A common question for all project managers is: "Am I measuring the right things in order to gauge my project's health?" We all know about earned value, burn rate, project velocity, issue resolution, days outstanding on bugs, but these are general terms that can be applied to any project. In many cases they may mislead you as to your projects progress, earned value certainly can hide issues until it's too late for the project to recover.
The dangers of only relying on a standard set of measurements were brought home to me during my recent cardiac experience. During my visit to the Emergency Room the medical staff measured my: pulse, blood pressure, and took snapshots of my EKG readings. All were very good, all in the range for an excellent heart condition. In fact at one stage my wife and I were getting concerned that they would say there was nothing to worry about!
However the medical staff was not treating me as someone who needed to have his heart monitored, they were treating someone complaining of medical problems. So they also ran specific tests that would investigate the reported symptoms, one of which was a blood enzyme test that indicated that I had in deed had a heart attack. Good for me that they did, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this entry.
So what as this to do with projects? The answer is quite a lot. You can't treat all projects as being the identical and run them just using a set of standard metrics and expect everything to turn out fine every time. You have to be listening to the project team members, to be monitoring the interfaces with other work groups, to be using situational awareness, to be checking the symptoms of your project's health. The standard metrics are the minimum you need to use, not the only metrics.
So listen to your team, look for abnormal items and that way you end up paying for a cardiac surgeon rather than an undertaker. They cost about the same but only one has an upside to their profession!