KPIs in a Project-driven Business: Quality, Scope and Other

This is the last part of my series on a brief introduction of KPIs relevant to any business that is building its success on performance of distinct customer projects.

1.1        Project Quality

A project quality-KPI measures the quality of deliverables and outcomes. It may include metrics like defect rates, customer satisfaction ratings, adherence to quality standards, and number of rework or corrective actions.

Project quality has a direct impact on project expense (thus profitability), and on the probability of doing repeat business with a customer. Measuring defects will also provide input to discussing supplier issues and potentially claims.

1.2         Project Scope

This KPI assesses the project’s adherence to the defined scope and its ability to manage scope changes. Metrics may include the number of scope changes, scope creep percentage, and customer change requests. In summary, it is a metric for project planning quality.

1.3         Other, Less Critical Performance Indicators

  • Customer Satisfaction
    This KPI measures the satisfaction level of project stakeholders, including clients, end-users, and other relevant parties. It can be measured through surveys, feedback ratings, or other qualitative and quantitative assessments.
  • Project Team Performance
    This KPI measures the effectiveness of the project team in terms of collaboration, productivity, and overall performance. It may include metrics like team satisfaction ratings, employee turnover rate, and team productivity metrics.
  • Stakeholder Communication
    This KPI evaluates the effectiveness of communication within the project and with external stakeholders. Metrics may include the frequency and quality of project updates, stakeholder feedback, and communication response times.

  • Resource Productivity
    Resource Productivity is used to assess the output and deliverables produced by each resource within a given timeframe. This metric focuses on the quality and efficiency of work completed by resources, providing insights into their productivity and contribution to project outcomes.
  • Feedback and Performance Reviews
    Best-in class businesses regularly gather feedback from project managers, team members, and stakeholders regarding resource utilization. They conduct performance reviews to assess individual and team performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, and provide constructive feedback to enhance resource utilization for future endeavors.

KPIs in a Project-driven Business: Risk Management

This article focuses on identifying and mitigating project risks. It includes metrics such as the number of identified risks, risk severity ratings, risk mitigation actions taken, and overall risk exposure.

For effective risk management, each project has a risk register that is reviewed with management regularly. The risk register identifies project risk topics, mitigating measures and a mitigation status. Risks typically include availability of key resources, risks to the timeline, and customer financial risk.

Risk management should be an ongoing and proactive process throughout the project lifecycle focusing on risk recognition and avoidance rather than on incident management. As such, it is less of an KPI as a set of initiatives targeted to minimize the likelihood and impact of potential issues and to enhance project success rates. The business standard for risk management follows a number of steps:

  • Risk Identification to recognize potential risks that could arise during the project lifecycle. This involves conducting a comprehensive risk assessment by reviewing project documentation, engaging stakeholders, and leveraging past project experiences. Brainstorming sessions, checklists, and risk templates can also aid in identifying risks.
  • Risk Analysis and Assessment to analyze identified risks to determine their potential impact and likelihood of occurrence. Risk analysis assesses the severity of each risk and prioritizes risks based on their significance to focus resources and attention on high-priority risks that require proactive mitigation.
  • Risk Response Planning will result in a risk response plan to address identified risks. This involves defining appropriate strategies for each risk, such as:

Avoidance: Take actions to eliminate or avoid the risk altogether, such as changing the project approach or scope.

Mitigation: Implement measures to reduce the likelihood or impact of the risk, such as additional quality checks or redundancy in resources.

Transfer: Transfer the risk to a third party, such as through insurance, subcontracting, or partnerships.

Acceptance: Acknowledge that the risk exists and determine how to effectively respond if it materializes. This can involve creating contingency plans or reserves to mitigate the impact.

