Performance Measure Reality Check



By Susan Hostetter and John Walsh

U.S. Census Bureau

Washington, DC, USA

Executive Summary

This paper will provide managers with a practical “reality check” process for selecting the most relevant and implementable performance measures for their projects, programs, and organizations. We will cover how to:

  • Evaluate data for relevance, quality, timeliness, and accessibility
  • Evaluate measures for fit to strategic goals and ease of implementation

Additionally, the paper will cover tips for organizing your results for discussion with leadership, the benefits of the process and the time and resources required to implement.

The Reality Check

Often as a manager you are asked to answer questions about the progress on your project. This is generally a straightforward task, but as you delve into data to support your answers you may find that the reporting process can quickly become overwhelming. In a perfect world you would have time and resources to produce measures of everything and anything to describe your project, but you are in the real world and in the real world you need a reality check.

In our experience we have found that there is always data collected (not directly related to performance measurement), and there are always questions from stakeholders/leadership.  Performance Management is the marriage of the two. Typically, you are producing answers for a stakeholder audience and you will have many ideas and may receive many more ideas for measures to track progress for your project. This is where you need a process for identifying the best candidates for development and here is where we can help. In our work with performance measures, we practice a process to systematically review and rate measure choices to reduce the big list to a defendable and socialized list of the best and most feasible choices.

Our performance measure reality check process reviews two sets of criteria: those that describe a measure’s purpose and those that quantify the feasibility of producing a measure. The review of purpose criteria is a conceptual process where you will identify insights, questions answered by the measure data and evidence-based actions and evaluate those data points against the goals and purpose of the project. This process will assign values to the measures and elevate those that are perceived to provide the most informative data. The review of the feasibility of producing a measure criterion will quantify your ability to produce each measure. This review evaluates the measures by organizational readiness, data availability, consistency and frequency, respondent and organizational burden and effort to analyze and format the measure. It then assigns values to each of the feasibility criteria to elevate those measures that are ready to be developed. The final step in our process is to combine the purpose and feasibility evaluation results and calculate a final score. The resulting scores then provide values to help you or leadership make decisions on how best to spend project or program resources producing and maturing performance measures.

Demonstration Examples

We included some demonstration examples to help illustrate how to describe and rate the different criteria in our process. These examples are drawn from our work with performance measure development. Table 1 is a list of the measures used.


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Authors’ note: The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 2021 University of Maryland Project Management Symposium in April.  It is republished here with permission of the authors and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Hostetter, S., Walsh, J. (2021). Performance Measure Reality Check; presented at 2021 University of Maryland virtual PM Symposium, April; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue V, May. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/pmwj105-May2021-Hostetter-Walsh-performance-measure-reality-check-2nd-edition2.pdf

About the Authors

Susan Hostetter

U.S. Census Bureau
Texas and Washington, DC, USA


Susan Hostetter, PMP, is a Project Manager at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, DC, USA. As a data analyst and project management professional, she has been instrumental in standing up and improving PMO processes for risk management, project management, portfolio management, schedule management, cost management, performance management and strategic planning. Her papers have been published in the PM World Journal and she has presented project management topics at PMI chapter events and at the University of Maryland’s and University of Texas at Dallas’ PM Symposiums. She has a Master’s Certificate in Project Management from George Washington University, a Master’s Degree in Management with Project Management emphasis from University of Maryland’s University College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, with a minor in Economics, from Mary Baldwin College. Susan can be contacted at susan.lynn.hostetter@census.gov


John Walsh

U.S. Census Bureau
Washington, DC, USA


John Walsh, PMP, is Chief of the Management Operations Office in the Demographic Statistical Methods Division (DSMD) at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, DC, USA. As a project management professional over the last 12 years, he has been instrumental in implementing project management processes for large-scale programs across the Census Bureau, including the Economic Census, as well as the Current Demographic and Current Economic survey programs.  He received an undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Maryland at College Park.  John can be contacted at john.c.walsh@census.gov