Being a project manager means being involved in a lot of detail. There are detailed scope documents full of detailed requirements. Your project schedule is packed with tasks at a detailed level. Then there are resource allocations to do, sometimes in so much detail that you are scheduling resources on an hourly basis.
However, you also need the ability to pull yourself up out of the detail and take an overall view of what is going on. It can be difficult to switch between the detailed view and the big picture view, and this is where dashboards can be a huge help.
A dashboard is a graphical way of displaying information about the project. It’s normally made up of a number of graphs that show you different aspects of the project, but at a summary level. Dashboards are a great asset for a project manager, and here are some of the reasons why.
Dashboards Give you an Overall View
As it can be tricky to switch between supervising the overall project and helping team members with the detail, a project dashboard provides a visual way of helping you make that mental jump. They give you a high level view of project progress.
In many cases, this high level view is all that your project sponsor or other senior stakeholders will want to know, so you can use the dashboard as a communication tool with your project team, manager and executives. Look for software that allows you to print out or export dashboard information in a number of formats so that they can see the overall project status even if they don’t have full access to your software.
Dashboards Update Automatically
Dashboards form part of your online project management software so as your team members update their project status by completing timesheet information or providing details about tasks, the dashboard updates automatically. You can always be sure that you are looking at something that is really up-to-date, and if something looks like it isn’t, you can chase up the correct member of the project team and ask them why!
Dashboards Allow you to Drill Down
Good dashboarding software allows you to drill down to the detail underneath. For example, say that you have noticed that a particular group of tasks looks like it is running behind schedule. The dashboard will give you this information, but it won’t be able to tell you why. Click on the graph that holds that information, and drill down into the next level of data down.
You’ll always need to set any data in context and that means talking to the project team member concerned. Graphs will rarely tell the whole story, but at least drilling down will give you a lot more information before you go to that team member and ask for an explanation of why their part of the project is running late.
Instead of spending time investigating, you can spend time with them working out what you will jointly do to put the problem right.
Dashboards are Customizable
A lot of project management software comes with standard dashboards out of the box which allow you to quickly get started. After a while, though, it’s likely that you will want some bespoke information displayed on your dashboard — particular graphs or data that mean something to you and your project.
Perhaps, for example, your project sponsor has asked you to keep a special eye on a type of expenditure. You can set up a graph just for that. You can also normally drag and drop charts around on the screen until you have a set up that works for you. Put the graphs that you use the most at the top, and hide any that you don’t use so that the dashboard is completely personalized.
Dashboards Work Across Projects
If you are managing multiple projects at the same time (and many project managers find themselves in this situation) you can use a dashboard to give you a view across all your projects. This can be particularly useful if you are using the same resources on each project. You will be able to see how much work they have on at any one time, not just on one project but holistically across all the projects.
If you don’t want to lump all your projects together, you can set up different dashboards for a group of projects. Say, for example, that you are working on a couple of marketing projects and a couple of IT projects. You could build a dashboard to show you all the top level detail for your marketing projects combined and another one for the IT projects.
Dashboards Look Good
The final reason why dashboards are so helpful on projects is that they look good. That might seem a bit unnecessary. After all, if they give you all the data that you need, what does it matter what they look like? But project sponsors like to see things presented in a clear and concise way and that’s where beautiful dashboards can help.
As the data is structured, it displays accurately and graphically, which can make communicating project status that bit easier. Anything that makes it easier to get your message across, such as 2D or 3D charts and colors has to be good.
And the great thing about dashboards is that normally all that is set up for you when you start to use them. You may have to tweak the layout and choose what format to use to display the data, but generally you won’t have to build the graphs and charts from scratch. All you have to do is print out or email the right data for your project sponsor. Or show it to them on screen.
When you start putting together project reports, dashboards are not the kind of thing that project managers immediately think of using.
However, if your project management software does include dashboarding functionality why not use it? It will save you time and effort with your data analysis and they can be a great tool for communication.