The analogy of medicine gets used frequently when we evaluate how our projects are doing. We speak of triaging projects which are in trouble, keeping others on life support, and performing postmortems when a major issue occurs or a project fails.
Adopting this approach can help to reduce the risks of narrow focus. A phyisican knows that a patient’s health is based on more than just a single metric (e.g. body temperature) so it is important to evaluate projects on more than just their cost performance.
Your family doctor balances the short and long term using a combination of lagging (e.g. weight) and leading (e.g. blood pressure) indicators to assess not only how healthy you are now, but what your longer term prospects will be.
We do the same with our projects and portfolios.
Counting the number of projects completed on time gives us a lagging indicator whereas measuring the number of projects which achieve a critical early milestone on time serves as a leading indicator of portfolio schedule health.
Another practice we have adapted is the use of baselines. A doctor knows that no two patients are the same, so capturing a baseline of key metrics helps them recognize when something is truly off. On long running projects, measurements of velocity, team or sponsor satisfaction can provide us with an early warning system specific to that project.
However, it is critical to avoid anthropomorphizing our projects. They are, after all, investments. If they will no longer deliver business value, we need to reduce or cancel future investments.
Periodic re-evaluation of a project’s expected benefits as well as the impacts it will make on the organization, society and the environment ensures that we don’t take the analogy of patient health too far.