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Managing a Dashboard Project
Proper Coordination Ensures a Successful Dashboard

by Shadan Malik, www.idashboards.comFriday, November 23, 2007

Project Planning

Dashboard implementation demands the pooling of resources from a diverse skill set and varying areas and levels of expertise. This process requires proper coordination and project planning to ensure effective utilization of everyone's time.

The number of personnel involved in a dashboard deployment depends on the scope of a given deployment. However, a dashboard deployment is most definitely not a task that can be accomplished exclusively by the information technology (IT) department. Although IT personnel play a crucial role, it is essential that subject matter experts (SMEs) and analysts be part of any dashboarding team.

The following is a typical mix of resources and expertise required in a dashboarding team:

  • Dashboard software expert
  • Business intelligence expert
  • Business analyst
  • Department/Business Unit SME
  • Database administrator
  • IT manager
  • Project manager

The extent of the involvement of the various resources listed would vary depending on the phase of deployment. However, it is recommended that all team members be actively involved and informed of the weekly progress throughout the implementation phase.

The involvement of each SME and technical expert contributes to the appropriateness of the design and saves a great deal of time that would need to be spent revising a design that falls short of meeting the business requirements.

Therefore, assembling the right team and keeping each member fully involved throughout the dashboarding process is extremely important.

Project Milestones

Business applications, deployment size, and information complexity greatly vary across different organizations. These variables render it almost impossible to generically benchmark the individual milestones of the process and to determine the length of those milestones. The complexity and duration of the dashboarding process depends largely on the match between the dashboarding needs, software capabilities, and the state of supporting databases.

Despite the variations in dashboard deployments, most deployments end up requiring a relative effort that falls within a similar range. Therefore, it is reasonable and useful to estimate time proportions for the different milestones applying to most dashboard deployments.

Typical Project Milestones for Dashboarding and Estimated Effort
Relative to the Entire Project

Prerequisite

The milestones deal exclusively with the dashboard deployment and not with any database work that may be necessary to successfully deploy dashboards. A good deal of so-called grunt work consisting of cleansing, formatting, extracting, transforming, and loading all of the required data into a compliant database format is required before any successful dashboard deployment. Time and effort estimates for assuring the prerequisite readiness for dashboard deployment vary greatly in each situation and are outside the scope of this discussion. However, for the success of any dashboarding project, it is crucial that the dashboard team has access to the expert resources that accurately assess and estimate the time and effort involved in preparing for a dashboard deployment.

Project Management

Good principles of project management apply to dashboarding to the same degree that they apply to any other project. In any approach, the key success factors for managing a dashboarding project are as follows:

  • Early involvement of end users
  • Right composition of the dashboarding team
  • Collaboration within the dashboarding team
  • Timely readiness of the prerequisite data formats
  • Appropriate selection of the dashboarding software

For larger deployments (exceeding 500 dashboard users), it is best to split the implementation process into smaller phases rather than undertaking a grand implementation approach in which the entire deployment is launched at once to all users. A phased approach may not have the big-bang dramatic effect of fulfilling the entire organization's information needs all at once, as is frequently favored with portal launches, but a phased execution assures a stepwise success, solicits early user feedback, and provides the opportunity to learn and improve on each execution phase.

Another important project management consideration is the containment of typical pitfalls that tend to lead to scope creep and unexpected project delays. As the dashboard deployment enters into its later stages, users may decide that they want dashboard design changes that they could not envision and articulate earlier. This creates a conflict between the competing goals of timely execution and a final deliverable that best meets users' expectations. However, in the interest of successful execution, it is better to defer the user enhancement request in the interest of timeliness while keeping track of all such change requirements needed for future revision.

Like any other complex project, a great deal depends on conducting proper due diligence upfront. In this stage, it is prudent to involve the expertise of an individual with experience deploying dashboards of a similar scale and complexity, using the specific software chosen. Such experience is handy in giving the team a sense of what to expect in a given deployment scope and helping to organize time and resources accordingly.

User Training

If the dashboard application requires user training, such training must be planned in a timely manner in conjunction with the release of the dashboard application. The project milestones, as outlined earlier in the chapter, do not include user training. Depending on the dashboard software, different types of user training may be required. The three common distinctions among user groups requiring different types of user training are the following:

  1. Regular end users
  2. Power users
  3. Software administrators (typically on the IT side)

Well-designed dashboard software may not require training for regular end users or even for power users. The application, if well designed, should be intuitive enough for users to easily find the information they need. User self-help may be provided through online help documentation and mouse-over prompts.

Because all leading dashboard software programs, such as iDashboards are Web-based, the benchmark of a user-friendly application is any of the leading travel or auction portals. None of them requires user training. They are intuitive enough for regular users to get what they need, and they provide sufficient online instruction for power users who are interested in leveraging the applications' advanced capabilities. A well-designed dashboard must meet this benchmark of user-friendliness without depriving the user of its full potential to serve relevant and required information. Good dashboarding software must provide built-in personalization (content security and relevance), powerful visualization, alerts, drill-downs, and intuitive navigation.
The appropriate project planning will lead to a smooth and successful dashboard implementation.

About the Author


Shadan Malik is the author of Enterprise Dashboards: Design & Best Practices for IT published by John Wiley & Sons, portions of which appear here (reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).
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