  • Risk Monitoring and Control to monitor identified risks throughout the project lifecycle. It tracks the status of each risk, going along with  assessing any changes in risk severity or likelihood, and ensuring that risk response strategies are implemented effectively.
  • Risk Communication to keep stakeholders informed about project risks by providing regular updates on risk assessment, mitigation activities, and any changes in risk profiles. Effective communication ensures that stakeholders are aware of potential risks and their associated impacts.
  • Risk Documentation to keep track of all identified risks, risk response strategies, and their outcomes.
  • Centralized Risk Register to track and monitor risks systematically. This documentation serves as a reference for future projects and supports organizational learning and improvement.
  • Lessons Learned or post-mortem exercises at the end of a project to feed a continuous improvement process with insights and experiences related to risk management.

KPIs in a Project-driven Business: Schedule Adherence

Following profitability and resource utilization, schedule adherence is the third critical KPI for any project-oriented business.

Project planning usually identifies a series of milestones, plotted on a timeline. Project Schedule Adherence tracks the project’s progress in meeting scheduled milestones and deadlines. It includes metrics as percentage of tasks completed on time, variance in project schedule, and overall project timeline adherence, and is usually fed by a project management software, but might also be calculated manually.

Best practices to effectively manage project schedule adherence include:

  • Detailed Project Planning
    A well-defined project plan sets a strong foundation for managing schedule adherence. Investing time and effort in thorough project planning will improve the chances of success. The project plan breaks project down into smaller tasks, estimate durations, and establish clear dependencies and milestones.
  • Realistic Deadlines
    Deadlines for each task and milestone should be realistic and achievable. Overly optimistic or aggressive timelines lead to schedule slippage (and potentially to financial risk).

  • Project Management Software
    Application of project management software allows for efficient scheduling, resource allocation, and tracking of tasks. These tools can provide visibility into project timelines, critical paths, and potential bottlenecks, enabling effective schedule management.

  • Monitoring Progress
    Progress monitoring against the planned schedule, involving regularly tracking, and updating of task status, identification of deviations, and promptly addressing issues or delays will help in identifying schedule risks early and taking necessary corrective actions.

  • Critical Path Analysis (CPA)
    CPA determines the sequence of tasks that set the overall project duration. Focusing on managing tasks on the critical path and ensuring their adherence to the schedule will avoid delays, which would directly affect the overall project timeline.

  • Communication and Collaboration
    Maintaining open and effective communication channels with the project team and stakeholders drives transparency and team commitment. Project schedules, deadlines, and expectations should be regularly communicated to team and stakeholders. Fostering collaboration among team members to address schedule-related challenges will improve the quality of identified solutions in many cases.

  • Change Management
    Successful project managers deploy a structured change management process to manage scope changes effectively. They evaluate the impact of requested changes on the project schedule and assess their feasibility before making adjustments. Changes require proper documentation and approval.

KPIs in a Project-driven Business: Resource Utilization

Next to project profitability, resource utilization is generally viewed as the most important KPI for project-oriented businesses.

Resource utilization-metrics track the efficiency of resource allocation and utilization in the project, but also across the entire business. They include KPIs like resource utilization rate (identifying “the bench”), availability of key resources, and resource allocation balance.

Measuring resource utilization is an ongoing process. Month-end visibility is helpful to assess overall performance – project work, however, is executed concurrently. Therefore, it is important to establish clear metrics, track them consistently, and analyze the data to identify trends, patterns, and areas for improvement regularly (at least weekly if not daily). Effective resource utilization metrics can optimize resource allocation, improve project performance, and maximize the efficiency and productivity. In the following, I am taking a closer look at some important related aspects of resource allocation – bread-and-butter for any project-driven business.

Time Tracking
Implementation of a time tracking system or software allows project team members to record the time spent on different tasks and activities. Effective time tracking will help identify how resources allocate their time across projects and specific tasks, providing insights into their utilization. Activity buckets should reflect the nature of the project and its breakdown into meaningful task-subsets. They usually include direct time spent on

o Project Management,
o Contract Management,
o (Pre-) Engineering and Planning,
o Software development and PLC programming,
o Installation,
o Testing,
o Other relevant activities like Procurement (if linked to a project directly).

