What’s Counted and What Really Counts

As a Project Management Professional, you probably spend a lot of time with numbers. You’re constantly checking to ensure schedule, quality, and cost are under control. This is good because that is an important part of your job, but is it the most important part? Consider the quote below:

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

William Bruce Cameron, sociologist

Does this quote apply to Project Management? Are projects best managed by the numbers, or are things as such communication and team building really where your time is best spent? What do you think?

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Josh Nankivel

It absolutely applies!

I may be at fault for not spending enough attention on numbers, or at least I’m sure many other project managers would hold that view.

It’s probably because I have a fantastic team of Project Controls staff to work with. I can spend just a little time with them discussing plans and forecasts. If I didn’t have them, I’d have to do a lot more number-crunching and scrutinizing these things.

They allow me to focus on the product being developed and the teams developing those products, all of the interfaces with other project teams, and our stakeholders.

Dannielle Blumenthal

This is a great question. I think numbers matter, you just have to get to the right ones to understand what kills projects – which is usually people fighting with each other over something.

Example: When we moved to New Jersey, a number of boxes sat unpacked in the living room for YEARS.


Because my parents didn’t agree about something. I don’t remember if it was who was responsible for unpacking (I think that was it) or where the stuff should go or whether some of it should be disposed of, but either way…the boxes sat there!

If you think of “unpacking” as a project and “delays” as a key performance indicator, then you could say that “3 years delaying unpacking” is a pretty good metric that the project went off the rails somewhere.

So get the right numbers – particularly numbers that indicate people or groups are fighting about something. In government, fights cause delays. Look for delays.

In addition, look for excessive numbers of steps in a project. This is an indicator that someone is retaining power where they don’t need to be.

Josh Nankivel

That’s a good point too Dannielle. When you are just trying to control scope, cost, and schedule the underlying reasons why something might be out of whack aren’t as simple as that. The more nuanced parts of leading teams on projects are usually what you’ll find with a root cause analysis, changing requirements and expectations, etc.

Josh Nankivel

In addition, look for excessive numbers of steps in a project. This is an indicator that someone is retaining power where they don’t need to be.”

That’s pure gold Dannielle!

Deb Green

Love it! This applies to anything that’s got elements to measure. If the goal of your project or program is to reduce homelessness, measuring hots and cots alone won’t tell you if you’re successful. Should you aim to reduce the number of hots and cots provided? Umm.. maybe? Measure what counts, not just what you can count.

I spoke at a strategic communications conference last week about my program and gave the background on what the program was, who it was for, yadda yadda yadda. I asked the audience to remember only one thing from the overall presentation: WHY.

Why does this/any program exist? What was the impetus for this project?

Many times that root isn’t known, and it’s what makes it impossible to determine successful metrics and progress. If you don’t know why this project was started, how can you tell if you’ve moved the needle in the right direction?