If a list of key projects is established, what summary information ought to be displayed (Description, Owner, Deadline, Status, Obstacles/Concerns, etc)?
Dashboards can be applied in multiple areas within the organization, including monitoring and tracking project status. When creating a dashboard for project monitoring there are several actions to be enacted to create informative dashboards. First it is important to follow the steps within the dashboard process. The dashboard process includes identifying the following items:
- What information - requires collecting details about the information required to display through dashboards. In addition, identifying the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to display. Examples of project KPIs include: hours logged on projects, due date milestones, percent complete and budgeted vs. actual costs or allocated time.
- For whom - identifying who will be viewing the information, and what information the user should have access to. Within dashboard software it is important to have role-based security to limit what can be viewed by individuals.
- How to present - this involves selecting the number of charts to display on the dashboard, as well as appropriate chart types to utilize on the dashboard to best convey the information.
In preparation for creating the project management dashboard(s) it is recommended to identify the project milestones. The project milestones will determine the dates and steps needed to execute and eventually complete the project. This initial planning will assist in identifying the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will monitor and quantify the progress of the project.
The KPIs should be focused around the key objectives of the project, and define the basis for project decisions and should be quantifiable at the end. KPIs for each project may differ, some common ones may include project description, owner, key personnel involved in the project, due dates, status, and obstacles/concerns. KPIs can be as general as the ones previously mentioned or more detailed and granular. Some granular KPIs can include change costs, project progress hours logged vs. budgeted hours, and total requests by projects. The flexibility of the dashboard permits for accommodating dashboard changes. The dashboard is not set in stone once it is created, it can be altered to accommodate the changing needs of the project and KPIs.
Once the KPIs have been defined, the next step is to storyboard that brings together all aspects of the dashboarding process. One of the key components within storyboarding is determining how the information in the dashboard will be displayed, most importantly the chart selections that will be utilized for presenting the key performance indicators (KPIs) and the underlying data. Selection of appropriate charts requires a good blend of analytical thinking and artistic rendering. Depending on the information being presented, certain chart types are most appropriate. For example, if lists of projects and milestones are going to be included on the dashboard, then a gantt chart will be recommended. If a trend needs to be shown, a line chart works well. If two metrics need to be compared, such as budgeted vs. actual hours put into the projects then a dual Column or Bar chart is a good rule of thumb.
However, in many instances the choice of charts may not be so obvious, requiring a degree of flexibility and creativity. Some of the contemporary, popular chart types include traffic lights, speedometers or dials, thermometers, donuts, and bubble charts. The choice of charts also depends on area constraints on the dashboard. For example, if the available area is narrow but high, a thermometer representation may work well instead of a speedometer, which requires more of a square-shaped area. Similarly, traffic lights may represent KPIs effectively within a relatively small area - just enough to have a small circle representing the colored state of a traffic light. This model is also effective in conveying the relative performance of the charted KPIs: a red light jumps out at the viewer, drawing immediate attention.
Project status is displayed in the dashboard shown above. (Courtesy of iDashboards)
In addition, to selecting the chart types to display the project KPIs, it is also recommended to include drill-downs within the charts. With drill-down capabilities, clicking on a visual indicator on the dashboard will lead to a more detailed level of information that more fully explains the visual indicator. For example, if a speedometer shows the needle in the red zone, implying that the budgeted project hours have been surpassed, then clicking on the speedometer would lead to another chart or report that provides greater detail behind the metric displayed by the speedometer.
Alerts are also a recommended component of a project management dashboard. By utilizing alerts within the project dashboard, various thresholds may be set which can notify the project manager if those levels are below or above the thresholds identified. For example, if the number of change requests on the project have exceeded the amount that was accounted for, then the project manager will receive an email alert notifying them of the occurrence so that the appropriate corrective actions can be taken to rectify the issue.
Collaboration extends the dashboard's role from a passive information interface to an active enterprise management console. It transforms the dashboard into a hub of information exchange, task delegation, workflow management, and decision making. Collaboration can include a discussion forum.
A discussion forum is an application that allows a thread of communication among several users. It also helps track the date, time, and sequence of discussion threads. A discussion forum may be integrated with alerts, charts, reports, and individual dashboards. This helps facilitate communication among those users who have access to a specific component within a dashboard. For example, if an alert for project budget is created, the project team members and project manager may communicate on the subject. For future reference, all communication regarding that alert may be tracked through the discussion forum linked to that alert.
Dashboards are an intuitive tool that can be implemented to manage all aspects of a project whether within a department or an organization. The visual chart representation and drill-down capabilities provide a view in project progress for all members of the team. In addition to the added values of alerts and collaboration platforms, a dashboard can ensure that everyone is aware of the project status to ensure that it stays on task.
About the Author:
Shadan Malik is the author of Enterprise Dashboards: Design & Best Practices for IT published by John Wiley & Sons.