Resource Allocation Rate
RAR measures the percentage of time that resources spend on project-related activities compared to their total available time. This metric indicates how effectively resources are allocated to projects and helps identify any potential over or underutilization on individual basis.
Individuality is particularly important if project success hinges on availability of one or just a few key people with specific skills or capabilities, for example in project management or in specific IT environments.

Resource Availability
Resource availability defines the availability of key resources and their capacity to take on additional work. This can be done through a resource management system or even spreadsheet where you maintain information about resource availability, including vacations, training, and other non-project-related activities.

Utilization Ratio
This metric compares the actual time spent on project work to the available time. For example, if a resource worked 30 hours on project-related tasks out of a total available time of 40 hours, the utilization ratio would be 75%. This metric helps assess the efficiency of resource allocation, past and future.

Projection of utilization rates is essential for planning timelines for new projects. Creating cross-business visibility of actual and projected resource utilization could systematically identify underutilized resource, thus unlock further benefits.

Utilization ratios allow for several secondary KPIs, for example:

– Resource Over-allocation identifies instances where resources are allocated more work than they can handle within the given timeframe. Over-allocation can lead to project delays, decreased productivity, and increased stress for team members.
– Bench Time measures the time when resources are idle or not actively engaged in project work. Bench time indicates under-utilization and can be costly for the business.
– Workload Balance: Resource allocation rates and resource availability enable a business to analyze the workload distribution among resources to ensure a balanced allocation. Uneven workloads can lead to resource bottlenecks, burnout, or under-utilization. Workload balances support assessing the distribution of tasks and workload across team members to optimize resource utilization by entity or across the group.

Any project-driven business should consider a few key metrics related to resource allocation and resource balancing to increase efficiencies, manage project risk and thus improve profitability.

Project Tracking – KPIs and Best Practice in a Project-driven Business

Identification of the right Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is essential for measuring success and progress of projects, for management and the shareholder. The industry typically assesses various aspects of project performance to provide valuable insights for decision-making and improvement. In a series of contributions on the subject, I discuss a set of typical KPIs used in project-driven businesses, with a focus on resource utilization, schedule adherence and risk management.

Project Profitability & Cash Flow

In measuring the financial success of a project, several KPIs such as gross margin, net profit margin, return on investment (ROI), and cash flow specific to individual projects, hinge on accuracy and availability of relevant data. Relevant data will be sourced from financial systems, but also include a project manager’s assessment of future project expense.

Project Profitability routinely also evaluates how well the project is managing its budget. It includes metrics such as actual project costs compared to the budgeted costs and calculates a cost variance.

Diligence and effectiveness of these KPIs might vary across entities, locations, or groups, unless governed by a strict process that would describe how to measure and assess risk. Common understanding of the corporate approach to estimate future cost and resource needs is essential for a weighted and balanced presentation of a project’s outlook. The result of the process drives PoC (Percentage of Completion), thus is relevant (and auditable) input for the business’ financial results.

Project Management: Sitting on a Beach or Managing Exposure?

If I had a crystal ball to foresee the future, I’d sit on a beach and sip a cocktail. Well – I don’t.

In fact, very likely at the time I can lay my hand on the proverbial crystal ball, everybody else would have one, too. So, in a way, I am glad there are no crystal balls helping me or anyone else to predict what is going to happen: It would destroy my business model as a consultant and project manager, as I manage my clients‘ exposure to risk.

Project Management = Risk Management

Mostly I lead transformation, carve-out and/or post-merger integration projects. Such projects are very complex, and high complexity generally translates into high risk. Many a thing can happen in the course of such programs: System failures, resource issues, a pandemic breaks lose, loss of key people, roadblocks with the works council, unforeseen regulatory hurdles…. You name it, I’ve been there.

