The project dashboard provides the overall project status at a glance. It is a central project monitoring tool for Project managers to provide the appropriate Project management and stakeholder’s routine project updates. There are various tools available, from MS Office (PowerPoint/ Excel) to SharePoint/ Project Server integrations, third party software platforms and more.
Regardless of leveraged technology, the specific layout will vary greatly by project and will be determined ultimately by which Key Performance Indicators (KPI) were agreed to in the project planning phase to track overall project progress. KPI are performance measurements that evaluate the success of the project at routine measurement intervals throughout the project, e.g. weekly or monthly. Examples for IT projects include: Earned value (measuring project performance and progress in an objective manner), Estimate to complete, cost performance (spent vs. planned), labor management (actual vs. planned), ROI, task tracking, risk/ issues, changes, delivery date (planned/ forecast/ actual) et cetera.
Planning the Project Dashboard
When planning the weekly dashboard it is important to consider whom your audience will be and tailor your message specifically for their consumption. Your project is a journey, and the project dashboard tells the story of this journey. Who is the audience for the dashboard? What are they interested to know? What is it that you need to communicate? What is the frequency for updating the dashboard?
The shotgun approach, providing updates on every aspect of the project are a waste everyone’s time. The Project manager will spend too much time preparing a report that no one will fully consume. The more succinctly and efficiently you can compress the important data the better your report will be received.
There are myriad formatting possibilities to customize your reports. Below are four basic guidelines to keep in mind when designing the Project dashboard layout:
- Keep it simple, Stupid (KISS) – is a design principle created by the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s. Most reports are most effective if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be the goal in designing the Project dashboard. All unnecessary complexity should be avoided. A single PowerPoint slide with only the core KPI is more effective than a four page PowerPoint deck with all possible KPI. Focus on your key message and tell it as simply as possible.
- Eye movement behavior – Western audiences view text with imagery in a clockwise rotation. To best leverage this behavior break your dashboard layout into four quadrants and put the most critical updates in the top left quadrant, followed by the top right quadrant, then the bottom right quadrant and finally the bottom left quadrant. Please see figure 1 below for an example of this layout.
- Scale – The size of images and text have been proven to have an effect on how an audiences is affected. Where possible then care should be taken to emphasize key messages and de-emphasize less important messages. Larger fonts should be used for titles than sub-titles and smaller fonts for body text. Making more space on the dashboard for critical KPI should be a priority. Maximize your message leveraging your available real-estate. See figure 2 below for an example.
- Color Scheme – Invariably the Project dashboard will have RAG (Red-Amber-Green) stoplight updates for some of the KPI. It is important therefore that any time these colors are used elsewhere in the dashboard that the color schemes align – meaning red should always mean the same thing, typically that there is a significant issues with the project – amber, alerting there is a problem that has a negative effect on project performance but can be dealt with by the project manager or project team – and green, the project is on time, on budget with no scope creep. Other color choices are more flexible and you have a wide variety to choose from: achromatic, monochromatic, complementary, analogous, triadic, tetradic and polychromatic. When making a selection however it is frequently a good practice to survey the color schemes already present in the environment for efficacy. Perhaps there is an existing departmental or company color scheme that you can leverage. Care should be taken to simplify your message and streamline communication for leadership. There is a balance in efficiency between using an existing color scheme that management knows well but is less effective contrasted to introducing a new color scheme that better tells the story.
Figure 3 below is an example of a one page (front and back) Project dashboard. KPI included: Overall Project Progress, Top 5 Milestones (Complete / Upcoming), Project Overview, Project Budget, Project Risks, Scope Creep, Project Timeline, Task Tracker (Top 5 Priority Tasks & Top 5 On-Hold Tasks), Task Burndown Chart, Tasks Completed Last week CIO update (Newsletter), Upcoming CIO update (Newsletter) and notes.