The Essential Key Performance Indicators for Program Management

By Kate Eby | March 14, 2022

Managing a program involves tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), or critical metrics that provide insight into the health of your program. We’ve gathered expert tips on the most important KPIs to track.

Included on this page, you’ll find tips on the important KPIs used in program management, how to choose the best KPIs for your program, and how to create KPIs for issues that can be harder to quantify, including assessing your team or organization’s team health.

What Are Key Performance Indicators in Program Management?

Key performance indicators in program management are different from KPIs used in project management. Program KPIs still measure performance, but they more closely align with business goals and may be specific to a program.

Program KPIs might track business results before and after a program is established, for instance, or they may track customer retention and satisfaction measures. Program leaders also often customize metrics and KPIs for a specific program — those customized metrics might track actual results of the program in specific areas, as compared to expected results.

Program leaders also will likely want to establish a simplified dashboard, whether by using program software or via other means. This dashboard should show the current results for the program’s most important metrics in a simple, compelling way.

Jake Carroll

Jake Carroll is the founder of Create Kaizen, a consulting company focused on personal, team, and organization development. He says project management KPIs are often easier for team members to formulate and understand than program management KPIs. With project management KPIs, he says, “You deliver something. ‘Did we deliver on time and scope and under budget?’” 

Program goals are often more far-reaching and sometimes more vague. Therefore, KPIs are “highly dependent on just what the program is and what you're looking for,” Carroll says. 

You can learn more by reading our guide to best practices in managing a program, or about the broader work of managing a program across a larger enterprise. And you can find some basic recommendations on being a good program manager.

Which Metrics Are Used Most Frequently in Program Management?

Metrics that monitor program management often focus on financial results and success with customers. They also focus on effective and efficient organizational operations, and on the organization’s ability to strategically move forward.

Elizabeth Harrin

“As a starting point, think about lagging indicators that track where the program has been and what it has achieved — in other words, milestones and project completion dates,” says Elizabeth Harrin, a program manager, author, and founder of Project Management Rebels. “Then, think about tracking leading indicators — understanding the process and looking for measures that help identify whether the work will stay on track. In other words, ‘What can you do to influence future performance?’”

If your organization has a program management office (PMO), it will help to determine many of these KPIs. But you should also monitor and track the KPIs, even if you have a PMO. (Read our comprehensive guide on how PMOs improve program performance.)

Program Management KPIs

Commonly used program management KPIs can be divided into four categories: financial, customer-focused, operational, and business capability KPIs.

In the following sections, you’ll learn more about each of the four KPI categories.

Financial KPIs

Program managers might track some financial metrics for the business as a whole, as doing so can reflect the success of a broad and far-reaching program. They also may track financials specific to the program, such as the following example KPIs:

  • Earned Value: Managers often track this KPI in projects, but it can also be useful to track this in a program. Earned value refers to the amount of money or budget that was authorized for work that’s been completed up until that point. In a program, this might include the original amount of money designated for the completion of a certain number of projects within the program, which you complete in phases. If your teams have successfully completed three out of five projects within a program, and the budget to complete those three projects was set at $500,000, then the earned value of your program so far is $500,000.
  • Actual Cost: Managers track this metric in projects, and can also track it in programs. Using the above example, the actual cost to complete those three projects — regardless of the $500,000 budget — may have been $600,000.
  • Cost Performance Index: This KPI uses the earned value and actual cost to determine how well your program is completing work on budget. The cost performance index is the ratio of earned value to actual cost. Using the above figures, this program’s cost performance index would be $500,000/$600,000, or 0.833. Any figure under 1.0 means that your program is currently over budget.
  • Return on Investment for Program: Organizational leaders calculate return on investment (ROI) with many organizational investments. They can do the same with many programs. A broad program, for example, might include many projects to improve customer experience on a company’s e-commerce website. After a year of operating the program, program leaders might track ROI on that program. For example, they might track increased sales or the decrease in customers abandoning their online carts and completing a sale.

Customer-Focused KPIs

Many programs will focus on customers: attracting and retaining more of them, increasing their satisfaction, or taking other actions that help customers.

Thus, the KPIs for these programs also must focus on customers in ways that can show whether operations are or aren’t improving.