Unfortunately, ambiguity lies in the nature my daily business, and dealing with it is one of my core challenges. Hence, I manage my client’s exposure to unwanted outcomes by predicting what might happen, and find ways to either prevent it, or at least prepare for it. The classic risk register is a simple, but proven tool to collect risk information, and hold a catalog of mitigation strategies.

Risks to the Project Timeline

Usually, I am working to a set timeline in my assignments. (If there was no timeline set by the client, I will set one: Swift implementation is a key success factor in PMI scenarios in particular. Procrastination never adds value – compare my article on the subject.) Since anything is connected to everything in transformation projects, understanding and management of functional dependencies is critical to project success: There are no ivory towers in my line of work, and if there were, they needed breaking down.

Since sequential task completion does not work in complex environments, many activities run in parallel; they are interconnected, and yet I have to give the project direction based upon incomplete information and projections. In the interest of time, I make assumptions of projected outcomes and schedule accordingly. Failing to do so, waiting for hard facts instead of applying probabilities to potential alternative events and outcomes will most likely lead to missing the overall timeline.

Conveying the concept of dealing with ambiguity, of being at the ready for a desired outcome, but at the same time prepare for the unwanted, is a project manager’s key competence. It takes conviction, persuasive power and a very good understanding of the project, functional interfaces and dependencies to succeed.

A regular, open and healthy exchange of information on progress, risks and new dependencies across functional workstreams will facilitate cross-fertilization, risk-flagging and early alignment. The good old stand-up meeting presents a great stage for key team members to report on their tasks ahead and challenge others. Be sure to make this a firm part of your team’s schedule.

PMI Program Director in Qualitest’s Acquisition of telexiom

Qualitest Group, the world’s leading AI-powered quality engineering company, has announced the acquisition of telexiom GmbH, a Cologne-based specialist in IT consulting and services. Qualitest is owned by Bridgepoint, an international private equity group.

I am proud to drive integration between Qualitest and telexiom in the capacity of PMI Program Director on behalf of Global PMI Partners, who have delivered several integrations for Qualitest in the past.

Click here for the corresponding press release.

M&A Digitization Week Europe 2021

powered by digiweek M&A, June 14 –18, 2021

This week I am participating in a key event for the M&A community: M&A Digitization Week 2021. Players from software makers to consulting firms will present and discuss hot subjects from my line of business.

Digiweek M&A will be held for the first time this year in digital format from 14 to 18 June. The target group is all M&A professionals interested in tools and solutions to facilitate the M&A process.

The digiweek M&A is organised by M&A Media Services GmbH together with the content partners M&A REVIEW, German Association for Mergers & Acquisitions e.V. (BM&A) , Fusions & Acquisitions and M&A REVIEW EUROPE.

Carve-out: A Proven Path to Execution

Various reasons, from cash generation to meeting anti-trust requirements, can lead to a carve-scenario. Only: A carve-out does not just happen – it needs to be planned meticulously.

Once the strategic decision for a carve-out has been taken, planning commences: Target buyers need to be identified; competing priorities like execution speed, value and quality need to be balanced. From a purely operational point of view, however, there are a couple of steps which will lead the program manager through the schedule, depicted in the illustration below:

Approach to Carve-out Execution

Initially, the boundaries of the business that shall be carved out need to be set: Locations, functions, products and services, and/or people are key determinants. In a next step, the carve-out leadership team has to be nominated. At times, not all functional management positions required for the new business can be filled from within. Given the time constraints of such a project, interim management can be a resourcing option if immediate external recruitment is not feasible. Just like in any other strategic project, the carve-out team needs to take shape, and the project should be structured into an execution team (functional management plus support team) and a steering group. Timing and objective of the carve-out should be set, as should the project governance (decision making processes, conflict & priority management, resourcing….).

