Key Elements to a Good Project Dashboard
With the advent of increasingly powerful business intelligence tools, the use of dashboards to help manage projects and drive decision making has increased dramatically. When managing a larger number of projects, having good project dashboards lets a project manager quickly and easily see how well their projects are performing, what the hotspots are that need attention and can quickly convey a high level project status to their sponsors and stakeholders. This post is going to focus on the key elements to making (and using) a great project dashboard.
One of the bedrock foundations of managing your project is to keep a close eye on your project budget. Obviously you need to know where you are at with your current burn and how much room is left in your budget but that’s the easy part. The trick is being able to forecast or predict where your project is going to land in terms of your budget or where your pain areas are. Perhaps only certain areas of your project are over budget so you want to focus on those specific areas. Some good components for a project budget dashboard would be a graphical indicator of how much of your budget is spent against how far along you are in the project (% spent vs % complete). This gets into earned value calculations which is a great tool to use for budget analysis. Speedometer-type graphics are a great visual indicator to help the reader quickly decipher how the overall project budget is looking and if it warrants further action or attention from the project manager.
Project schedule can be monitored and measured in several ways. Tracking milestone dates are a very traditional (and effective) way of determining schedule success however by the time you see a problem with your milestone dates you may be too late to be able to do anything to help correct the problem. Schedule earned value reporting is a great way to measure progress on an incremental basis. The key to using this data effectively in a dashboard is to show it graphically that can be quickly and easily disseminated by the reader to determine if action is needed to help correct any scheduling issues. Trend/line charts are a great way to show how your project is both planned and performing. By showing what the planned burn is against the actual progress, you can determine if your project is proceeding to plan or if proactive action can be taken to address some lurking schedule issues.
Risks & Issues
Risks and issues are two areas of projects that are constantly in a state of change. It’s important for project managers to stay on top of these and what better way to call attention to these than to make them front and center on a project dashboard. Dashboards are all about quantifying data so a great way to represent risks and issues on a project dashboard is to give a nice color-coded summary of how many risks and issues your project has and to use other characteristics to help illustrate the criticality of these items. I usually like to see a matrix of issues with the separate axes being the impact and probability to show if my project is in a bad spot from a risk perspective. For issues, it’s nice to be able to view a count by criticality. No issues are good so I prefer to shade the unimportant ones yellow and move progressively towards red the higher the criticality. Looking at the sample below as a project manager I would know that I have to do some work to mitigate my risk profile as well as ensure that my project issues are being addressed.
The main thing to remember when building a project dashboard is that it’s intended to give the reader an overall sense of things through visual displays. It’s not meant to provide the gross detail behind the data – as a project manager you need to look at the high level visuals and determine what needs further investigation. Management-by-dashboard is becoming a bigger trend and when dashboards are constructed right, they are a huge time saver along with being able to let project managers focus their efforts more effectively.
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