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Measure Outputs for Success

May 6, 2008

results graphI’ve responded to comments from clients in the past asking why they did not see certain contractors on-site at their project as often as they expected. This even on fixed fee engagements. When pressed, the managers usually could site no direct impacts from the resources not being there.  At project retrospectives, all parties felt objectives of the project were fully met. So, why the complaint?

It’s just easier and more comfortable to measure inputs. This is a common theme and I think it is one reason time and material contracts continue to be a norm in consulting.  Employment is essentially an input measured profession. Short of major mistakes, most employees are paid for showing up. Thus the corollary, “I paid for the consultant, I want him/her here.” Having contractors work on site creates an input you can see and that seems real. It is also one of the least important measures of project success.

I know projects can be successful even when teams are fully distributed. In 2006, prior to the Sun acquisition, MySQL employed 320 workers in 25 countries, 70 percent of whom worked from home. Even the company holiday party was held online. I’ve personally delivered successful projects where in the course of a 6 month engagement, consultants were on site with the client only a few scattered weeks for critical touch points. In these cases, the focus is more squarely on measures that ensure success.

If you want to ensure success in any endevor, focus on measuring outputs. Track deliverables completed or burndown. Measure quality. Ensure risks are being mitigated. Measure tangible impacts to ensure value is being delivered. Measure stakeholder confidence and user satisfaction.

Contractors and consultants that are billing by the hour would do well to use contribution to output measures as a yardstick for whether any hour is billable. They would do even better to tie their compensation more directly to a value proposition and bill according to an output measurement.

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