Effectiveness is an important concept that is featured centrally when discussing the performance of processes, teams and organizations. The problem is that many people don’t know what the word means precisely. Wikipeida defines effectiveness as “the capability of producing a desired result.”[1] The Business Dictionary expands the definition a bit, “The degree to which objectives are achieved and the extent to which targeted problems are solved.”[2] I use a simpler definition when talking about IT or process improvement projects, effectiveness is the capability of a process or project is doing the right thing when compared to the goals of the organization.  There are two core questions that need to be reviewed: 1) What is the right thing? and 2) How do we measure effectiveness?

When we are interested in effectiveness the focus shifts to understanding what the right thing is and then to ensure we track the right thing. Software development personnel intuitively know that doing the right thing made sense, but is very hard. Classic waterfall projects (waterfall projects have phases such as analysis, design, construction, testing that are completed before moving to the next phase) create requirement documents to establish what the “right thing” is, then enforce reviews and sign-offs for feedback to stay on track. Agile projects build backlogs, involve product owners and perform sprint reviews to cyclically establish the right thing and to generate a feedback loop to stay on-track. All projects want to deliver the right thing so that the organization can reach its goals.

When measuring effectiveness the question you are answering is, did the work accomplish the goals of the project? It is difficult to directly measure the effectiveness of an IT project, because it generally is component of a larger business product or program.  Rather we generally focus on efficiency measures (cost, time-to-market, productivity and velocity). Note this is a tendency to turn efficiency measures into tactical project goals and then to declare that the project was effective when they are met.  But, the real goal of very few projects is to be on-time or on-budget. If the goal of the project to help the organization deliver a new widget to market, and the metric is whether the new widget was delivered to market when it was promised. Focusing on the business goal of the project provides the basis to determine whether the project was effective or not.  Another proxy for effectiveness that is used is customer satisfaction.  When measuring customer satisfaction you can ask the respondent whether they think the project delivered the right thing. Even when you ask, it makes senses to go back to the business goals of the project and compare what was delivered to those goals. Unresolved mismatches means you were not as effective as possible.

A simple, workable definition of effectiveness for IT projects is the capability of a process or project is doing the right thing when compared to the goals of the organization.  Effectiveness excites me because it forces me to think about the bigger picture, in particular, the organizational goals that the project or process is striving to support.  Knowing that I am supporting the goals of the organization is motivational.