One of the challenges within projects is to keep focus on what’s really important. The project has (or should have) a specific goal. When things go wrong, when issues and changes occur, are we still focused on that goal?

There is a very powerful tool to create and maintain focus on project and that is the progress report. The progress report is used to communicate the progress to the project board or senior executive/supplier/user; on scope, budget, time and risks (and sometimes quality). Implicitly it is a kind of measurement system. The success of the project is measured by this progress report. Of course people tend to deliver what is measured, in other words, projects tend to align to the measurement system.

The big question is “does the measurement system reflect the project goal“?
In my experience this is often not the case.

The project’s goal is expressed in the underlying business case. If the business case is not defined explicitly then it still exists implicitly. (There is a reason why the project was funded). The business case should not only describe the development phase of the product (the project itself) but also the production phase of the product (maintenance, support). A common business case is that process improvements lead to a decrease in costs in production.  The costs of the project will then break even in X years.

The problem with a business case is that very often it is defined only once, before the start of a project. When the project commences the business case is never looked at again. That is a shame because the business case not only defines the validity of the project, it is also a very good tool to keep the project aligned on the end result.

In fact, in fixed-price projects, there are at least two business cases. One for the customer and one for each supplier. The customer wants a new product or process improvement. The supplier wants to make a profit on the project. Depending on the amount of “transparency” the project manager should have two progress reports, one on the customers business case and one internally for the supplier. The first focused on the customers goals, the second one on profit.