I mentioned Outcome Measures in a previous article (For
Profit vs. Not for Profit) about opportunities for project managers to gain
some valuable coaching and mentoring and volunteer their time to a charitable
organization at the same time. This article will explore these opportunities in
a little more detail in the area of measuring the outcomes of projects and
Outcome Measures is an initiative that actually began with
government agencies changing the way they deliver social services. Governments
wanted to be able to measure the effects their services were having on their clients.
There are/were agencies that governments fund in partnership with organizations
such as United Way
and those agencies were forced by the governments to implement outcome measures
in order to retain their funding. United Way became involved, both because
outcome measurement is a good approach to delivering value for donor money and
because funded agencies needed help to implement outcome measurement.
The SMART Fund in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
describes Outcome Measurement as "… an approach to planning, managing, and
evaluating projects that encourages us to be clear about what our projects are
DOING and what they are CHANGING”. The way that Outcome Measurements help
organizations do this is by ensuring that programme objectives support the
agencies strategy and that the goals and objectives of component projects
support the programme’s objectives. Further, measurements are put in place to
determine the project’s success in meeting stated goals and objectives. Outcome
Measurement goals go further:
- To gather the right information to know whether
the project is achieving the results you want.
- To know how to improve project activities based
on the information gathered.
- To identify opportunities and maximizes them and
identifies obstacles and helps remove them.
- To communicate plans and achievements clearly to
the team and other organizations.
- To gain from the knowledge, experience, and
ideas of the team.
- To provide accurate and convincing information
to support applications for funding.
There are other goals that are specific to the Not for
Profit sector (as is the support of funding applications) but the ones stated
here seem to me to be applicable to any project, no matter which sector it is
in. Even the goal of providing accurate and convincing information to support
funding applications is applicable. Isn’t a Business Case a form of funding
There are clearly many areas where the discipline arising
from a successful Outcomes Measurement programme could help a project manager
from the for profit sector. The key difference between the not for profit and
for profit sectors is the focus on helping people in the not for profit sector
vs. helping a company’s bottom line in the for profit sector. This gap may not
be that great though, particularly in the area of software. Software systems
are designed to be used by people to perform a job, to enter and process
orders, or manage support calls, or sell software over the internet for
example. The objective of the system is to help the user community to do their
jobs or help them do them more efficiently. One of the problems with software
development projects is the view that the overarching goal of the project is to
deliver a software system; it shouldn’t be. The overarching goal should be to
enable the user community to do their jobs, or enable them to do them more
efficiently! Exposure to a project team that focuses on delivering a benefit to
people as opposed to delivering a product will help project managers to get
more value from their projects and in doing so, they improve their impact on
the bottom line.
The experienced project manager can contribute to the not
for profit’s Outcome Measurements programme. Our experience managing risks and
opportunities are, or should be, well developed; this is a knowledge area that
we should have lots of experience in. Opportunities and risks are no different
in the not for profit project than in a for profit one. The management of those
opportunities and risks requires the same analysis, prioritization, and
mitigation strategies that takes place in the for profit project so this is an
area that the seasoned risk manager can be of help as a volunteer in a not for
Outcome Measurement uses indicators to determine the
project’s success at meeting goals and objectives. The indicators used are
divided into 2 categories: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative
indicators use metrics for measurement. The goal might be to deliver meals to
shut-ins and the indicator might be the number of meals delivered. The
indicator might be an interim one, measuring progress towards a long term goal.
Outcome Measurement uses target indicators as well, so if the goal is delivery
of meals the target indicator might be 10,000 meals and the indicator might be the
number of meals or the percentage of the target indicator. Project managers do
this every day, using MS Project (or whatever other PM tool they use to manage
their schedules). Qualitative indicators approach measurement from the personal
angle. A qualitative indicator might be an increase in self-confidence, or in
the case of the meal deliveries, it might be a degree of satisfaction with the
service. Any project manager who has participated in a customer satisfaction
survey will have a head start in this area. Project managers tend to have a
fairly restricted view of indicators. Most will come from the MS Project tool,
those that don’t usually come from a trouble reporting system, or a time
tracking system. Outcome Measurements uses a set of criteria to determine the
feasibility of an indicator:
- Accuracy – does it measure the result?
- Can the information be gathered in a cost
- Does it give useful information with which to
make management decisions?
- Will the information communicate well to
stakeholders, including funding bodies?
You may want to apply these same criteria to choosing
performance indicators for your project.
Outcome Measurements offers different approaches to
information gathering. These approaches are suited to the service delivery
nature of the not for profit sector but can be adapted to the for profit sector
as well. They are:
- Interviews, surveys, and questionnaires.
- Documents and records
- Sample or focus groups (subsets of the
- Data sampling – surveying a subset of the
We’re all pretty well acquainted with collecting information
from documents, records, and other Project Management Information Sources
(PMIS), but how about surveys? I would advise any project manager to get well
acquainted with the not for profit agency’s interviewing, survey, and
questionnaire techniques. Try borrowing those techniques to perform a client satisfaction
survey with project performance.
There are 2 approaches the seasoned project manager can take
to volunteering. They can look for an agency that has yet to implement their
Outcome Measurements programme (or one that is struggling to do so), or one
that has successfully implemented and has project managers and other workers who
are experienced. Project managers who choose to volunteer to the novice agency
can bring their for profit experience to bear on the problem and help the
agency to a successful implementation. There are also learning opportunities
here. There are many resources available to an agency that wants to reach out,
including coaching/mentoring from more experienced organizations. This could be
your opportunity to learn from that coach or mentor.
Choosing an agency that has experience with Outcome
Measurements will provide the project manager with new insights into defining
project objectives that fulfill a human need. It will also provide you with new
insights into how to choose measurements and the information to perform those
measurements, in particular measurements that are meaningful to stakeholders.
There is also an opportunity to learn about putting together the business case.
Funded agencies are very focused on proving their programmes are effective in
meeting their clients needs and being able to verify with reports. The ability
of these reports to communicate successful results means the difference between
receiving funding and going out of business.
Look for opportunities in your community to volunteer with a
charitable organization. Opportunities abound and your offer will be acted on.
It’s a win-win situation: the charitable organization gets your volunteer
services and your project management expertise; you get exposure to their
outcome measurement processes. There is one other benefit you should
experience. One of the areas that charitable organizations are measured in is
their ability to attract, retain, and utilize volunteers. Most successful
charitable organizations are very good at putting your experience to good use
and making you feel appreciated.