Measurement of technology project progress has always been a somewhat unsatisfying proposition. It has been (and still is) dominated by the accounting principles of actuals versus plan. These remain valuable tools. But, it is important to understand what these tools do: They measure burn rate. That's it.
Now, burn rate is a useful metric, as well as its derivative, burn acceleration. That is, the change in burn rate over time can be a helpful index into the project's overall stability, and thus its predictability. (Process stability, by the way, is an absolute necessity for true actionable knowledge from any metric. Otherwise, it is just meddling---and making things worse.)
Again, metrics based on actual-plan variances are all very useful, but none of these metrics says anything about real tangible progress. All they do is tell you how fast the project is eating dollars and schedule at this moment in time. None of them answers, or even gives you any insight into, the only important questions that customers ever have: When can I start using it? And, how much will it cost me?
It has always struck me as odd that such a simple set of questions has been so elusive.
However, we see repeatedly that software engineering measurement has been governed more by the principle of what is easy to measure and simple to compute, rather than what is important to our customers.
Real earned value, the only "earned value" that has any meaningful economic or business underpinning, is validated, delivered requirements.
Further, the ratio of validated, delivered requirements to the total number of requirements (and the cost, velocity, and acceleration of that ratio over time) is the only measure of true progress.
In other words, this represents a fundamental change in the nature of software engineering. A change from a view based on artificial proxies of value like planned costs or planned duration, or even worse, lines of code produced, and even function points (although that is much closer to a proxy for value than what has gone before), to a view of software engineering whose value base is requirements.
Certainly we know by now (or should know) that a plan is no reliable proxy for value---just because we have "earned" our way through the plan (yes, and even "completing" all those tasks---are they even the right tasks?)---does not tell us anything about how close, or far, we are from delivering any value to the customer.
Any performance metric that does not incorporate validated, delivered requirements is not (can not, in fact) be a meaningful measure of progress, health, or anything else approximating a useful answer to the questions that customers really have.
My hope here is not that we throw out all these other metrics---that is too unrealistic a hope given the entrenchment of the current accounting biases---but, that we finally come to recognize the central role that requirements play in everything we do, and thus reintroduce requirements into the software engineering vocabulary and process in an orderly and disciplined manner.
Requirements are, after all, our only basis for quality and customer value. Everything else we do in software engineering must be derived from this base. Or, it should be. Remember that time honored maxim: GI GO.