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Find Project Success With the Balanced Scorecard Method

During my time in National Defense University’s Advanced Management Program (41), I took a great course on the balanced scorecard technique. Generally speaking, it is a technique for senior management to measure how well strategic initiatives are performing. However, project managers can use the technique to help steer any project towards success.

Balanced Scorecard Basics

The basic foundation of balanced scorecard is to have a direct line of sight up from an individual task to the initiatives/project to the objectives to the strategic goals to the mission and vision of the entire organization. This is a bottom up view. Typically, vision is top down. Senior management determines the strategy to use resources to achieve the goals and objectives. The lower level staff performing the actual tasks don’t always know how their work contributes to the goal. An informed organization is more flexible and can deliver success more consistently.

The idea of the balanced scorecard is that each initiative has a set of metrics (measures) that tell “how are we doing”. Thus, each person working on a task has a direct line of sight from their tasks all all the way up to the related initiative, goals, mission and vision. Each metric also has this line of sight. This helps create transparency and buy-in as everyone can see how their efforts helps the overall mission.

Even if your organization is not using the balanced scorecard, you can use the principles to help improve any project. Specifically, the use of lag and lead measures will help you ensure your project is still delivering the intended value. These measures will help you make strategic decisions to keep to the right path.

Don’t wait for senior management to tell you their strategy (it may never be shared!). Start where you are. For each of your projects draw a line up to the related objective, goals, mission and vision. Then draw a line from the project down to the daily tasks performed for that project.

Tie each project into an objective. Do not tie the entire project into a single metric. This makes the scope of the project too narrow. This is an easy mistake to make, but avoid it. Instead, associate each metric with a task or set of tasks.

Operational Definitions

It is not enough to collect measures. You must provide context. Operational Definitions are forms that provide each metric with the context of what the metric supports. It also provides information such as how data is collected, the polarity (if higher numbers are good or bad) and the desired range. To learn the process in detail check out online resources or pick up Kaplan and Norton’s book.

The Measures

Metrics come in two flavors: Lag and Lead. Lag metrics are collected after an initiative/project is completed to measure success. Everyone is familiar with lag measures like surveys, page views, and usage reports. They report how well the project worked. However, lag measures can only look backwards.

To be able to steer a project while its still in progress and make important corrections, you need predictive measures. Lead measures tell you how well something is progressing towards a goal, while in progress. Lead measures are powerful and when used provide a great advantage for your projects.

How it Works

Each measure will have an Op Def stating the measures details, the related objective and its perspective. For example, using the customers’ perspective, an objective might be to improve Help Desk satisfaction by 10% in 6 months. In this case the lag measure is a survey.

So, you are assigned as the PM for the “Help Desk customer satisfaction improvement project initiative” or the HDCSIP (since we love acronyms). The project team decides the project will have two initiatives: provide Help Desk staff with customer service training and to upgrade the Help Desk knowledge system. This is where lead measures become very useful.

Lead measures too have a perspective, objectives and a data collection mechanism. Using the HDCSIP example, a lead measure might be the number of Help Desk staff who successfully complete the customer service training. Since this effort is key to successfully raising customer satisfaction, then the more staff trained the better the final results.

At the halfway mark of the project, if only 20% of the staff have completed training, then it could be a sign of a major problem coming up. However, knowing this helps you fix the situation in a timely manner.

Lead measures can also help you craft persuasive arguments to senior management that more resources are needed. Instead of a “gut feel”, you can present them with solid metrics. You can display how the lack of resources will contribute to project failure. No one wants to be part of a failed project, but sometimes it is hard to pinpoint problems during the hectic daily grind. Learning about problems during project is much more useful than after the final deliverable!

Try this out for yourself. Let me know if these techniques work for you or if you discovered a tweak that works better for your office.

  • NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public or private sector employer, organization or related entity.

Chaeny Emanavin is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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