Yad Senapathy

“Make the customer the center of your KPI reporting,” says Yad Senapathy, the founder and CEO of the Dallas-based Project Management Training Institute. “This implies that what is strategic to the customer, and therefore the organization, becomes important.”

Examples of customer-focused KPIs include the following:

  • Success Rate: This is the measure of success in meeting any of the various customer-focused goals that a program may establish. The success rate might mean keeping the average customer on your website for 20 percent longer, or increasing the average sale of all customers by 10 percent because of how your website offers suggestions for accessory products. There could be a wide variety of goals, and you’ll want to track how you’re doing in meeting any of them.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Your team can measure customer satisfaction through various means. Two of the most common ways are customer reviews of your service and product ratings. Measure these things before the beginning of a program focused on customer satisfaction, and then again as the program progresses.
  • Customer Retention: You can measure the percentage of customers you retain to become repeat customers, both before and after a program starts, to make changes.
  • Customer Engagement: Your team might often measure customer engagement through digital measures, including how long a customer stays on your website or uses your software as a service (SaaS) tool. But, you can measure customer engagement in other ways, such as how often your customers or potential customers interact with your sales teams.

Carroll says program managers should understand how the program influences customers. He uses a SaaS solution as an example. “How much are we actually moving the needle on retention, engagement, and monetization within our corner of this huge company, this huge website?” he says. “It might be monthly active users (for SaaS) or lifetime value of a customer or consumer.”

Download Customer-Focused KPIs for Programs

Customer Focused KPIs for Programs

Download Customer-Focused KPIs for Programs
Microsoft Word | Adobe PDF | Google Docs

This free cheat sheet shows some common customer-focused KPIs you might want to use for your program. These KPIs can help you track how the work of your program might affect customer satisfaction, customer retention, and other metrics.

Operational KPIs

You may also want to track a range of internal operational measures. These are not direct customer metrics, but ones that measure the efficiency and effectiveness of operations, insofar as they affect how you engage with customers. Operational KPIs measure operations that can affect your revenue and profits, depending on how well or how poorly they are working.

Carroll uses the example of operations in a software development company: “How are our teams collaborating?” he asks, referring to possible operations KPIs. “What type of features are they putting out? Are they putting out really complex things really quickly? Are we working on too big of things that are taking too long? Or are we working on small features that aren't really moving the needle where we want to go?”

Some examples of operational KPIs are as follows:

  • Scheduled Performance Index: This metric is similar to the cost performance index. It is a ratio of earned value to planned value. Earned value is what your program has completed. Planned value is what you expected the program to have completed by this point in the project.
  • Component Delivery Rates: This metric measures how well the projects and other components of your program are doing their work. Are projects delivering certain products and materials as expected? This level of success will have an effect down the line, as other parts of the program might depend on these completed products.
  • Timeliness of Component Delivery: This metric is related to component delivery rate. It focuses not only on whether components are delivered, but also on whether they are delivered on schedule.

    Senapathy uses as an example a retail company that might be creating new fulfillment centers to be part of more efficient delivery of a product to the market: “These fulfillment centers have this innovative management of the product, and the new product has to come in, and you're going to deliver these new products through a new delivery model,” he says. “All of these individually related components should all come together at a certain time to give you the market advantage of launching it before your competition does. If the timeliness of this component transition doesn't work well, you're going to hurt the outcome of those programs.”
  • Project Completion Rates: Your program might depend on projects being completed on time. Ask: What are your project completion rates? What percentage of your projects are completing their work on time? What percentage of your projects are failing to complete their work at all?
  • Communications Effectiveness: Your program and the projects within the program will be hurt by ineffective communications among team members. Ask: How effective are your communications in helping ensure clarity and progress? You can measure communications effectiveness in a number of ways, including timeliness and how knowledgeable team members are about communications that have occurred.
  • Team Performance: You can measure your team’s performance in a number of ways. For instance, you might measure productivity rates among team members in various ways, or team members’ adherence to project deadlines.

Business Capability KPIs

These KPIs focus on how your program is improving your organization’s overall capabilities. They are similar to operational KPIs, but focus more on the strategic value and goals of your organization. 

