Why you must track project outcomes!

Pointing to project outcomesIt is normal for a PMO to put a lot of time and effort into reporting the status of the projects and programmes for which they have oversight.  In many cases the reporting can be very comprehensive.  However, despite all this effort, very polished reporting, the stakeholders and sponsors still have questions and are not comfortable that progress is being made.

The PMO may find this hard to understand as they have implemented a robust process.  All of the project data is being captured and challenged to ensure a high quality report.  The reason for the concern is normally that the reporting does not provide an update in respect of outcomes.

Yes the sponsor wants to ensure that the project is progressing against cost, schedule and scope.  In fact it should be part of the documented responsibilities within the steering committee terms of reference.  However, in many cases what the sponsor and stakeholders want to know is “how are the changes making a difference to the business”.  It is because of this that the PMO should champion and encourage the projects to report outcomes.

What are outcomes?

Very simply they should be the measurable, positive output of completing a specific change.   For example, a project may aim to deliver software to take orders directly from the client using the internet.  Meaning the client no longer needs to telephone during office hours to speak to an operator to process the order.  The positive outcomes include the client can place orders 24 hours a day and no need to have an operator enter the order manually resulting in cost reduction.

When should they be identified?

It should be the responsibility of the project sponsor and / or project manager to identify the outcomes as part of developing the business case.  This is good practice as it helps ensure that the benefits of executing the project are real.  It is also important that the business case explains how the benefits will be recognised, usually in the form of critical success factors (CSF’s).

Who should report outcomes?

While the project is still running, it should be the responsibility of the project manager to report progress on outcomes as part of their regular reporting.  However, it is common for a project to complete and close before the benefits have been achieved i.e. implementing a new piece of software may allow for manual tasks to be automated.

In reality the software will be implemented and then there will be a period of time for the manual processes to be migrated.  If the migration period takes 1 year, it is not acceptable to leave the project team in place to await the realisation of benefits.  Therefore, the project will be formally closed and then the sponsor should ensure that there is a method for progress on outcomes to be reported.

Who should track outcomes?

Outcomes should ideally be tracked by the PMO.  Being independent from the project, they can capture the benefits stated in the business case, baseline them and then track progress, holding the sponsor to account.  Using this approach means that there is a reduced risk that benefits will be forgotten.

The Challenge

Many project managers are so focused on delivery (which is good) they do not think to report using the language of outcomes.  Therefore, the PMO can play a valuable role in reviewing reports and providing feedback that outcomes are not covered.  Having oversight for tracking the metrics means that the PMO should know what outcomes should be delivered and then remind the project to include updates.

The education may take a couple of months.  However, perseverance will result in a change in mind set and it will start to become natural for the project manager to talk in outcomes.  This in turn will make the sponsor happy as they will be able to see that their investment is being rewarded.

Summary

Outcomes are the reason why a project is initiated.  It is important as part of the business case to define the outcomes and how they will be measured.  The PMO should track the progress against the outcomes and help guide the project manager to report, using the language of outcomes.

Instilling this mind set will have a huge positive impact to the perception of project delivery and the service provided by the PMO.