Project Management Metrics: They’re Not What You Think

Everyone wants to succeed. Project managers build project plans with success in mind. How do you know if your project is succeeding? Without the right project management metrics, your best assessment is little more than a guess. Some project management metrics are obvious, while others are not at all. Everyone can understand that “on time” and “on budget” are good ways to measure project success. But they oftentimes don’t really tell the whole story.

Setting the right project management metrics, and monitoring them, is crucial for delivery. Here are some project management KPIs you will want to track as a project manager.

Project Management Metrics: The Basics

The two basic project management KPIs are “on time” and “on budget.” Simply put, your project has a deadline, and a budget. Meeting both are the time-tested project management metrics for success. They are simple to track – the deadline is tracked on a calendar, a Gantt chart, and the project timeline. It is often a milestone, too. The budget is tracked along the project’s life cycle, and with projections of cost ahead of time, you can always know whether your project is under budget, or exceeding it. The famous “project management triangle” (or “Triple Constraint”) has been in use for more than half a century now, and it defines the most basic look at a project there is.

project management metrics triple constraint

Scope: The Variable KPI

You’ll notice that cost and schedule make up the base of the project. What gives the project a second dimension is “scope.” Scope is often treated as one of the basic project management metrics. However, it is really a variable. Project scope is treated as if its in the control of a project manager, but it often depends on so many other variables. Scope ultimately depends on customer expectations, cost and schedule constraints, and management support, just to name a few. Scope creep exists for a reason!

Even with the best of project scope statements, there always remains a risk that a project’s scope may change. Maybe management makes a promise you can’t keep. Maybe the agreed upon project scope simply isn’t realistic for the cost and schedule planned. Or maybe the client’s expectations are out of line with reality, and this is revealed after the first milestone. (“We pictured the website looking very different than your design!”) Whatever the particulars, scope as a metric will always remain a variable – and the skills needed to manage scope expectations and delivery are a different skill set than simple cost and schedule delivery, too.

Managing scope requires careful management of the project environment. It requires knowing how to obtain resources and sell management on your project. It requires communication skills and negotiation skills. In short, scope is not simple, and while it may be a basic metric for measuring project success, it is important to remember it is the variable of basic project management metrics.

Advanced Project Management Metrics

OK, we now have two dimensions in measuring project management KPIs. Cost, schedule, and scope, taken together, reveal a two dimensional measure of quality. The area inside the Triple Constraint triangle, labelled as “quality,” is not really two dimensional. Project managers know there is far more to knowing if a project was successful! And more importantly, there must be metrics to determine a project’s health BEFORE delivery. These three project management metrics are good indicators of project health and chance of success, and the good project manager is always keeping an eye on them throughout the project.


Momentum is often discussed in terms of sports, and project management. It’s notoriously hard to quantify, and often people are only looking for evidence of positive momentum. Negative momentum often hides behind the terms “slump” or “bad form” in sports, masquerading as a separate phenomenon. When it comes to project management, momentum is just as difficult to quantify, but there are a few tricks of the trade.

The first place to look for momentum in project management KPIs is in team performance. When successes start building on previous successes, you know the team is performing with momentum. When you’re looking at your team loading, for example, and you can see the team is working at excess capacity thanks to beating deadlines, that’s a good sign of momentum. Use this when looking at individuals, or groups within the team. Who is outperforming? Who is underperforming? Why?

Momentum is not a metric that will define success, but it is a good indicator of a project’s ability to succeed. Projects with momentum are more likely to have a committed and happy project team. They are more likely to weather challenges successfully. Momentum is a metric that can tell you the likelihood of the next milestones being met, and if your team is working well or sputtering along.

Planned Vs Actual

Comparing the original plan with how the project actually happened yields a data set rich with information. A project where almost every task has been moved around is a project whose plan is worthless. A project that shows no changes in such a comparison is running like a well oiled machine. Drilling into what changed, when, and why, paints a picture of the project’s overall health. It also will reveal patterns about different segments of the project.

proggio planned vs actual projectmap

Planned vs actual is a better measure of a project being on schedule than meeting milestone dates. An accurate Planned Vs Actual tool provides a detailed painting of the project as a whole, and highlights the areas of the project that are under-performing. Using this as part of the project management metrics you track as a project manager will keep you with your eye to the future schedule of the project.

Customer/Stakeholder Sentiment

When all is said and done, customer sentiment might just be the most important of any project management KPIs. The project succeeds or fails based on the judgement of the customer, and the stakeholders involved. A good project manager is always in tune with client sentiment for the project. Constant communication helps. Regular updates and progress reports are key. When stakeholder sentiment begins to drop, you know there is a problem with your project.

Manage customer sentiment actively – and proactively. Ask for feedback, provide status and progress, and keep the stakeholders happy! Small delays and turbulence in a project are mitigated by stakeholder satisfaction. And they can snowball into major problems when customers are already unhappy.

Check in regularly with stakeholders and ask them to rate the project, and your performance. Use simple ratings, like a 1 to 10 scale or a letter grade. Add this rating to your project management KPIs. Track it over time. And when it starts to flash red, intervene quickly. The project is at stake.

Team Loading

Team loading refers to monitoring the workload of your team. As project management metrics go, ensuring your team works to capacity without being overworked is crucial. A team with too much free time begins to slack off. A team with too little free time loses morale and turns in shoddy work. A project manager must balance delegating tasks with his team’s workload. If the team is overloaded, you know there will be delays in the near future as tasks pile up in the “to do” section of their inboxes and Kanban boards.

proggio team loading

In the example above, a project manager can see that Tim is working to capacity over the course of the project. Scott is overloaded and will need help from July to early August. If the workload balance is not fixed, Scott will not be effective. Wendy and Sam have nothing to do from mid-July until early August. Presto, take some tasks from Scott and assign them to Wendy and/or Sam.

Team loading measures your project’s capacity, workflow, and is a good indicator if milestones will be met.

Executive Summary

Project management KPIs fall into two main categories.

The basics, which measure project success:

  • Cost
  • Schedule
  • Scope

The more advanced metrics, which judge the health of an ongoing project:

  • Planned vs Actual
  • Team loading
  • Momentum
  • Customer sentiment

Remember that scope is a variable metric. And make sure to track customer sentiment!

When used together, a project manager can know at a glance how the project is doing and its chances of success.