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The Challenge of Predictive Metrics

August 22, 2014

Predictive project performance metrics seek to uncover issues that may later manifest themselves as unproductive conflict. This conflict can take place in the realm of stakeholder expectations, such as being late, overbudget or not what the stakeholder wanted. It can also take place within the project delivery team, such as a misunderstanding on what the next steps are, interpersonal conflict or a disconnect in framing assumptions.

In the right environment, conflict can be very productive. It can help uncover unspoken issues or surface new ideas and opportunities. In the wrong environment, conflict is counter-productive. It is a significant contributor to cost over-runs and schedule delays, as well as impacting human performance on projects.

Where an environment is not conducive to conflict, predictive metrics are often preferred. The belief being it is preferable to have metrics rather than unproductive conflict. The thought is that metrics can enable managers to reduce conflict, minimize the potential impact of potential conflict or, in some way, do something ahead of time that improves the performance of the project.

The rub is that studies have shown that implementing metrics, in itself, can lead to a nonconstructive communication environment. That is, implementing metrics can contribute to creating an environment of unproductive conflict…the very thing we are trying to minimize. An argument can also be made that looking to metrics alone to reduce sources of undesired project performance distances managers from people, who are the source of all project performance, and from their own role as project leaders, which is a critical factor of project success.

What that means for us is that we need to be conscious of creating the right communication environment at all times and not rely on metrics alone as a solution. Metrics are an important management tool but people deliver project results. Communication helps people navigate a project landscape. Effective communication creates an atmosphere of constructive conflict, facilitates accurate performance metrics and directly impacts project performance.

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