confused in their
jobs and teams of people having no direction in what they should do.

It is often helpful to start with smaller projects and use them to fine tune processes, including
both project management tasks (such as team communication) and technical tasks (such as how a device is configured).

Project Goals

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Project goals should be clear and
measurable. They should not be wish lists. At the inception of a project, goals are often abstract business objectives
such as “reducing costs” or “improving security.” Such goals are often developed by
executives, who typically frame their
requests in general terms. It is then the project manager’s
job to translate these business goals into well-defined tasks.

For instance, an organization’s executive team may forecast business prospects for the next several years and determine that
they will need to
prepare for growth or geographic expansion. A project manager in charge of
technology issues would then need to address issues such as the following:

  • An
    IT staff that has spent the last few years running a mid-sized network
    with 100 hosts, a remote office with 10 employees, and five traveling
    teleworkers would not be prepared for the challenges that come with a 1,000 host network. Extensive retraining will be needed
    and additional staff members will have to be hired.
  • Increased storage demands may require technologies that
    are more sophisticated than simple tape backups. These include network
    attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SANs).
  • The current phone system cannot scale to the anticipated future needs
    and will need to be replaced.

Each of these goals would then be addressed by a separate project, taking into account budgetary estimates, task lists,
schedules, resource allocation, and so on.

According to Dartmouth University, effective goal-setting begins with
an analysis of every aspect of the goal. These aspects are: 

  • Reasons for pursuing the goal.
  • Intended results or outcomes and measures of success.
  • Alignment with the organization’s vision, mission, values, principles,
    strategies, and goals.
  • Potential stakeholders or others who may be impacted.
  • Resources or capabilities needed, wanted, and available.
  • Possible roadblocks that may come up along the way.1

Goal Attributes

For decades project management specialists have preached the virtues of SMART
goals, insisting that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable,
Relevant, and Time-Based. 

  • Specific – The goal must be clearly defined and all project
    management personnel should understand it. 
  • Measurable – Determines how work is accomplished, how much more
    time is needed to complete the project, and the amount of time needed for
  • Achievable – Keeps the project on track. All team members should be
    involved in project goal-setting so that they can determine how much
    progress will be made towards the project. 
  • Relevant – Involves tracking each goal so that it remains
    consistent with the company’s mission and values. 
  • Time-Based – Identifies a realistic time frame for the goal to be

Measuring Performance

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key performance measurement categories are budget, timetable, and


It is important
to develop processes and mechanisms to track the costs incurred in a
project. For instance, if a company ships equipment to a project site,
the shipping costs should be associated directly with that project.
Often this does not happen. An organization’s shipping department may
simply lump all its costs together, becoming part of the
organization’s "cost of doing business."

Likewise, an organization should track the labor time associated with each
project. This should, if possible, even include minor, ad hoc assistance from employees
outside the project team who help to answer questions or fill in as needed.
Internal cost accounting is important for project-focused organizations. It
is a common corporate practice for employees in one department to devote time to
other departments’ projects, but this practice can distort an organization’s
understanding of its staffing needs and of the revenue and expenses generated
by individual projects or business units.

Failure to track all the costs and human effort needed to complete a project can
create misleading performance measurements. For example, a project might appear to be under
budget if shipping and other costs are not directly associated with that
project. Other costs to be tracked might include in-house printing, car rentals,
hotel fees, and meals for traveling workers.

Project management best practices also call for leaving a portion of funds available for contingencies,
such as the need to add more members to a team in order to complete a project on


The project’s timetable not only sets the
beginning and end dates of the project, but it also defines intermediate
goals called "milestones." These
milestones provide an opportunity to measure – and correct – the project’s
adherence to the schedule before delays swell beyond the point at which they can
be fixed. When a milestone is reached, budget, schedule adherence, quality, and
all other categories are measured and reviewed by the entire team. Any
shortcomings can be addressed at these points, possibly by adding extra staff or
by increasing the project’s budget.

also establish the “critical path,” which is the chain of dependent
tasks that, if delayed, would delay the completion of the
entire project. In itself, successful completion of a project on time
is itself a project measurement, and that success is determined by the
project’s adherence to the critical path.


managers must ensure that all parties understand and
agree on how quality will be measured. Quality can be the most difficult
performance metric to define and measure, depending on how subjective the measurement is. For instance, when assessing
an installation of network cabling, although the cabling itself might
suffice to transmit data, many other aspects could affect the overall
quality of the work performed, such as:

  • Labeling of the cables for easy tracing.
  • Organization of the cables, in particular so that none are loose and
    prone to being tripped over.
  • Wall jack placement (e.g., whether network jacks are at the right height
    and easily accessible).
  • Whether debris was left in the work area.


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Embrace Universal Enterprise Properties

From goal setting to performance measurement, all enterprise projects
should be planned and implemented consistent with preserving what have
become universal enterprise properties and priorities, specifically:

  • Security – All project assets – both
    digital and physical – should be protected against loss, theft,
    contamination, or misappropriation.
  • Safety – All enterprise employees,
    customers, business partners, and guests should be protected from illness or
  • Privacy – All information pertaining
    to enterprise employees, customers, or business partners should be kept
  • Compliance – All project elements
    and practices should conform to regulatory obligations.

Distinguish Between Customer Satisfaction and Completing the Project’s Scope

A project’s documentation should clearly define the
project’s scope, including defining concrete ways to test whether a
task has been completed. But objective measures may not jibe with the
experiences of users. For instance, after the topology of a network is
changed, users might complain of “slowness.” Or, after an IP telephony
users may complain that telephone voices do not “sound right,”
and it can be difficult to objectively demonstrate the quality of voice signals.

