Why Projects Succeed: Measuring Commitment Management

Why Projects Succeed is a blog series in which Slalom Business Architect Roger Kastner sheds light on key factors behind the art and science of successful project management and invites readers to discuss how they apply across different environments.

Slalom Consultant Roger Kastner

Roger Kastner is a Business Architect with Slalom Consulting who is passionate about raising the caliber of project leadership within organizations to maximize the value of projects

Recently I wrote about Commitment Management, a process for setting, managing, and delivering on expectations which I believe to be the most important of a Project Manager’s many responsibilities. In that same post I wrote that a lot of organizations measure Project Managers by “on-time and on-budget,” but by focusing on these two metrics the well-intentioned organization may drive the wrong behaviors.

As an alternative, I suggested measuring Project Managers on their mastery of the Commitment Management process in order to identify the individual contribution the Project Manager makes towards the success of the project and to drive the right behaviors instead of unintended ones.

In response, I received a couple of requests for clarification. One reader asked, “OK, besides height, how else would you measure a Project Manager?” while another asked “How do you measure Commitment Management?” Great questions!

Since I’m 5’10”, I agree that height is a horrible measurement of a Project Manager. My opinion is that Commitment Management is a perfectly reasonable way to measure the contribution a Project Manager makes towards achieving project success. It drives the right behaviors and it measures exactly what a Project Manager controls and contributes to the success of a project.

Why not On-Time and On-Budget?

I agree the Project Manager owns the process in which estimates are created and how schedules (“on-time”) and budgets (“on-budget”) are built. However, the team members provide the estimates that go into tasks and costs, so a project’s “on-time and on-budget” attainment is actually due to the contributions of both the Project Manager and the team.

No one person should be rewarded or held accountable for “on-time and on-budget.” It truly is a matter of joint-recognition or joint-accountability. If organizations want to put incentives or consequences on teams for “on-time and on-budget,” I think that is more reasonable than placing the accountability on a single source. (For an interesting look at this topic you may want to watch Daniel Pink talk on Incentives and Motivation at TEDx.)

How to measure Commitment Management

Can the Project Manager be measured on how they set and manage expectations with stakeholders? Of course. Take the following as an example:

On a scale of 1-5, where 1 is ‘expectations were not clearly set’ and 5 is ‘expectations were clearly set,’ how well did the Project Manager set your expectations with regards to schedule dates, risks to the those dates, and potential ways to bring in those dates?

Do you see how that question speaks to the complexities that “on-time” measurement can’t, as well as the value in setting stakeholder expectations that there are potential ways the date might change?

At the end of every engagement, Slalom Consulting sends a survey to each client manager which measures client satisfaction with the consultant and their work. Regardless of whether the project was ultimately successful, if the consultant communicated well and managed the client’s expectations well, the survey should come back with positive marks. This drives the consultant behavior to ensure the client is not only satisfied, but that setting expectations early and clearly managing them throughout the engagement is key to success. I do not see any reason why Project Management Organizations could not do the same thing.

In order to identify what to measure, the Project Management Organization should perform the following:

  1. Identify what’s important to success
  2. Identify the behaviors that lead to success
  3. Align those behaviors to measurable goals
  4. Measure and report

With my opinion that Commitment Management is the Holy Grail of Project Management, then it should come as no surprise that if I were creating a Stakeholder survey, that survey would have several questions that measured the Commitment Management process. I already gave one example, but here are a couple more:

Indicate your agreement with the following statements, (1 being Strongly Disagree, 5 being Strongly Agree):

  • The Project Manager effectively understood and advocated for my interests and expectations about the project with the other stakeholders.
  • The Project Manager consistently provided clear communications on the current status of the project, clearly explained any variances to baselines, and ensured awareness of recent and up-coming accomplishments.
  • The Project Manager provided timely and clear communications when unexpected issues came up on the project, providing impact analysis and options, and once a decision was made, relayed progress towards resolving the issue.

Let’s see, in just four questions we are identifying a Project Manager’s performance in the areas of Schedule Management, Stakeholder Management, Status Reporting, and Issue Management. Those sound like great areas to start with.

Exceptions & Curveballs

Once in a while, you might run into a difficult stakeholder. OK, maybe more frequently than that. In a metrics-based evaluation process, you will need to devise a way to account for the occasional difficult stakeholder who may use the survey to unfairly punish the Project Manager. Conversely, you will need to allow for stakeholders who suffer from “grade inflation” (the process of giving higher scores than deserved, this person may also use emoticons excessively and say “Awesome” a lot).

One way to handle this is to leverage a concept from the Olympic Figure Skating where they throw out the high and low scores. Another way to handle this, and maybe the more reasonable way, is to provide some human interpretation of the scores.

However you decide to handle the exceptions, as a manager of Project Managers, you should be looking for trends in the results. If one of 10 stakeholders has a bad experience with the Project Manager but the majority of the responses are positive, the trend is more instructive than the individual scores. Now, if half of the surveys indicate a bad experience, then what we’ve got here is a teaching opportunity. (Apologies to Cool Hand Luke.)

Summary

I hope this sheds some light on a different way to measure Project Managers that will effectively drive the right behaviors. It’s not the easiest thing to measure, but in my experience, it is an infinitely better way to measure a Project Manager’s contribution to the project than “on-time and on-budget” because it drives the right focus and rewards the right behaviors.

What do you think?

How does your organization measure Project Managers? Please join the conversation, post a comment, and share what has worked in your experience.

About Roger Kastner
As a member of the Organizational Effectiveness practice at Slalom Consulting, I'm excited to share my perspectives and experiences with Change and Project Management to help clients and practitioners achieve their goals and objectives.

6 Responses to Why Projects Succeed: Measuring Commitment Management

  1. Patrick Hildebrand says:

    Great post Roger, I agree that we need to come up with an effective (and fair) way to measure Project Managers, and commitment management is a great place to start. I’m going to try this with my team. Btw, you may have already seen this; it’s another (more interesting) version of Daniel Pink’s talk on motivation; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc.

    • Roger Kastner says:

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I would love to hear how it goes with your team, Patrick.

      And thank you for the RSA Animate , they do an amazing job with bringing that talk to life. Makes me wish I had better white boarding skills.

  2. Tom Polzin says:

    Nice job Roger…better than any book…

  3. Cindy Shaw says:

    Love this…Clear, concise and actionable! Gives me a great outline to add to any pm plan.
    Thank you!

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