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Despite constantly keeping your eye on the ball, project managers might find it difficult to gauge the real health of projects. Are you on track or veering towards a cliff? Delivering value or just checking off tasks?

If these questions sound familiar, then you're in the right place. In this article, I'm going to unpack the top key performance indicators (KPIs) that have become a compass, an early warning system, and a report card, all in one. These are the metrics that help stay on budget, on time, and on scope.

Remember, project management isn't just about checking off project activities or firefighting problems. It's about proactively leading your team toward success and creating high quality deliverables on time and within budget. Our roles are vital, and these KPIs will help you prove that value while keeping your eye on the project pulse.

So, let's dive in and decode the numbers that matter for project success—the top KPIs for managing and monitoring your projects. 

What are Project KPIs?

Project KPIs, or key performance indicators, are a set of quantifiable measures used to gauge the performance of a project over time.

These metrics help us monitor progress, identify trends, and make informed decisions about the direction of our projects. They give us tangible, concrete evidence of how we're doing—rather than relying on gut feelings or intuition. 

KPIs provide a snapshot of project performance, flagging potential issues before they become significant problems.

Wondering if your project is going to be completed in time? Worried about staying on budget with freelancers? Not sure where to start when assessing what to do better next time? It’s time to implement these KPIs.

9 Key Performance Indicators For Project Management

These effective KPIs help give a more comprehensive understanding of a project’s health, helping to ensure we deliver on time, on budget, and within the agreed-upon scope. Let's take a closer look at each one.

1. Return on Investment (ROI)

ROI is a metric that's widely used to measure the probability of getting more out of the project that what’s been put into it (ie. a return on the money and effort that was invested in the project that made it worth it). 

In project management, it helps us understand the financial viability of our projects. By calculating ROI, we can ensure that our projects deliver value and are worth the resources we're investing in like freelancers, graphic designers, and software developers. In terms of profitability, it’s one of the most important KPIs on a quantitative level. 

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2. Budget Variance

Budget variance (also sometimes called cost variance) is a measure of the difference between the budgeted cost of a project and the actual budget and costs incurred.

Did your project estimate predict you would spend $50,000 on a project, but you actually spent $75,000? Understanding the project budget and the possible variance is the first step to seeing what went wrong (or right) and how to adjust project planning for the next time.

3. Cost Performance Index (CPI)

CPI is like a grade for how well we're using our budget. It's the earned value (what we're getting out of the project) divided by the actual cost (what we're putting into the project). If the CPI is more than 1, that's awesome news! 

It means our project is giving us more value than it's costing us. But if the CPI is less than 1, it's like a warning light flashing on our dashboard, telling us that our project costs are outpacing its value. 

4. Planned Value (PV)

Planned value, or PV for short, is like our roadmap for the project. It shows us the value of the work we aim to have done by a certain date. Keeping tabs on PV is like checking our GPS during a road trip—it helps us stay on the right path and avoid unnecessary detours.

5. Resource Capacity

Resource capacity is how much work our team can realistically handle in a given period. It's like knowing the size of our backpack before we start stuffing things into it. It’s the baseline or benchmark to use when planning resource allocation.

By keeping an eye on this, we can make sure no one's overworked and we have the right manpower to tackle the project tasks. This way, we keep everyone fresh and maintain high productivity through proper resource management.

6. Cycle Time

Cycle time is the stopwatch for a task or a set of tasks. It tracks how long it takes us from start to project completion. Keeping an eye on our cycle times helps us understand how quickly our team is working and lets us spot areas where we could speed things up a bit. 

7. Earned Value (EV)

Earned value, or EV, is the actual value of the work we've done, measured against our budget. It's like our progress report, showing us how much we've achieved so far. Regular check-ins on EV help us ensure our projects are staying on budget and not running off schedule.

8. Schedule Performance Index (SPI)

SPI, or schedule performance index, is the ratio of earned value to planned value. It's like a report card on how well we're using our time on the project. A SPI greater than 1 means we're ahead of the game, while a SPI less than 1 tells us we're falling behind. Keeping tabs on SPI helps us keep our project timeline in check.

9. Schedule Variance (SV)

Schedule variance is the difference between earned value and planned value. It's like the alarm system that lets us know if we're running ahead or falling behind schedule. 

By keeping a close watch on SV, we can act quickly if our project timing starts to slide, making sure everything gets delivered when it should. Is your team hitting milestones and staying on mark with the project schedule? Understanding that before the end of the project can be the key to a successful project overall. 

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to KPIs. The metrics you choose should align with your overall project goals and help you track the specific outcomes you're aiming to achieve.

How To Track Project Management KPIs

Now that we understand what KPIs are and the ones that really matter for project management—the next thing on our to-do list? Keeping track of them in a way that doesn't drive us nuts. There are tons of project management software options that can be a useful go-to for your project team.

Picking the right project management tool can be a game-changer, making the whole monitoring and evaluating KPIs thing a whole lot simpler. Keep an eye out for tools that give you live updates, let you tweak your KPI dashboard just the way you like it, and display data in a way that won't make your head spin. 

These features can take all that complex project data and turn it into insights you can actually use. Some of the crowd favorites include Asana, Wrike, Trello, and, each with their own pros depending on what you need.

A lot of this project tracking software lets you automate the tracking of KPIs like budget variance, cost performance index, and more. You can set up your dashboard to showcase these metrics, so you always have a quick snapshot of how your project is doing, right when you need it. 

Plus, being able to share this data with your team members and other stakeholders boosts transparency and keeps everyone in the loop. You can also manage a larger number of projects while keeping an eye on performance metrics, which is the ultimate tool for any project manager. 

FAQs About Project Management KPIs

As we continue to navigate important project management KPIs, it’s normal to have a few questions popping up. So, let’s tackle some of the most frequent ones to get things a bit clearer.

What’s Next?

We've just taken a behind-the-scenes tour of project KPIs and how they can act as our GPS through the wild and wonderful world of digital project management, steering us towards our goal.

For me, these KPIs have been like a trusty sidekick. They've got my back when I'm navigating the sometimes foggy landscape of project management, making sure I've always got a clear picture of my project's health. They've become my secret weapon, shining a light on potential issues before they get the chance to stir up trouble.

If you enjoyed this article and found it helpful, don't miss out on more project management insights, tips, and stories from the field. Subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter today. Let's continue learning and growing together, transforming the world of digital project management one KPI at a time. 

By Galen Low

I am a digital project management nerd, a cultivator of highly collaborative teams, and an impulsive sharer of knowledge. For the past decade, I've been shaping and delivering human-centered digital transformation initiatives in government, healthcare, transit, and retail. I'm also the co-founder of The Digital Project Manager and host of The DPM Podcast.

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