Ultimately, there is not an easy or universal solution to impasses such
as these. Employing strict, legalistic interpretations of contract
clauses may displease the customer. The implementation team may need to
slog through the issues, one-by-one, until all decision-makers agree
that the project is completed. As already stated, however, the more
complete the agreement on measurements of success at the beginning of a
project, the greater the likelihood that the customer will ultimately
accept those measurements.

Understand the Unique Challenges of Each Project

Table 1 describes the unique challenges associated with several different
types of projects and provides recommendations for overcoming these challenges.

Table 1. Measuring Performance:
Special Considerations by Project Type

Project Types

Considerations for
Measuring Performance


Implementing an Enterprise Application (e.g., CRM, ERP)

customization is often required, making it difficult to estimate
when the project will be complete.

It can be helpful to
separate the required features from those that the
customer only desires. Then the installation plan can schedule a first
phase to meet requirements and a second phase to add additional
features, and measure only the features being implemented.

Wireless LAN Implementation

may not extend to all required areas.


clients may not be able to connect to the network.

Perform a site
survey with a wireless scanning tool to pinpoint
the best locations to place access points. Then measure the success in covering the areas of these access points.


Define the client types, including the security
protocols they will use, before purchasing and configuring access

Multi-site Implementations

performing a large, multi-site rollout, such as the upgrading of
gateway routers at all of a company’s branch locations, it is easy
to fall behind, and delays early in the project can delay
subsequent installations.

Start with pilot sites,
and use these installations to refine processes.
Measuring the quality of a pilot installation or proof-of-concept
can be helpful.


Train the teams of installers extensively, and make certain they understand the measurements they are providing.


Form a specialty escalation team that can handle
difficult problems while the other installation teams continue
according to their schedules.

Custom Software Development

There might
not be similar projects from the past from which to develop baselines,
task lists, and other elements of a project plan.

Define goals upfront
and then stick with them. Additional requests can be handled later.


The field of software development has many
tools that can assist in measuring project performance when
building applications.

Prevent Scope Creep

customers will make a series of requests for additional services that
are each small in scale but collectively add a significant amount
of time to the project. This is a phenomenon commonly known as “scope
creep” and can distort the project’s
measurement of success. To prevent this situation, consider doing the

  • Instruct engineers not to perform significant additional services. It
    can be beneficial to craft a policy that allows engineers to perform minor
    courtesy services, however. Explain the importance of accurate measurement of results as originally intended.
  • Develop a clearly defined scope of work that itemizes each
    project task and deliverable. Review this document with customers and
    stakeholders, and obtain written approval from them before beginning
    the project. Make certain this scope statement includes the correct
    standards for measuring success.
  • Implementing a change control
    process is something that all stakeholders should be made aware of.
    It is exceptionally likely that a change will occur somewhere during
    the course of the project and, when that happens, the change must be
    assessed and then either rejected or accepted. If it’s accepted the
    change should be implemented into the project scope. 
  • A
    project schedule should be made available to all parties. That
    schedule should include all tasks so that each detail can be visible
    and, once a task is completed, it can be checked off the list. Of
    course, it never hurts to build some extra time into the schedule as
    issues can arise (i.e. a power outage results in lost man

Favor Standard Methodologies

As much as possible without affecting the project, organizations should use
standard, well-recognized metrics for measuring performance. This will reduce the chances of
confusion among separate parties. In addition, the validity of a standard measurement
will be easier to defend should disputes arise about the project’s performance.
Broadly speaking, standardized methodologies come in two forms: universal and
industry-specific. Fortunately, the differences among methodologies are often differences of
interpretation, emphasis, and terminology, so adapting to new approaches does
not necessarily require learning from scratch.

Prevent a Sudden "Brain Drain"

Most project team members work on their respective projects part-time, using
periods carved out from their "regular" jobs. Without a dedicated
workforce, a project manager is vulnerable to attrition among his or her team
members. Just as juries have alternate members in case a juror is forced
to withdraw from a particular trial, a project manager should identify alternate
team members – individuals who could fill in if one or more primary team members
is reassigned to a higher priority project. This strategy also provides
for replacements in the event of illness or other contingencies.

Engage a Certified Project Manager

To facilitate the project management process – and achieve the highest
quality project results – a project manager and his or her deputy should be

The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers a comprehensive certification program
for project practitioners of all education and skill levels. PMI certifications

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP)
  • Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)
  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
  • PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
  • PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
  • PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)3

PMP is probably the most popular credential among
enterprise professionals.

Dealing with Issues that Arise

It is important to accept that issues could pop up and get in the way of
achieving goals. Sometimes, an unexpected complication will arise, leaving
employees wondering what to do next or how to get
back on track. But a hiccup in the process is not necessarily a bad thing – it
can be a learning experience for all involved and may just be the perfect time
to reflect on how much has been achieved thus far and what still needs to be
accomplished. Dartmouth issued a list of helpful questions to help employees and
their managers figure out how to get around a roadblock and refocus. These

  • What is the roadblock and how did it happen? 
  • What has been done already to overcome the roadblock? What has not been
  • What can realistically be controlled or changed? 
  • Does the goal need to be readjusted? 
  • What additional resources or support are needed?
  • If the progress anticipated cannot be met, what are the consequences and
    how do we know the consequences will actually happen? 
  • What will be done next and when will it be done?


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