How to Use Metrics to Improve Project Management

Measuring an IT project's success can be done using certain project metrics. Project metrics collect data to report on the state of a particular IT service. Project metrics can measure processes, activities, resources, processes and deliverables within a quality control plan. Here, Knowledge Center contributor Serhiy Kharytonov explains how IT managers can use data from project metrics to help them with decision making or to take corrective steps on projects when necessary.


IT projects have historically been known to have high failure rates. According to a recent report, 31 percent of all IT projects were complete failures in 1995. And only an alarming 16 percent of all IT projects were successes. By 2006, these figures changed to more favorable totals. For example, 35 percent of all IT projects were successful and only 19 percent of all projects were complete failures. Another 46 percent were considered to be "challenged," as these projects did create a useful product but did not meet all of the project success criteria (such as scope, budget, schedule and quality).

Why the increase in IT project success rates? As a whole, project management did become much more sophisticated between 1995 and 2006. For instance, project management tools became much easier to use. In addition, the Internet made it easier to communicate successfully and much more rapidly than in the early 1990s. Users were also becoming more sophisticated when it came to describing what they, in fact, wanted in a project.

However, despite this increase, the majority of implemented projects still failed or did not become complete successes. This type of situation resulted in organizations losing a great deal of money. In 2001, a study by the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) stated that software "bugs" alone cost United States companies $60 billion dollars.

Why projects fail

Some of the causes of project failure include budgeting too little time or too little money, inadequate planning, constantly-changing goals, lack of software knowledge, insufficient knowledge of advanced technology, and inadequate communications. Further, in these types of situations, the management is usually the last to know about any problems.

Often the only difference between a project's complete failure and its success is in spotting some specific warning signs. These signs allow us to notice the problem upfront and to recognize the real, measurable risk information we can get from historical data and from the time perspective. There are four important warning signs that allow us to mitigate the failure risks.

The first warning sign is employees working overtime. If a project is running smoothly, there usually is little to no need for overtime. The second warning sign is people being pulled off the project to work on another project. As time spent on other projects is cumulative, this factor could indicate a potential problem. The third warning sign is milestones are not being met. If official milestones are not met, this situation indicates that a project may be in trouble. And lastly, the fourth warning sign is project scope changes. While this factor may not necessarily be "bad," it is a sign that the project may be in trouble.

Besides these four warning signs, there are also some more intangible signs that a project may be in trouble. These signs include a general lack of interest in the project, poor communication among workers, a fear of talking about project problems, and a generalized lack of project velocity. That said, there is a way to measure a project's success while it is in progress by measuring certain metrics within a particular project. Measuring metrics is even more important today as an organization's infrastructure and business applications continue to evolve or increase or both. Further, in today's economy, it is more vital than ever to minimize costs and maximize project quality.