  • The “Health” of Your Teams: Always monitor and assess how well your teams are working together. You’ll also want to assess how aligned their work is with the mission of the organization, how committed they are to the organization’s core principles, and a range of similar ideas and metrics.

    Some of these things might seem difficult to measure quantitatively, but it’s possible.“[Measuring these items] can come through in surveys,” says Carroll. “I usually try to facilitate a session around it and gather some sort of voting system around a lot of different touchpoints.”

    Carroll says that companies can use employee surveys to determine a quantitative score on these factors. They can learn, for instance, “Hey, we scored a 43 in feeling connected to the core company mission,” he says.

    If surveys reveal low scores, Carroll says, “You could actually make a case that the majority of our frontline workers, or individual contributors, actually aren't connected to our corporate mission at all. So, maybe we should develop some sort of internal program, something that covers corporate values, or some sort of learning and development program, something that actually connects people to the corporate mission. That depends on your company’s ability to take qualitative ideas and turn them into quantitative data.”

    You can download free team health cards below to get started.
  • Expected Program Benefits vs. Actual: While you’ll track specific metrics on how the program is doing, the program charter or management plan will set out some primary goals and expectations of benefits from the program that you will always be tracking. (You can download a template for a program charter in our roundup of program management templates.) Periodically, you should also monitor actual results — compared to the goals — in some of those primary areas, and make adjustments when needed.
  • Speed to Learning: Speed to learning is about how quickly your company can understand how customers are reacting to a product or service, and how quickly you can adjust.

    Carroll says that the term speed to learning is especially applicable to software development and to the software as a service industry. But it can still be a worthwhile concept and KPI in many industries.

    “As a company, how quickly can you learn something, whether it's about your customer or the effectiveness of [a product] feature?” Carroll asks. “How can we validate that people actually want to pay for this membership or this feature? Even a company that builds bikes — are you going to build an entire bike with all the features that you want on it before you figure out if your customer actually wants it? Probably not. If you could actually take a bike that already exists and modify it to add some of the features that you want, and then go out and user-test it, you may turn a speed to learning that was three months down to three days. Now, you learned something about your customer. You distill, reflect on, and analyze it, and then you can act upon it. And then, build it into the new iteration of your next product.

    “It’s like, ‘We have a hypothesis, how quickly can we actually get an answer to this hypothesis?’” he says.

    The way you can turn that knowledge into a KPI is to actually track some valuable learnings about customer reaction to your product and how many of them you learn over a set period, Carroll says.

    You can find a free, downloadable infographic on speed to learning, with examples, below.
  • Time to Make Decisions: You can and should track how long it takes your program teams, or your company, to make important decisions relating to a program. Quicker isn’t always better, of course. But, your company will be able to track when the metric shows that important decisions are taking too long for your company to be nimble and effective.
  • Internal Customer Satisfaction: External customer satisfaction is vital, but it’s not the only thing you should be tracking. Your program will have a number of key stakeholders. Some may be outside the company; many will be leaders and important players within your company. Your program can and should track their satisfaction in a number of ways. That might be through simple surveys, or it could be through tracking the number of questions or complaints from stakeholders. It will tell you how successful the program is or whether it quickly needs to make changes.

Download Team Health Cards and Details

Team Health Cards and Details

Download Team Health Cards and Details — Adobe PDF

You can download and use these “team health” cards to help your team members come together to assess how well your teams are operating. The cards cover a range of areas of work, and allow teams to assess whether things are working well — or not — in those areas.

Download Speed to Learning Cheat Sheet with Examples

Speed to Learning Cheat Sheet with Examples

Download Speed to Learning Cheat Sheet with Examples — Adobe PDF

This free downloadable cheat sheet offers details on the concept of speed to learning, as well as an example that shows how you can determine speed to learning in a hypothetical case of product development. You can use this example as a model for your own speed to learning exercises.

Program Management KPIs Specific to Certain Industries

Many industries have program KPIs that are specific to the routine work that is part of that industry. In this section, we’ll take you through some of the most common program KPIs for construction, software development, and software as a service (SaaS) organizations.

Program Management KPIs for Construction

“It's really simple for construction,” says Rick Cherf, an associate professor at Washington State University’s School of Design and Construction and the founder and principal at Total Construction Services, Inc., a strategic development consultancy. “It's safety and quality. How many people got hurt (during construction)? How many near misses?”

