Project Management

How to Make Project Metrics Actionable

It’s been a year since I was first introduced to tracking project throughput and cycle time, and this concept has been in the back of my mind ever since. It was something I kept researching and asking others about, but I never truly understood what to do with it until recently. 

There are many obvious ways to track productivity that I do feel confident in, but here at Underbelly we are always challenged to think outside the box. Yes, we use Asana to track timelines and due dates, but we want to start incorporating more data to show our progress. 

Without having much experience in tracking data, it took a lot of time to learn and teach others to understand. We are still growing this process, but we want to share where we are now.

In 2020 we began tracking our work in a tool called Nave. Nave allows us to connect our Asana boards and begin tracking not only how many tickets are moved from our Planned Sprint column to the Done column, but also how quickly those tickets are moved. Nave started giving us our Cycle Time and Throughput, plus much more! We started tracking these two data points weekly at a monthly time frame inside of a spreadsheet and about a month in we were able to start seeing a trend. 

Now that we have trends displayed it allows us to look at Asana and be able to better speak to what the data is showing. Ideally you should see your Cycle Time decrease and Throughput increase, which means we are doing more in less time. Seeing this ideal trend does not happen often. So instead we spend our time trying to understand why a project's Cycle Time is increasing and its Throughput decreasing. With these trends in mind we look at each of our project boards to understand what is happening and came to a few conclusions:

1. Our team does not have strong enough user stories written so we are spending a lot of time researching instead of producing. 

2. Tickets are spending too long in Client Review and we need to figure out how to help our clients more quickly provide feedback. 

3. Our teams are producing fewer Asana tickets weekly. Is something happening within their personal lives that is causing a reduction in work engagement?

When looking at data, each project will be different so there is no perfect baseline. Taking inventory of weekly trends helps us target the conversation for each specific project. There are so many measurable data points in project management and we found only focusing on Cycle Time and Throughput is right for us at this time.

In summary, we believe strongly that tracking project data will help us see a different picture than only going off of a gut feeling. Start small like we did by taking your task management tool and finding a dashboard service that will allow for integrations. Second, as a team determine what your definition of “Done” is. This should be the same across all projects so you can understand the data more easily. Third, determine which data points you want to track for all projects and fourth, pull this data as frequently as you determine is best into something that can show trends. Trends displayed can be as simple as having a column per week that lists the data points you are tracking, allowing you to visually see that weeks are different. Finally, after looking at the trends go through your task management board to understand what is happening and connect with the project team to share the data and understand how you can best support each other. 

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