People are the heart of any business, and people concerns need addressing early on. HR plays an important role throughout the project execution cycle, and should be staffed adequately. Change management know-how helps, together with a good communication plan for internal and external addressees (communication, however, is certainly not solely a HR task).

In the next step, the new business‘ operational readiness becomes the focal point: Functional processes should be reviewed and listed, including any interfaces with adjacent functions and hand-over points. Transitional/Temporary service agreements (TSA) should be prepared for those functions and processes which will not carry over into the new entity. Any capability gaps (functionally and resource-wise) need to be identified and addressed, either through TSAs, external services, or internal capability build. Furthermore, the new company need to be registered (court of commerce, tax, any other regulatory bodies).

IT and Business Systems represent a relatively large risk: Systems may be sustained, separated, relieved, and data potentially transferred, adapted, changed, deleted. Data and systems are key components in a spin-readiness assessment.

Eventually, Day 1 is going to be there. I have yet to see a spin that would take place without any issues: There is always something that was forgotten, that goes wrong or at least not as planned. The carve-out team should be set up for some post-spin issues management. Some issues only surface with delay, during a closing cycle, for example. Continuous monitoring of systems and detection of unusual process behavior are crucial in this stage.

While the above describes some common steps and activities, all carve-outs are different: Differently sized, different complexity, different people. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and there is no predetermined timeline either. I recommend developing the detailed program in a reconnaissance phase together with Management. As a side effect, this also triggers early Management involvement. Getting Management buy-in to the approach, a commitment to objectives and eventually the timeline is crucial for a high caliber project like a carve-out in any case.

Carve-outs are predominantly transformation and change programs. My recommendation would be to look for a project manager with relevant transformation experience, rather than look for an industry insider lacking the project and process management know-how.

Strategic Projects: Drive or Stall in the Pandemic?

Covid-19 is impacting on many businesses – directly or indirectly: The economy takes a nose-dive, and the future is more uncertain than ever. How should Management react?

Steering a ship in calm waters is difficult already, but holding the helm in rough seas takes perseverance, a clear vision, and trust into own and the team’s capabilities. It is any CEO’s first responsibility to improve (and grow) a business, even in rough times.

  1. Strategy
    The business strategy describes the path to success, in particular considering markets, technology, and competition. Strategic goals and objectives are long term – usually with a minimum horizon of 5-7 years (may be shorter in New Economy business models). Having a strategy at all is a good starting point, but sticking to it is imperative since the determinants of the market environment usually do not change over night – not even in a pandemic.
  2. Tactics
    A successful strategy is supported by a series of well-defined, concrete postulations, targeting specific goals and objectives. They define the stepping stones towards full implementation – and largely translate into those strategic projects without which the strategic process comes to a grinding halt.
  3. Drive or Stall?
    Exceptional situations require exceptional measures – but panic is a bad advisor. Even in a shrinking economy, the general business direction will remain the same. Instead of stopping all strategic initiatives, each of them should be reviewed carefully for its effectiveness, cash-impact and risk/reward ratio in an objective process.
  4. Risk Management
    Obviously, especially in uncertain environments managing risk becomes paramount. Implementing KPI systems, routine milestone reviews, and a stage gate process to control critical waypoints are essential elements of a continuous monitoring process.
  5. Courage
    „Killing your puppies is the hardest part!“, is a quote by an R&D Director I used to work with. It takes courage to stop a process one has invested in…. Nevertheless, pulling the plug on a project may very well be the right decision if the project is derailed, and objectives cannot be reached at all or at least not with acceptable efforts.


“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‚crisis.‘ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.” (Quote by John F. Kennedy)

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to strategic decision making. However, driving the strategy by implementing strategic projects in a controlled manner will position the business for the future. Heeding this principle will allow you to hit the ground running past the pandemic.

The author: Diethard Engel is an interim manager and consultant, focused on Business Transformation, Post-merger Integration / Carve-out and Executive Finance in the manufacturing industry.