Quality KPIs for construction:

  • Number of projects performed
  • Percentage of products or components failed
  • Percentage of non-conformance issues
  • Number of change requests
  • Cost of rework
  • Reliability of product or component

Safety/health KPIs for construction:

  • Fatalities or injuries
  • Lost-time incidents
  • Recordable incidents
  • First-aid cases
  • Near-miss incidents

Program Management KPIs for Software Development

Experts recommend a few common KPIs that can help you monitor how your program management is working in software development. A few of those KPIs include the following:

  • Software Defects: Defects in a competed piece of software
  • Team Velocity: The number of tasks your software development team completes in a defined period or, in Agile project management, the number of story points they complete in a sprint.
  • Technical Debt: A measurement of how often your team is using a solution in software code that is quicker to accomplish but will later cause more rework that will take longer.

    “We build all these really complex things,” Carroll says. “And every time we build something, it takes twice as long because we have to tiptoe around these eggshells and the code. If we just had two weeks to clean up all this code ... it's an upfront investment that pays off in the long run, but it doesn't deliver features right now.”

Program Management KPIs for SaaS Solutions

Experts recommend several KPIs to help you judge how your program management is working for your company’s SaaS solutions. Common KPIs include the following:

  • Average Length of Session: This metric refers to how long the average session is for all users.
  • Bounce Rate: This is the percentage of customers who leave your website or product within a specified period of time.
  • Churn Rate: The percentage of subscriptions or customers you lose in a defined period of time.
  • Monthly Active Users: This is the number of users who are active during a specific month.

How to Choose the Best KPIs and Metrics for Program Management

Each program is unique, so it’s important to choose KPIs and metrics that fit with the program’s specific goals. Some KPIs and metrics may even be tailored specifically to an individual program.

“Program metrics should reflect what’s important to the program,” says Harrin, the founder of Project Management Rebels. “It’s not sensible to have a fixed list for every program because every program is different. The executive sponsor can help determine what’s important and, of course, that should align with the program’s goals and roadmap. Look at the original business case, target operating model, vision, and other information that was created at the program onset, and use that to identify what KPIs you should create and track.”

Still, all KPIs should have some common characteristics. Here are some of those required characteristics you should check with every proposed KPI:

  • Aligned: The KPI should help measure the alignment of a program’s work and goals with the strategic goals of the business.
  • Attainable: The KPI must measure something where the ultimate target is realistic and attainable.
  • Clear: The KPI must be easy to understand. All team members must be clear on what the metric is measuring.
  • Measurable: The KPI must be measurable, though you can find creative ways to measure information that seems more qualitative.
  • Optimized: The KPI should not just measure incremental processes. It should instead focus on providing overall strategic value.
  • Reported: Your program team must routinely monitor and report each KPI and what it is showing — good or bad.
  • Team Agreement: Every team member and stakeholder should agree the KPI holds value — that it measures something that is important to measure.

What Should Be on a Program Management Dashboard?

Choose KPIs and metrics for your dashboard that will tell the most about the success or progress of your program. These may include custom metrics you create and monitor just for that program. It may also include other metrics that are more common, but will also be important to your program.

“Be wary of out-of-the-box dashboards from project management software, and create tailored dashboards that tell you what you actually need to know,” says Harrin.

Experts make another important recommendation: Don’t include too many KPIs and metrics on your dashboard. Doing so can be confusing and doesn’t provide a quick look at how the program is going.

“Ultimately, the dashboard should show you what you and other key stakeholders need to see in order to manage the program effectively and make decisions about what actions to take,” Harrin says.

Beyond KPIs that may be unique to your program, some general program KPIs include the following:

  • Benefits
  • Budget (and budget used)
  • Outstanding decisions and current issues 
  • Resources available
  • Risks
  • Schedule

Download Sample Program Management KPI Dashboard

Sample KPI Dashboard Template

Download KPI Dashboard Template
Microsoft Excel | Google Sheets

You can use this KPI dashboard template as a foundation for your KPI dashboard. The template includes sections to detail the overall status of the program, project and /tasks that are complete, in progress, or not started, money spent and budgeted, and any risks and unresolved issues.

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