Methods and Measurement: Deliver Better Projects

By Stuart Corrigan, 2022.

Once upon a time, I was quite badly overweight… and as comedian Kevin Bridges says, ‘I often feel that I am only one all-inclusive holiday away from that place’. However, today, I am in decent shape. After years of learning how to train and eat well I began to compete in physique competitions once a year. Yes – I get my swimming trunks on, paint on a mahogany tan and stand on stage for around sixty seconds, hoping for a medal.

The whole dieting process required before I can get up on stage takes four to six months (in hell). It is very precise. Every day I eat exactly the same food, drink exactly the same amount of water, at the same time. The training is the same. The same body parts need to be trained on the same day of the week, and the same amount of cardiovascular exercise is completed at the same time every day. The process is very scientific. At the end of the week, I use visual feedback (from my trainer) and the scales to determine whether the methods I used made a difference. It is an excellent feedback loop, and we make changes weekly to get the results required. When I am helping someone with weight loss, I insist they are consistent in their methods, what they eat, drink, how they train, and when they get feedback – they weigh in no more than once a week.

It’s an interesting concept, isn’t it? Are the methods we are using to deliver our projects making a difference? In other words, are they delivering the outcomes we want? The problem with the question is that it requires us to be explicit about the methods we are using and then have a fast and reliable feedback system that helps us to understand whether the project is progressing in a way that we expected.

Let’s examine this for a second. By ‘explicit’ I mean that we can spot and describe the methods used to deliver the project – could you do that? By a ‘fast and reliable’ feedback system, I mean that we have something objective that tells us exactly where we are against the delivery goals. This doesn’t mean asking people, “hey, are we on track?”. Are you confident your planning is reliable enough to know where your team should be at a given time?

When we work with a client, we have a unique way of studying the projects which allows us – along with the project’s leadership – to be explicit about the ways of working used to deliver. Then, we study the measurement system to determine whether it is subjective or objective; and what the plans are at the outset. Typically, we find that the work methods are rarely specified which leads to multi-tasking, working out of task sequence, working across projects, working in the wrong order, and not clearly specifying what needs to be done. Measures often do not reflect what is really happening in the project. They are opinion-based and thought to be best delivered once every two weeks. When we ask, how the plan was constructed and whether people have faith in the plan, the answers are typically a.) ‘we’re not sure’, and b.) ‘no’.

When working with clients, we ask them to be very precise about their work methods, and just as precise about measurement and planning. This high level of precision means that when the measures are delivered daily in the fever chart (shown below), we can be confident that we understand the relationship between how the team is working and the results they are getting.

To measure projects, we use a fever chart. It takes all the safety assumed to be in the tasks and adds that safety to the end of the project. Every day we ask the team members what the remaining duration of their task is. If it is over what is projected, some safety is consumed. By 4pm every day – irrespective of the size of the project – we can tell whether it is running late, and more importantly, exactly which task needs attention to get the project back on track.

Is this not a better option than a PowerPoint presentation every month that tells you everything is okay – until it’s not? I am not suggesting that eating lunch at the same time every day will help you to deliver more projects, but knowing explicitly which strategies and tactics are being used to plan, execute and measure projects will allow you to make informed decisions about the changes you need to make to keep the project delivering as you expected – heck you may even get a medal for your efforts!

You can get in touch via [email protected] or 01234 834510 to arrange a discussion with Stuart or one of our other Project Management experts regarding your specific environment. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.

You can learn the foundation principles of Critical Chain Project Management on the Goldratt UK Masterclass Programme – register your interest here: